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Interview: What Would Han Solo Do?

Harrison Ford Discusses Spielberg, Music, and the Role of College Critics

By Kevin Der

Harrison Ford is one of Hollywood’s most successful actors. Aside from his memorable roles as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, he has championed androids, drug cartels, and terrorists (many times), among his many other roles. Starring in the newly released “Firewall,” Harrison Ford recently spoke to The Tech and other members of college press about his career.

Q: Is it more important to make an enjoyable movie for a wide audience or one with less appeal but with a serious message?

HF: I think there’s room for both and I have an interest in both. As far as a serious message is concerned, it’s very difficult to make a film with a serious message. I’ve seen one this year, and I think it’s a remarkable film — “Good Night and Good Luck.” It hid its message in a slice of life and reality, and confined itself to a period of time. It didn’t seem to have a political agenda other than to expose a period of time in the past.

Sometimes serious themes presented in the context of a film often co-opt the issue and they provide a sort of neat package that can be resolved in two hours and the movie ending which resolves problems is often a movie ending, not a real life ending. It’s very difficult to create an argument in film that changes the way people behave. You can offer an experience, but not an argument, because people who resist that point of view will continue to resist that point of view, and they find they’re not moved because they know they’re in the world of artifice, not in the world of real life.

There are movies I’ve done with a serious theme — “K-19” has a very serious theme. From a career perspective, a lot of people would say that it was not a good choice to play that role. People were less interested in me playing Russian submarine captain — an enemy of the United States, as it were. That’s the reason I did it, to bump up against those barriers. Having bumped, you want to get back to something that can work, try different kinds of films.

Q: On IMDB, you’re quoted as saying, “The loss of anonymity is something that nobody can prepare you for. When it happened, I recognized that I’d lost one of the most valuable things in life. To this day, I’m not all that happy about it.” What would you change if you could go back and do things over again?

HF: Nothing. I’m very lucky to have the opportunities I have in the business and wouldn’t have those without the deal I made with the devil, giving up my anonymity.

Q: Is there any movie you’ve ever seen that you wish you had made?

HF: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It was a rare film that confronted a social issue and was successful in changing the way people thought. That flies completely in the face of what I said earlier, but there you go.

Q: It’s said that you’re currently involved in a project about Abraham Lincoln.

HF: “Manhunt” is the story of John Wilkes Booth, and the guy I’ll play is Everton Conger, an army detective who tracks down and eventually finds Booth. We’re still working on the script.

Q: What’s the status of “Indiana Jones 4”? What is it about the role of Indiana and working with Steven Spielberg that led you back to the role?

HF: We’re closer than we’ve been in the past and I’m hoping it’ll come together soon. They’re just fun, great fun movies for the audience as big pieces of entertainment, and they’re fun to make. Indiana Jones is a fun character. I like working with Steven, we have a good time.

Q: What was [it] about this movie that made you want to come out and talk to us?

HF: To be frank, I don’t know why this has happened to me, but I continue to age. It’s a fact of life that younger members of the audience are more interested in people their age. So because this is my job, I’m conducting myself as a businessman, and saying that I need to reach out to people of your age to ensure the success of this film.

Q: When you read a script, does your visualization while you’re reading it agree with the finished film? Are you ever disappointed by it?

HF: The first reading of the film is really important because it’s the one time I get a really clear emotional reaction to a story and to the character’s dilemma. Every time I read it after that I’m informed by the first experience. That’s the critical one for me and I make my choices about what to do based on the first time I read it. It takes an understanding of the material and an understanding of the character. If I don’t understand the character, I’m not likely to do it unless I can see a way to fix it. But that doesn’t mean the film stays exactly the way it was when I read it the first time. There’s a director involved, and there may be things that occur to me later on that I want to see accomplished.

Q: John Williams has done a number of scores to your films, not only “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones,” but also “Sabrina” and “Presumed Innocent.”

HF: I’m a fan of his music, John mostly writes big, lyrical, robust heroic themes, and he does so with great skill. His music doesn’t sound all the same, it’s incredible.

Q: How much influence do you have over how the film gets made, or is that left up to the producer or director?

HF: It’s different under every circumstance. Certainly I am more comfortable with those directors that allow input. I don’t like the imperial style of direction. I like to have an input and a degree of influence, but I don’t think I’m the only person to be listened to, and I like to listen to what others are saying.

But when it comes down to it, I’m much more likely to be blamed if we fail. It’s a fact of life that actors become brands, and I feel responsible to those people who come to the theater and have enjoyed my other films to give them one that will meet their expectations. So I do have influence and I try to exercise that in restrained and appropriate ways. But if that doesn’t work, I hit them over the head. It’s all about achieving understanding.

Q: When you first started to act, you said you wanted to be a living actor. Have you found any new motivation?

HF: For me, it’s going to war zone and fighting your way out. I choose a movie because I think they have the potential to be good, but making them good is a day-to-day situation. It’s intensely engaging and for me the reward is good, hard work. It doesn’t make me sweat, but it has the same feeling of having accomplished work. You look at a pile of logs that need to be split or a script that has a story to tell and that kind of engagement is so critical — it keeps me interested.

Q: Where do you think the role of critics lies?

HF: They can have enormous influence over some segment of the audience. A lot of people go to movies that are not critically appreciated and have a good time. Critics only appeal to a segment of people who trust that critic because they follow their opinions, which lie near their own opinions. A discussion in general about the quality of a film helps generate interest. Some people read a review that says the movie’s a total piece of dog shit and see that movie anyway because they don’t like that critic. It’s like a democracy: one man, one vote. I don’t change what I’m doing with respect to one person’s opinion about what I’ve done.