Tuesday 6 December 2016

Shunning fame but keeping up with Indiana Jones

Paul Whitington

Published 27/02/2010 | 05:00

There is something refreshingly old-fash- ioned about the appeal of Harrison Ford. His rugged charm recalls tight-lipped, macho stars of the 1940s and 1950s such as Robert Mitchum and Gary Cooper, who let their work do the talking and were deeply ambivalent about celebrity and fame.

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Ford isn't even ambivalent -- he openly detests the glare of the spotlight and is notoriously grumpy and monosyllabic in interviews. He would rather be anywhere than talking to a journalist or walking down a red carpet, and age has not dimmed his distaste for the celebrity grind.

All of this gives him an elusive and mysterious air: he spends much of his time on a huge ranch in rural Wyoming and avoids being in Hollywood as much as possible.

He has appeared in some of the highest-grossing films of all time, including the original Star Wars trilogy and the Indiana Jones films, but during the past decade or so his star has waned somewhat.

As he entered his 60s, his credibility as an action hero became problematic, and his appearance in a string of box-office flops that included Random Hearts (1999), Hollywood Homicide (2003) and Firewall (2006) led some to believe he might be about to amble off to a well-earned retirement.

Of late, though, Ford has mounted something of a comeback. In 2008, he donned the famous fedora for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which received mixed reviews but became the second-highest grossing film that year.

He has since hinted he'd be on for another Jones film, and has also expressed interest in reviving the Jack Ryan franchise that proved so profitable for him and his producers in the 1990s. And in Extraordinary Measures, which was released here yesterday, he delivers his best performance in years.

The film co-stars Brendan Fraser and is based on the true story of John Crowley, a young businessman who moved Heaven and Earth to help his children when he found out that two of them were suffering from Pompe's disease, a rare ailment caused by an enzyme deficiency which results in muscular dystrophy and exceedingly premature death.

In many ways, it's an unremarkable if well-made medical drama, but Ford is terrific as Bob Stonehill, a brilliant but objectionable medical scientist who fights with everyone, hates the world and plays very loud rock music in his lab to deter visitors.

The role allows Ford to play his age (he's 67), and suggests there might be life in the old dog yet. He's due to star as a self-regarding news anchor alongside Diane Keaton in the forthcoming comedy Morning Glory, and seems more interested in working than he has for some time.

Of Irish, German and Russian-Jewish heritage, Ford arrived in Hollywood from his native Illinois in 1964. After struggling as an extra and bit-player for a number of years in B-movies and bad TV shows, he decided to give up acting in 1970 and taught himself carpentry so he could support his first wife and two small children.

He became a kind of cabinetmaker to the stars in the Hollywood Hills area, building a sun deck, for example, for M*A*S*H star Sally Kellerman. Ford first met George Lucas when the rising director/producer asked him to do some carpentry in his home. The two got on, and Lucas persuaded him to go back in front of the camera by offering him a substantial role in his 1973 film American Graffiti.

When Lucas asked Ford to read lines for actors being cast in Star Wars, Steven Spielberg was taken by his screen presence and remarked that he'd be perfect for the part of buccaneering space pirate Han Solo.

Lucas was not initially convinced, but eventually relented and was forever glad he did, because Ford gave the space opera a vital touch of cynicism and humour, and the three blockbusting films made him a star.

Lucas and Spielberg built the Indiana Jones franchise around him, and although Tom Selleck famously turned down the chance to play Indy, it's hard to imagine anyone else having done as good a job as Ford.

In the 1980s, after appearing in Ridley Scott's sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner, he successfully avoided being typecast as an action hero by branching out into more serious drama.

He was excellent as a city cop who ends up hiding out among the Amish in Peter Weir's acclaimed drama Witness, in 1985, and worked with the Australian director again a year later in an adaptation of Paul Theroux's novel The Mosquito Coast.

He teamed up with Roman Polanski in 1988 for the underrated thriller Frantic, in which he played an American doctor who searches frantically for his wife after she goes missing on a trip to Paris.

He proved he could do comedy the same year when he starred alongside Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver in the Mike Nichols hit Working Girl. And he stretched himself further in 1990 when he played a morally dubious and possibly psychopathic lawyer in Alan J Pakula's clever legal thriller Presumed Innocent.

But Ford was too clever to entirely abandon the action films that had made him famous in the first place, and he scored a huge hit playing the falsely accused Chicago doctor Richard Kimble in Andrew Davis's 1993 film The Fugitive.

He first played CIA agent Jack Ryan in 1992's Patriot Games, and in it and its sequel Clear and Present Danger he cemented his enduring box-office status.

In 2002, Ford found himself in the media spotlight when he left his wife of 20 years, ET screenwriter Melissa Mathison, for Ally McBeal star Calista Flockhart. An exceedingly costly divorce settlement ensued, but he and Flockhart have stayed together, and are now engaged. Ford is a qualified pilot, and owns eight planes and three helicopters.

He has also personally rescued several hikers who've become stranded in the mountains near his home. Is that rugged enough for you?

pwhitington@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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