Tuesday 22 January 2019

'Friends? I don't even have time to meet my accountant' - Harrison Ford

Iconic actor Harrison Ford talks children, Blade Runner 2049 secrecy, and the late Carrie Fisher with Robbie Collin

Double Deckard: Harrison Ford says he doesn’t have much of a social life. Photo: REUTERS
Double Deckard: Harrison Ford says he doesn’t have much of a social life. Photo: REUTERS

Robbie Collin

Two and a half years ago, Harrison Ford was flying a two-seater, Second World War-era plane near his Los Angeles home when its engine cut out and he crash landed on a suburban golf course. A year before that, on the set of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Millennium Falcon's hydraulic doors went haywire and shunted into him with the force of a small car, breaking his left leg in two places.

Earlier this year, when the actor was piloting another light aircraft, he almost flew into the side of a Boeing 737 during touchdown after confusing a taxiway for a runway, so when he saunters over to me in a hotel in London all in one piece, there's a sense of palpable relief.

Over the last 10 years, the 75-year-old actor has been revisiting the three roles - Indiana Jones, Han Solo, and now Rick Deckard, in Blade Runner 2049 - which made him arguably the defining star of the dawning blockbuster age.

Ford's ultra-charismatic brand of tetchy heroism connected those vintage adventure serials of the 1930s and 40s that their ambitious young directors - Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott - wanted to revive and turbo-charge.

The role of Deckard in Blade Runner, for instance was originally written with noir icon Robert Mitchum in mind. And Ford could do that - just as he could do Humphrey Bogart with a blaster for Star Wars, and a swashbuckling Clark Gable-Alan Ladd hybrid for Raiders Of The Lost Ark (to say nothing of his more earthed roles in Witness, Frantic, The Mosquito Coast, and others).

These days, he's the Hollywood elder statesman, although the way he tells it, the glittering adoration at soirées is in short supply. "I don't see much of anybody socially," he grumbles, when I suggest he must be enjoying his return to the limelight. "With five kids, I can hardly find time to see my accountant."

Harrison Ford with Carrie Fisher. Photo: Getty Images
Harrison Ford with Carrie Fisher. Photo: Getty Images

That Ford roll-call in full: two sons from his first marriage to a high-school sweetheart, Mary Marquardt (with whom he's still on good terms), a son and daughter with his second wife, the late screenwriter Melissa Mathison, and a 16-year-old son he adopted with his third, the actress Calista Flockhart.

Does he suspect his children idolised his characters growing up? And given they're aged between 16 and 51 - arguably the exact span of the target market for his recent work - were they looking forward to their return? "They have an appropriate distance from what I do at the office," he says. "My 16-year-old said he was going to watch the original Blade Runner, but I'm not sure he has. Let's say they don't want to sit down and watch daddy's history that way, at this point."

Ford is reluctant to give too much away about Blade Runner 2049 because even though the 35-years-on sequel to Ridley Scott's epoch-making opus arrives in cinemas this week, much like The Force Awakens before it, it's being kept behind a wall of secrecy that makes Area 51 look like a den made out of sofa cushions.

For Ford, that's half the fun of it. "We're going back to old movie rules," he grins, between sips of strong coffee. "On the theory that maximum pleasure for the audience will be derived from knowing nothing when they go in." As soon as the film opens, spoilers will abound - he acknowledges that's unavoidable - "but at least this way, you have the option to stop up your ears for a while and say 'shut the f**k up'".

Ford reprising his role as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner 2049
Ford reprising his role as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner 2049

I wonder aloud if his determination to retread familiar paths gives him the same kick of nostalgia so many of us get from watching him do it.

"Oh no," he says, with a flinch of distaste. "I'm not nostalgic. I'm a little sentimental from time to time, but that's not enough to get me to do something. It's just, you know, my job. Most of the time I just feed opportunistically on things that look like they might be a good idea."

The idea in this instance came from Fancher and Ridley Scott, who thrashed out a sequel plot in prose a few years ago from which they hoped a screenplay might germinate.

"Ridley asked me, 'Would you in theory want to play Deckard again?'," Ford recalls. "And I said" - affecting classic Fordian befuddlement - "'well, maybe. Do you have a story?' And it turned out he had a whole novella."

When shooting the orginal movie, Scott and Ford didn't see eye to eye on whether the lead character was an android or not. (Scott said yes, Ford strongly differed.)

Looking back, he thinks that fundamental tension is one of Blade Runner's greatest assets: "The unsettled nature of it is a subtlety in the film itself," he suggests, before adding, slightly mind-bendingly: "But if we had settled it, I wouldn't have played the character any different."

He does, however, acknowledge that Scott gave him the latitude to shape Deckard in other ways - as did Denis Villeneuve, who directed the forthcoming sequel. It's how Ford likes to work - "if I couldn't, I wouldn't do it" - and it's notable just how many of his defining screen moments have been the result of a brainwave on-set.

Take the unceremonious end to the sword fight in Raiders: laid low on location in Tunisia with dysentery, he daren't risk any leaps and thrusts, so devised a cunning alternative. And his iconic response to Carrie Fisher's "I love you" in The Empire Strikes Back - "I know" - was concocted in the moment, but caught the entire appeal of Star Wars in a two-syllable snapshot.

He's still proud of that one. "It's not like you're on set and you say 'Stop, hey, look, I'm being great!'" he says. "But you may be insistent about it, in the face of opposition. And I was about 'I know', because it was the essence of the character. And it meant even when I came back to Star Wars recently, the relationship I had with Carrie still had a powerful core."

Fisher's death late last year hit him hard - perhaps especially so because the actress had recently disclosed in a book details of their romance on the set of the original Star Wars, shortly before Ford's first divorce. At the time, he described her as "one-of-a-kind… brilliant, original. Funny and emotionally fearless".

His one hope from this interview is that it'll persuade people to experience Blade Runner 2049 in a cinema, rather than on the screen of their smartphone.

"The isolation of these personal devices is robbing people of one of the most important features of these movies," he says.

Blade Runner 2049 is out this Thursday. Read Paul Whitington's review in the Irish Independent this Friday

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