When Harrison Ford attended Wisconsin's Ripon College, he drifted over to the theater department from the philosophy department and stuffed a pillow under his shirt to play Mr. Antrobus in Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth," a wartime fantasy about struggle and survival. He also sang and danced a bit in "The Fantasticks" and played Mack the Knife in "The Threepenny Opera." His summer stock credits included "The Night of the Iguana" and "Damn Yankees."
Years later in L.A., during his first marriage (he once described himself as "an inadequate husband and father" the first time around), Ford made a living as a carpenter. He didn't make a living as an actor full-time until his mid-30s. Once "Star Wars" happened, he never got the itch to return to live theater. Doing a play, Ford told me in 1991, was "too much like a real job."
Here is Ford's job these days: He is the star of " Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," the fourth in a series begun in 1981 with "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Ford reunites with director Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Mr. "Star Wars," who gets a story credit and serves as executive producer. The movie made its official premiere Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival. It's set in 1957 and involves Incan treasure, a possible alien back story and Russkie badenovs, led by Cate Blanchett.
Job one on this particular day for Ford is talking about all of this, or some of it. Or, if he had his druthers, none of it. He's not an easy interview. On the other hand he doesn't waste your time with a lot of boilerplate self-promotion.
As an icon of Boomer nostalgia, Indy Jones owes everything to the archetypes of the old adventure serials and features. (Indy's fedora, flight jacket and swagger came from the outfit Charlton Heston wore in the 1954 "Secret of the Incas," a largely forgotten treasure-hunter tale.) Regarding the new "Indy" film, the one with the title that goes on a little longer than you'd expect, Ford avoids talking about how the script changed. Make that scripts, plural: Many screenwriters tried to please the major players involved - Lucas, Spielberg, Ford - but it took years and years and suddenly Ford was 66.
"It's pretty hard to be definitive at all without giving away plot points," he says, vaguely. "But it's really a question of adjusting the recipe. George never backed off from his original ambitions in general. And when he" - big sigh here - "met resistance on certain elements of the story, he went back and refined them 'til we were less resistant. Steven and I pretty much saw eye to eye on it from the beginning. We had similar ambitions for it and similar feelings about some of the elements George was pushing for. But Steven and I work together very easily. It was an enormous pleasure to work with him again."
When I talked to him in '91, around the time of "Regarding Henry," Ford described himself the same way most of his storied colleagues describe him, as a hard worker, unpretentious but exacting. Back then he told me: "I go to dailies, I see various cuts of the film, I attend test screenings, I involve myself in post-production right up until they begin to strike the prints of the negative."
With "Indy 4," not so much. "I felt no need, reason or impulse to be involved in the editorial choices" of post-production, he says. "Especially given the players involved ... they didn't need my help. Which is not to say I don't have things to say.
"I wanted to make the best version of the script we could. Scene by scene there were things that were important to me because they were consistent with the ambition of the scene. You want to make the scene work, you want the relationships between the actors real and important. You want to get the necessary information vividly expressed, so the audience retains it."
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