Harrison Ford enjoys the phenomenal rewards that his blockbuster films have brought. But not for him the high-profile life indulged in by some superstars. Off set, the wary Mr Ford is something of a recluse.
by Lesley Salisbury in Hollywood
It’s mid-December and Harrison Ford is sitting in a Beverly Hills hotel glumly watching bikinis parading round the pool and palm trees swaying in the warm breeze. He sips his iced drink with a sigh.
The rest of America is crisp and Christmassy and here he is, in a fairyland of fake snow and sweltering Santa Clauses, wishing he was back on his 800-acre ranch in Wyoming, skiing in the Rockies, taking the dog out in eight-degree cold or swigging hot toddies by a roaring fire.
He's in another sort of hot seat today, squirming uncomfortably as he faces what he's come here to do: talk about himself. It may be Christmas but he’s not in a seasonal mood. 'I'm not about to open myself up completely,' he says frostily. I'm not willing to gift-box myself up and say to you, "This is the puzzle, no pieces are missing.'”
His bark, say his friends, is worse than his bite. ‘He’s always been cranky: it’s just his way of being,’ says producer Fred Roos.
It was Roos who saw through Ford’s tight-lipped, stand-offish' attitude when Ford, at 30, had all but given up acting, turning to carpentry to support his first wife, Mary, and young sons, Willard and Benjamin. Roos, then a casting director, persuaded director George Lucas to cast the 'cranky' Ford in what turned out to be a classic cameo in the 1973 film American Graffiti (he played a drag racer), and he pushed again in 1976 when Lucas was casting Star Wars.
Roos says: 'Harrison wasn’t high on George’s list. He didn't know him like I did. But I thought he was going to be a star. . . He reminds me of Humphrey Bogart - tough, cynical, totally capable of taking care of himself. And maybe there’s a little Clark Gable in there, too.’
Ford, now 46, is quite laconic about the success of that film. I'd never had the chance to work as much as I wanted to until Star Wars. Suddenly offers were coming in. I went to work with a vengeance. When the sequel idea came up I didn't resist it: three films in a row seemed a damned good idea at that point.'
And he smiles. As well he can afford to. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), are among the 10 biggest-grossing films in showbusiness history, as are two more of his films, Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and the sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).
The films have made him both a multi-millionaire and a sex-symbol, but sex and money are not discussion points he warms to. And, anyway, he doesn’t look much of an expert on either today. He’s handsome enough in tweed jacket and corduroy trousers, but his hair is long, lank and swept back, his huge hands fidget with starched shirt-cuffs, his spectacles lie on the table and you can see he feels awkward wearing a tie.
He looks like a cowboy who’s got himself all smartened up for a Saturday night barn dance. He does not look like a superstar.
'The greatest thing that "fame" has brought me is the degree of freedom I now have to choose the things I wish to do,' he says.
‘The job I do is exactly the same, whether the film is a serious film or an action film. It was no revelation to me that I could do a more complicated part.’
He is referring, of course, to the time of the Stars Wars trilogy, when Hollywood opinion felt that he was a lightweight actor.
Fred Roos says: 'After Star Wars, Harrison was dismissed. People started saying, “Oh, he isn't a star after all” Even his work as Indiana Jones didn’t help. Then he did Witness  in which he plays a detective. Suddenly everyone was saying, "Gee, he’s really good.” Well, he's always been good.’
Ford followed Witness, for which he was nominated for an Oscar, with a strange film he deeply believed in, The Mosquito Coast (1986).
'It was the best project I'd seen since Witness,' he says. ‘I was perfectly willing to sit around for a year and a half to wait for something as interesting as this to come along. It’s a very unusual film. Controversial.’
Immediately afterwards he started work on Frantic, a 1987 thriller directed by Roman Polanski; a comedy, Working Girl, with Melanie Griffith, on release in the US this Christmas; and an Indiana Jones sequel.
All of which makes you wonder just how much time Harrison Ford gets to spend down on the farm, his beloved isolated ranch. There he goes fishing for trout in his own streams, fixes fences, goes into town for supplies, brushes up his carpentry skills, drives a pick-up, digs out animals from under the snow and goes crosscountry ski-ing.
It is also where he and his second wife, E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison, and their son Malcolm, nearly three, live in privacy and peace.
’When I was growing up I had this picture in my head of an idyllic place: woods, open water and wildlife. Melissa and I kept looking for something that matched our fantasies and I want my kids to know that the countryside means more to me than a big pile of money. we found this place. It’s helped me become more calm and peaceful. I wouldn't be able to act if
I wasn’t able to get back to the ranch when it was over.'
It is, simply, where he’s happiest. 'I have more of a sense of stewardship about the land than ownership,' he says, casting one more bemused look at the December bikinis at the hotel where we are talking. ‘I really want to preserve the countryside; its for my kids - to let them know that it is the country that is dear to me; not a big pile of money in the middle of the floor.
'If you can get through life with a degree of happiness, some work to do, and not hurt anybody else, I guess that would be ideal. It doesn’t quite amount to a philosophy, but that’s what I think.
'I wouldn’t change a thing about my life right now, to tell you the truth.’ And then, realising he may be giving away too much, he adds flippantly: 'Except my nose, maybe...’"
[Source: TV Times December 17th 1988 P.23]