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:: Spotlight :: Harrison Ford Interview - Firewall

By: Catherine Naghten

Harrison Ford is the sort of man whose confidence is evident in every word and every movement. A genuine Hollywood legend, his enthusiasm for story telling and devotion to his craft has sustained him through over 50 films spanning 40 years. Catherine Naghten spoke to him about his latest film, Firewall.

I hear you’re a pilot. Was aviation always an interest?

Harrison Ford - I had taken flying lessons when I was college, for three or four lessons, but it was $11 an hour for a plane and an instructor and I couldn’t afford it at the time. So it had been an interest which I had, but reawakened later in life. I wasn’t sure if I could learn something as complicated as I imagined flying to be but I did it because it rekindled my interest in learning things.

Was it as complicated as you expected?

Harrison Ford - Oh, not when you break it down into little pieces and acquired knowledge in a sort of logical way.

With Firewall, did the project change much after the departure of Mark Pellington as director and Richard Loncraine coming on board?

Harrison Ford - It changed to an extent but the original script spent a bit more time creating a cage for this character. The circumstances the bad guys put into place to incriminate him and we decided instead to focus more on the emotional aspect of the threat to his family being the motivation rather than trying to concern himself with his reputation. It seemed reputation wouldn’t really matter when your family’s lives are at stake.

How do you act a character like Jack, where the lines he says are only half the picture and the rest is emotion?

Harrison Ford - Well, words aren’t always…You try and create a character out of those things that help tell the story, that helps express the story. The character has got to have some reality. I spent time with banking professionals and software designers to get a sense of what their lives were like what they did at work. Their language is only part of what you use to create a character. There are other behaviours that are not vocal expressions but are very important.

What is your criteria for choosing projects these days and how has it altered over time? Is your motivation for choosing something like firewall different from your motivation for choosing witness or Mosquito Coast?

Harrison Ford - No they’re simply ideas, characters that interested me. I try and do different kinds of films to be useful in different genres, therefore play different types of characters in different genres. My motivation has always been continuously to make the best movie I can of a particular film script.

Since 1980 you’ve made one film a year whereas many of your peers are doing more. Is that a conscious decision?

Harrison Ford - Yeah, I try to work once a year and thus leave some time for my private life. It’s just been my habit. In this case because of the tragedy that befell Mark Pellington [the death of his wife] it took longer to get this film up and running, but once I was engaged I couldn’t go and do something else so this one took longer.

You’re obviously quite discerning about the ones you choose because most of them have been successful…

Harrison Ford - Well you know, you don’t do it every time but you do the best you can.

Having done so many films, do you remember every single one or do some of them blend together?

Harrison Ford - Well, on these kinds of occasions I’m reminded of films I haven’t thought about for years.

In Working Girl, you were very funny. Have you considered doing more comedies?

Harrison Ford - I actually have done a number of comedies since then. (gives a wry smile)

But it’s not your main genre…

Harrison Ford - No, and Steve Martin isn’t out doing many thrillers. But I like comedy. I think there are unique challenges in comedy. I enjoy doing it. I do think that films like Indiana Jones are mostly comedy and I did one literal comedy just recently in Hollywood Homicide. So again, it’s my ambition to be disciplined in all the different kinds of genres.

Is there any genre at this stage of your career that you’d still really like to tackle?

Harrison Ford - Oh, I don’t even know what the names of the different genres are (smiles). If you really sit and think about it I suppose there are areas that I haven’t touched but right now I can’t think of one.

Are there any actors or directors that you’re keen to work with?

Harrison Ford - Yeah, but I just don’t think abstractly. Give me a story. Give me a script. Then I can think about it. If it comes from a director then I put those two elements together and what do I think? Is that going to work for me? For them? And then, I can’t think of actors abstractly. There are so many people that are talented and uniquely talented, and it’s a question of the fit in a particular story.

I wanted to ask you about the Australians that you’ve worked with as well? Have you noticed any difference in the way they run a set?

Harrison Ford - No, they just talk funny, that’s all. (laughs)
I’ve been thinking about that actually. I think there is something unique about Australians. I don’t think that I either I’m capable, or want to, define it but there’s a very strong work ethic that comes with the two Australians I’ve worked with at least. I found that a really positive kind of thing.

Richard Loncraine described you as “one tough bugger”. Is that a fair assessment of Harrison Ford?

Harrison Ford - Well, I think Richard’s referring to his experience and I enjoyed working with him. We had a very co-operative relationship. I don’t know how he meant that, but I enjoyed working with him.

How was working with Paul Bettany?

Harrison Ford - Paul’s terrific. You can’t have a good, good guy without having a bad, bad guy to prop up against, and Paul gives as good as he gets and he’s very smart about how to use a character to serve the film overall. An instinctive actor, and you know you don’t have to just sit around and talk about acting with him, you can just go out and have a game of catch. So it was very fun to work with him.

How do you stay fit and flexible enough to get through the fight scenes?

Harrison Ford - You know, there’s smoke and mirrors. You have little discreet pieces but when you conceive of a fight scene like we have in the film, you want there to be a story to it. It’s got a beginning, middle, and an end. There’s an emotional ebb and flow that happens within it. I don’t think it’s very extraordinary.

You want to make it as real as you possibly can so people can feel the effort so they can emotionally participate in that part of the story. People’s reaction is that it seems extraordinary that a 63 year old man is doing those sort of things but I can tell you from my experience that it is not so hard if you’re telling the story of somebody whose family is in immanent threat of death and there’s one obstacle that’s in front of you and that’s this weedy English dude. You know, he will either stop him or die trying. That’s the nature of this story so I don’t find it all that spectacular. The interesting obligation is to keep it real and to suffer the consequences for the audience of engaging a younger guy at that level, make them feel the pain and then be able to allow them to participate in the triumph. So it’s story telling. It’s not just fun for boys.

That was one of the most effective aspects of that scene when Jack is actually shaking, you can see the effect it’s had on him. A lot of the action stuff, we can see the toll that it takes on you. Whether he’s falling down stairs or hitting the guy over the head with a kettle, Jack’s obviously…

Harrison Ford - This is not familiar territory for him, you know he’s not military trained. For god’s sake he’s using kitchen appliance.

How credible was some of that tech stuff?

Harrison Ford - It was very important to us to have it be real, so at scripting stage we spent time with real banking professionals and software designers and tested the theory of it out and they all allowed that once you’re behind the firewall, all bets are off. It’s even easier than the movie made it. We made it more complicated for dramatic purposes than it actually is. But the door of the house was another firewall. You open the front door and suddenly you’re inside. I think its quite a clever story that these guys have both put high tech and low tech pressure on this guy in order to accomplish their goals.

Which one of your films are you most proud of?

Harrison Ford - I don’t have any favourites. They’re all different and they all had different circumstances and different times in my life. Besides I don’t make films so much for myself as for an audience. I remember whether I had a good time or a bad time but that quickly fades as well. It’s really a question of valuing the experience itself and that’s why I do it. It’s fun for me to work with a group of people and try to figure out how to make a good movie.

Do you think you’ll be doing it for another ten years?

Harrison Ford - Sure, I hope so. I hope I’ll have the opportunities. I plan on doing it, so we’ll see.

Is Manhunt next?

Harrison Ford - It would seem to be next but we have some work to do. Manhunt is the story of the capture of John Walls Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln - so a bit of a change. There’s a bunch of things I have in development which are coming to fruition pretty soon.

"Firewall" is out now.