Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures - Harrison Ford interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
TO MARK the Blu-ray release of Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures on Monday, October 8, Harrison Ford spoke about his experiences of playing the iconic adventurer and what the franchise means to him.
Q: Do you remember when you first got cast for the part of Indiana Jones?
Harrison Ford: Tom Selleck had been cast but his network had exercised its option so he couldn’t get released from his TV show, which I didn’t know about at the time. I got a call from George asking me to read a script, which I did. He told me to read the script and to then go over and meet Steven Spielberg at his house. I had never met him before. I read the script and was really excited about what I had read and the potential. The meeting went well and that was it.
Q: There had been many rumors about Tom Selleck and the casting. One that came up was that George Lucas did want you initially but since he had already worked with you on American Graffiti and the Star Wars trilogy, maybe he should utilize a different actor…
Harrison Ford: I have no idea. You would have to ask someone else. I was never approached prior to what I had just talked about. If that is the case then the story becomes even more bizarre.
Q: Another story had the character initially called Indiana Smith…
Harrison Ford: I never saw anything with the character named Indiana Smith. I have no idea where George came up with the last name. I know Indiana came from the name he had for his dog at the time.
Q: Both George and Steven have talked about how these movies were inspired by their love for the classic Saturday morning movie serials that used to play back in the 1950’s. Were you a fan of those films as well?
Harrison Ford: The Saturday morning serials that I knew were Gene Autry and Hop Along Cassidy. I didn’t know any others. I only knew the Westerns. Those were the films I went to see on a Saturday. I don’t even remember the others.
Q: I want to take you back to the beginning of playing the part. How did you approach how to play Indiana Jones?
Harrison Ford: It started with the script and when you read that this guy walks around carrying a whip, wearing a fedora and a leather jacket in the jungle, there is no avoiding who that character is. You know this guy is particular and you can’t avoid that. You put on the clothes and you realize who you are and what you are meant to be. The script was quite clear as to the kind of character this guy was. I saw an enormous opportunity, even though I did have to wear a heavy leather jacket in the jungle.
Q: How did they decide on those iconic wardrobe choices?
Harrison Ford: We went through a lot of hats. We went through a lot of jackets. The jacket was custom designed based on period details by Anthony Powell, our costume designer. John Landis’s wife also helped with the costume design. We fitted him with those little details to make him comfortable.
*Q: After that first film, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, there have been three subsequent films. When you put that fedora back on, does the character come right back to you?
Harrison Ford: It does. I have a long experience with Indiana Jones so it is not surprising to me that the character is resonant in my bones. This last time after an absence of almost twenty years, it was sort of interesting to put it all on again. When I did, it just felt friendly and familiar and something I knew well.
Q: Having worked with some very impressive directors over your career, what was it about Steven Spielberg that impressed you?
Harrison Ford: It was his fluidity and filmmaking skills. He has this great sense of visualization. He has a keen sense of how filmmaking works. He enjoys the process which many do not so it I fun to be around him.
Q: Have you seen an evolution of him as a filmmaker over the course of these four films?
Harrison Ford: Yes but it would be hard to track it for you. These last 20 years, Steven has done two lifetimes worth of work in anyone else’s account. He was certainly a formidable filmmaker when we finished the last one; now he is formidable and more mature. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to work with him again.
Q: He does like to put his protagonist in some rather precarious situations. When you look back on the challenges you were faced up against, are there some that really amazed you that you were able to pull off?
Harrison Ford: There were some sequences that did drag on for a while and they are complicated and very physical. I don’t remember anything particular that was too daunting. I know that you break them down into shots and doable chunks. There was nothing too daunting.
*Q: In Raiders of The Lost Ark, you were beaten, shot at, dragged by a truck and dodged an engine of a moving airplane. You had to be physical prepared.
Harrison Ford: I was physically prepared. I knew the type of movie I was getting involved in so I made every effort to show up in the best physical shape I could be in. That was the case for all four of them. I did suffer injuries on the first two but not the third but I can’t remember. The potential for getting hurt was relatively high so being fit is a good preventive step to take. It was fun to do that kind of thing again.
Q: You had some extreme weather conditions back then in Tunisia when you shot that plane sequence…
Harrison Ford: It wasn’t so much the weather at that point more so than when the plane ran over my knee and tore my ACL. It clipped my left knee and here we were in the middle of Tunisia and there wasn’t much of a medical option that I had so I just had to carry it with me through the rest of the film.
Q: Didn’t you just wrap it in ice and keep going?
Harrison Ford: Yeah. We wrapped it up and got through it.
Q: Why do you think the character of Indiana Jones has become so identifiable to audiences? To have four movies portray the same character has to resonate on some level.
Harrison Ford: I think there are many levels as to why people respond to that character. First of all, the stories are unpredictable adventures. There are elements that are unique to the films – the combination of the realistic physical elements and the sort of sci-fi, psychic elements that usually have to do with a religious object at times. It is also about good guys versus bad guys. I think the most attractive part of the films is their sense of joy and pleasure in their journey of film storytelling.
Q: People also responded to your sense of humor. How involved were you in improvising those lighter moments? Did you decide that you would just pull the gun and shoot the guy in the big sword fight?
Harrison Ford: There was usually an ulterior motive. In the case of the swordsman, I was anticipating a three-day shoot of the worlds most elaborate sword verse whip fight. I was in no mood because I, along with 90% of the crew, had dysentery. My time spent outside of the trailer with my pants up was about 10 minutes. I was ready to get out of there. We had already shot a whip fight in a bad guy confrontation where Marion had been kidnapped, so I felt the tempo and the phasing of the moment of that fight was repetitive. After having been in the car with Steven for about 45 minutes riding to the set, I said to him after thinking about it for a long time, why don’t we just shoot that son of a bitch. We both arrived at the same conclusion so we could get out of there and thought it would be a good character stroke.
Q: How much do you trust your instincts on set? You do have noted directors and writers around you but how much does your instinct guide you as to what the character would really do?
Harrison Ford: Oh yeah. I have always engaged filmmakers because my suggestions are not coming out of thin air. I have studied the script and my character and the situation at hand so I don’t mind making suggestions. Both George and Steven were very collaborative so it made my job more fun. I trust everyone else’s instincts but you are the one there on the floor, you just kind of know. It doesn’t come to an argument. You make your suggestions and you try them out. It might not go your way but at least you tried alternative options.
Q: It does seem that Steven has this fascination of putting his actors in direct conflict with animals – from snakes to bugs to rats. Who knows what this latest film will feature but what do you recall about those altercations?
Harrison Ford: They love that kind of way to get an audience squirming in their seats. It certainly is one of the elements that is predictable in these stories. There will be yucky stuff. It doesn’t bother me at all.
Q: There were real snakes in that pit…
Harrison Ford: There were many snakes in that pit. I never had any fear of snakes to tell you the truth. That was just acting. They did have to put up a Plexiglas divide for the cobra attack.
Q: Indiana Jones is an archeologist and as far as I know, there have been very few of those in that profession who have graced the movie screen. How much did you know about that occupation and did it fascinate you once you became involved in the character?
Harrison Ford: What I was interested in was knowing what the state of the art of archeology was at that point. For the first film, we were in 1940 approximately, so I read the archeological annals of that year and a few things about the Ark of the Covenant,. I wanted to be familiar with a few things that we were talking about. I did some research into archeology and the teaching of it and what they were teaching at that time.
Q. Though you said the films were meant to be adventures and fun and fresh, there were those that felt the second movie, Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom went a little too far in terms of its graphic nature, specifically the dinner sequence, and also might have been a little racist. Have critics over-analyzed the films too much and maybe they should be judged strictly for their entertainment sake?
Harrison Ford: I think the films of the genre that we were referring to are pretty unconscious of any stereotypes that they might embrace. There were some moments, perhaps in the zeal of filmmaking, that there might be the interpretation that we were taking aspects of another’s culture and being judgmental. That was not the case. We were not making a serious accusation against another culture.
Q: As an actor, you certainly got to experience a lot of other cultures during the making of all these films. Does one location stand out for you as just being so impressive?
Harrison Ford: I loved shooting in Sri Lanka. That was the most extraordinary place. Venice was pretty amazing as well to have the access to the streets and canals that we did in the third episode. I loved the culture of Sri Lanka. We were in a small town and I had the opportunity to eat the local food and ride on an elephant and so the weird little stuff that one would normally never have the chance to do.
*Q: For The Last Crusade, you mentioned before about the freshness. Even though it went back to the Nazi’s, the film introduced the whole family spin to his story.
Harrison Ford: That was something I was really working toward. I have always said that if we repeat the character, we need to understand the man and nothing is more telling than a man’s relationship to his father. I felt that introduction was essential to the story and to defining the character.
Q: Spielberg has long had a fascination for James Bond and, in that film, it stars a former Bond, a former Bond girl, a Bond ally and three former Bond villains. Was it great working with Sean?
Harrison Ford: I didn’t know all of that. Sean has a great mentality and intelligence and really understood the character. He did a lot of research and brought some great ideas. As an actor, he is wonderfully generous.
Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures is now available to buy on Blu-ray.
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