Cowboys And Aliens - Harrison Ford interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
HARRISON Ford talks about some of the pleasures and challenges of shooting Cowboys & Aliens, including finding an audience in a narrowing demographic, and the pleasure of working with Daniel Craig.
He also reflects on his own career and iconic status and why he’s had more fun f**king around with it than attending to it.
Q. You started out in TV Westerns such as The Virginian early in your career. It’s been quite a ride in between getting back to a big Western…
Harrison Ford: [Smiles] I did Virginians and Gunsmoke and others I’ve forgotten when I was first starting. I even did a couple of features that were Westerns. But the last big one I did was The Frisco Kid 30-some years ago, or so they’ve been telling me. But they just haven’t been making Westerns very much in Hollywood anymore. Those that have been developed have been singular and have been developed by actors, or directors, and actor-directors for themselves. So, I haven’t got a Western for quite some time.
But it wasn’t the Western I was interested in. I quite liked the part. I thought it would be interesting for me to play. And I thought it might be the kind of movie that people would go to, for God’s sake. The demographic has narrowed way down in the movie business these days. It’s mostly young males between 13 and 20 or something that lead the charge to the movie theatre in the first couple of weeks. By the second weekend there’s somebody jumping on your butt to take over. It’s a tough business now. It used to be much easier.
Q. Does that make it any less enjoyable to be a part of? Or are you still having fun?
Harrison Ford: No, I still like it. I was always happy… you always want a film to be a success because you feel a certain responsibility for your craft part of it and you want the whole thing to work. And success in the past has been what allowed me to have the opportunities to work with a range of different kinds of directors and do a range of different kinds of things. So, being part of a success has a relative importance. But as well as the narrowing of the demographic, the other means of watching a film – at home on DVD – have changed the business completely.
Q. Do you think studios are taking fewer risks as well? This is a brave film in a summer dominated by sequels and superheroes…
Harrison Ford: Oh yeah, absolutely! Absolutely! They’re watching their money.
Q. Does the presence of Steven Spielberg as an executive producer help get this off the ground?
Harrison Ford: Steven had worked on developing this property at an early stage but he wasn’t involved in a day to day basis. Part of our finding came through Steven and Ron [Howard] and people like that and they offered occasional advice and direction. But they pretty much left it up to the people on the job, such as Jon [Favreau].
Q. How was working with Jon?
Harrison Ford: It was fun. He’s a really smart guy. He’s fun to be around. He works hard. He knew what he wanted and he put together a good team. So, I really enjoyed working with him.
Q. He’s described you as ‘the John Wayne of your generation’. How does that make you feel?
Harrison Ford: Well, he’s required me to talk about that [smiles]. But I don’t know what it means. I mean, I understand what he’s saying but I feel no particular connection to John Wayne’s career. I don’t see quite that mine is the same as his at all at all. But I think he’s trying to say something nice [smiles].
Q. But are you aware of the iconic nature of your career and having created so many loveable characters over the years – Indiana Jones and Han Solo being two of the most obvious?
Harrison Ford: But that’s not what interested me. As much as I’m grateful for the success of Han Solo and Indiana Jones, the pleasure of my career has come from the movies that I made with [Roman] Polanski [Frantic] and with Philip Noyce [Patriot Games/Clear & Present Danger] and Alan J Pakula [The Devil’s Own], which didn’t represent that kind of iconography. So, I think of my career as being very lucky that I was allowed to work in all of these different kinds of films and wasn’t responsible for just attending to my iconography. It was much more interesting, to me, to fuck with it than attend to it [laughs].
Q. So, which roles gave you the most pleasure in fucking with it then?
Harrison Ford: [Smiles] Well, K-19: The Widowmaker, Regarding Henry, Presumed Innocent…
Q. What Lies Beneath surprised a lot of people…
Harrison Ford: Yeah, yeah.
Q. How was working with Daniel Craig on Cowboys & Aliens?
Harrison Ford: Great! I have great respect for him as an actor. He’s very smart about what he’s doing – [he’s a] simple, straight forward workman. No bullshit. It was great fun.
Q. You have a reputation for not allowing your co-stars to pull their punches when they get into the rough and tumble with you. I remember Paul Bettany saying it was the most humiliating day of his life having to beat you up and you kept asking him to hit you harder. So, how was Daniel with those scenes?
Harrison Ford: I don’t remember Paul ever hitting me! I mean the object is not to hit you but to make it look like you’ve been hit [laughs]. Actually, I think he slapped me.
Q. And he said he had to punch you in the stomach…
Harrison Ford: Oh yeah, right. I guess I wanted a strong cue! But I’m not in it to get beat up. There’s been all this said about me because I’ve done so many physical roles I guess. But I do like physical acting. And in that film I did with Paul Bettany [Firewall] there’s one of my favourite fight scenes of all time in that house towards the end of the film. So, Paul might be forgiven for thinking that I always like to butch it up! But I do like physical work and it becomes physical work… that’s what it is. I like physical acting. But I don’t do stunts. Stunt guys do stunts.
Q. So, what did you enjoy about the physicality of this film?
Harrison Ford: There’s nothing much to do. You know, ride a horse up, grab a spear, stuff it into the alien, shoot a gun, run away, run at… [laughs]. There’s one horse fall, which of course I didn’t do. But Daniel had quite a lot more to do than I did.
Q. You’ve always made it look really easy working with special effects, but how tricky is it… especially in a scene where you’re on a horse but have to allow for the fact there’s these alien spaceships flying around you?
Harrison Ford: It’s an active imagination, much in the same way it is pretending to be in love with your actress co-star. It’s always imagining how to tell the story and create behaviour that helps the audience emotionally relate to the story. So, there doesn’t seem too much difference between imagining there’s a space craft there… it’s as easy as it is imagining there’s not some grip puffing on a cigar riding on the back of a camera cart, towing you through the woods.
Obviously, we now have the ability to replace a man in an alien suit with a computer generated alien and what I was pleased with in Jon and his group’s creation of the alien is that it didn’t move like a man in an alien suit. They created a movement for the aliens that wasn’t humanoid, which was interesting. But the danger of computer generated graphics is that there’s a temptation by many directors to generate more than they need. Often when I do see [films] they tend to lose human scale. And so if you get too much of any one thing, you begin to think about it.
Q. Is it not a little bit more tricky on horse-back?
Harrison Ford: Well, the trick of horses is to let them know what’s coming and to ride them through it enough times to let them feel your confidence in the situation. I’ve owned horses for a while and I’m comfortable on horses. So, I didn’t find that an issue.
Q. I also read that you enjoy research. For Woodrow, in particular, you made sure you knew about the key American Civil War battle that informed his character…
Harrison Ford: Well, that’s obviously something I should know about. Antietam was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War and he lost his command. He lost many of his men and he didn’t have a clear strategy from his commanders. So that informs how he behaves in these circumstances. He says that he doesn’t want to have to depend on some guy that’s going to have to telegraph Washington to find out which hand to wipe with. So, I thought it was a good thing to know about and enjoyed finding out about it.
Q. There’s a very funny clip of you on YouTube being pitched the idea of Air Force One 2. Have people floated some similarly ludicrous variations on things you’ve done to you over the years?
Harrison Ford: What’s ludicrous about Air Force One 2? I’m in negotiations right now! I happen to think it will work [laughs]. You know, I’m trying to think if there was ever a sequel pitched that I didn’t go for [smiles]. I don’t think so… When we did the sequels of Indiana Jones, my ambition was that we take advantage of the audiences’ knowledge of the character and extend and complicate that knowledge. That led to bringing in Indiana’s father and finally bringing in the son he never knew [he had]… those kinds of things. I wasn’t the only one who was ambitious for that but it’s something I felt very strongly about.
Q. Finally, can I ask what some of your own favourite memories of being on a movie set have been?
Harrison Ford: Sure, sure… Oh, I really enjoy the work. I like working with the crew as well as the actors. I like being part of an army that gets something done. So, the simple pleasure of work is what I really remember.
Q. So, something like the barn building sequence in Witness would perhaps be one?
Harrison Ford: [Smiles] I tend not to have favourites or remember things that way. It’s all sort of a continuum. I don’t have a favourite kid or a favourite movie or a favourite airplane [smiles].
Q. Are you playing Wyatt Earp next in Black Hats?
Harrison Ford: Well, we’re looking at the script right now and seeing what we can do. So, hopefully we can get something sorted out for that.
Cowboys & Aliens is released in cinemas on Wednesday, August 17, 2011.
- Read our review
- Harrison Ford interview
- Daniel Craig interview
- Olivia Wilde interview
- Jon Favreau interview
- Cowboys & Aliens UK Premiere Photo Gallery
- Watch the trailer