His movies have grossed more than those of any other performer in history, close to a billion dollars. But no one refers to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and his current Raiders of the Lost Ark as “Harrison Ford films,” and his name on a marquee is no guarantee of success: Force 10 from Navarone and Hanover Street, which tried to cash in on his name, didn’t. His portrayals of Han Solo and Indiana Jones recall the laconic, can-do spirit of Hollywood heroes past, yet Ford cannot be hailed as a new Bogie or Duke, nor even the next Newman or Eastwood.
He is, rather, the epitome of a distinct new breed of film star, creatures of the new generation of Hollywood producer-directors and their canny fascination with action-adventure movies. The craft of directors like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg is highly technical; the real stars of their films are special effects and other directorial pyrotechnics. As characters have been upstaged, actors have become increasingly interchangeable. Perhaps Richard Dreyfuss could never have played Superman, but surely Christopher Reeve could have been Indiana Jones, or Ford the ichthyologist in Jaws. Actress Sean Young, Ford’s leading lady in the upcoming sci-fi flick Blade Runner, suggests the plight of the action-adventure star in speaking of Ford: “He’s one of the sexiest men I’ve ever met, and he brings more to a role than is really there.”
Ford is indeed a versatile, commendably self-effacing actor who is capable of doing much more than he has been called upon to do. Still, the new regime suits him just fine. “All I ever wanted from this business,” he says, “is to make a living as an actor.” When he came to Hollywood 16 years ago, he started as a contract player for Columbia and went through the old studio grind: a series of walk-ons and beefcake promotions on the beach at Malibu as he was groomed in the time-honored way. A salary of $150 a week was not enough to feed a growing family, however, so he became a self-taught carpenter.
It was a cameo in Lucas’ American Graffiti that led to Ford’s starring role in Star Wars. That movie alone has made him rich (he gets a piece of the profits). After its release he divorced his wife, Mary, and now lives with screenwriter Melissa Mathison in Beverly Hills. Still a skilled carpenter, he enjoys working around the house more than making small talk at cocktail parties. “He’s a very unactory actor,” says friend Margot Kidder. “He’s got to find the Hollywood scene boring.”
How much does he command for movies? Ford says simply: “I ask and they pay.” In early January he will begin work on the third Star Wars, Revenge of the Jedi. He is planning to do two Indiana Jones sequels. He wishes nothing more for his career. “I don’t want to be a movie star,” he says. “I want to be in movies that are stars.”