Harrison Ford: Still Sane After All These Years

Harrison Ford, the "Star of the Century," exudes his God-given common sense as he opens up about the price of fame, disses sex scenes in the movies and considers whether or not men will want to see his new film Sabrina.

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Harrison Ford is the most successful movie star in the history of motion pictures. The numbing figures are well-known: he has starred in four of the 10 top-grossing films of all time; together, his movies have brought in over two billion dollars in the United States alone. In an era that' s marked by acceleration in the launch/crash-and-burn cycles of star life--soon the word "comet" will be more appropriate--Ford has shown a unique durability. Why this guy?

Talent alone is hardly the answer--Ford is underrated as an actor, but certainly there are more gifted actors out there. Luck has played its usual giant role--1977's Star Wars was a blazing stroke of luck; 1981' s Raiders of the Lost Ark would perhaps have made Tom Selleck a movie star had not "Magnum, P.I." laid claim to him and left Indiana Jones to Ford; Alec Baldwin drove too hard a bargain after the success of The Hunt for Red October and Ford moved in to take over the role of Jack Ryan, another bull' s-eye series character. But luck doesn't explain Ford' s career--after all, for most actors in Hollywood, luck is just the first step to failure.

The word "disposition" pops up in Ford' s conversation frequently, perhaps because he recognizes its importance to his success. His disposition-- his mental makeup--happens to be an unlikely, but obviously near-perfect, psychological recipe for late 20th-century movie stardom. Even in Hollywood, where all success is by definition a fluke. Ford's disposition stands out as exquisitely improbable. For example, though an overweening need to be liked is what fuels virtually all Hollywood careers--including those of truly unlikable people--Ford seems to have a far smaller need to be liked than the average citizen.

On the simplest level, this means he is a polite person rather than a friendly one; on a more complicated level, his self-regard demands success, yes, but not adulation. This aspect of Ford' s "disposition" set him up nicely to operate from strength even when he had no power. Also on the bizarre side in Fantasyland. Ford appears to be fundamentally rational. He has not, for example, trashed his career in search of the Oscar some part of him must want, while he has, for example, returned wisely to tried-and-true "Harrison Ford material" after taking dares with projects he found challenging but audiences weren't willing to accept him in. In general. Ford appears to have less an urge to manipulate others (and such urges make Hollywood tick), than to control himself (a positively exotic strategy among actors).

Finally, Ford himself seems immune to the idealizations, hero worship and erotic fixations that rivet fans to stars or other (worthier) heroes. This aloofness from the fan/celebrity dance of death is one of his greatest strengths.

Ford' s unlikely cocktail of assets, served up over time, now has half the world tipsy with admiration for him. At 53, he is the quintessential late bloomer, having achieved success not until his mid-30s and peaked, if indeed he has peaked, at an age when most stars are on their way out. Ford's new film is Sabrina, director Sydney Pollack's remake of Billy Wilder's 1954 film. In it, he plays the part Humphrey Bogart was miscast in originally, opposite Julia Ormond. whose job it is to fill Audrey Hepburn's shoes in the title role.

Q: Do you think any of the big power shifts that have taken place in Hollywood in the last several months will change your life at all?

A: It won't make a bit of difference to me. I just work here. I don't care.

Q: Speaking of power, did you have a good time when President Clinton came over for dinner?

A: Yeah, we had a good time. But it was a private visit and I really don't have anything much to say about it.

Q: Can you tell me whether you were nervous in the President's presence?

A: No, I wasn't.

Q: Let' s talk about Sabrina. Given that the original is not by any means a great movie, how did you approach the remake?

A: I hadn't seen the original when I read the [new] script [but] then I was disadvantaged in talking about the script by not having seen the original, so I went and looked at it. I thought Audrey Hepburn was extraordinary as a presence, a personality. I loved Bill Holden. I felt as uncomfortable watching Humphrey Bogart as I think he was being there. The movie had a very dated period feel to it. [Billy] Wilder is a great director, so it's unsuccessful now mostly just because of the passage of time.

Q: The original Sabrina is very dependent on the radiance of Audrey Hepburn. One would think the new script would have to focus more on your character, Linus, and less on Sabrina, since you could hardly assume you would be able to find the new Audrey Hepburn.

A: We didn't think we would, and I don' t think we did. I think Sydney [Pollack, the director] realized it was going to have to be more the shared story of Sabrina and Linus. It is not just about charm, or about qualities that Audrey Hepburn possessed as a person that are fascinating to watch. It's more a story of the evolution of the effect of this girl, as she grows and matures, on this man who has never been touched by love. Julia [Ormond] brings her own charms and considerable talent. I don' t think after the first five minutes you think about the old movie at all.

Q: I know that a lot of actresses were considered for this part. I was rather surprised to read in Entertainment Weekly that your wife [screenwriter Melissa Mathison] supposedly objected to Winona Ryder playing Sabrina because she was too young to act opposite you. Is there any truth to that story?

A: It's bullshit. One of the interesting things about Winona Ryder, something I admire, is that she doesn't seem to have an age. She's ageless. I don't know where they came up with the story. Even if my wife had said it, and she didn't, it' s not good thinking. This is, after all, an intergenerational love story. But I do think there is something about Winona Ryder that's a little too close to Audrey Hepburn. What was difficult was finding an established actress who was willing to bear the comparison, I think it' s very brave of Julia, and wise of her to know that the film itself will help her to bear that comparison.

Q: Of course, the audience doesn't give a rip about any of this, do they? Who' s seen Sabrina lately?

A: Not the people who are going to make the difference. I think of the movie audience as the East Coast and the West Coast, and all of the middle that makes the difference. And the East Coast and the West Coast are influenced by the elitist press and all this kind of nonsense, and the middle of the country could give a damn. They' ll go to anything they hear is a good movie.

Q: What about the casting of virtually unknown Greg Kinnear?

A: He walked on the set the first day and he had more chops than I had after 12, 15 years. He understands what he' s doing and he does it with grace. He' s going to take off like a shot.

Q: The original Sabrina appealed far more to women than men. What about the new one?

A: We'll have to see. This is a psychologically complicated film. This guy is pretending to be in love, and in the practice, in the performance of love, he becomes engaged by the feelings and open to them and changed. What is a lie turns out to be a dream, and he gets twisted by that. Whether men would prefer to see that kind of film instead of a film in which people are running, jumping and falling down--

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