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Q&A: Harrison Ford of 'Extraordinary Measures'

Originally published Jan. 15, 2010.

If there is anything hard about interviewing Harrison Ford, it’s that the actor has amassed such a varied filmography of legendary highs (“Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones”), genre classics (“Blade Runner,” “The Fugitive”) and some pretty big stinkers (“Firewall”). There are simply too many questions to ask in a 15-minute window.

Oh, and the other thing is that Ford, who grew up in Uptown and graduated from northwest suburban Maine East High School, is simply a tough interview. While promoting his new film, the inspired-by-a-true-story medical drama, “Extraordinary Measures,” Ford was more interested in spouting generic claptrap about the film and about the development of his character, Dr. Stonehill, a composite character based on several doctors who worked with John Crowley (played by Brendan Fraser) to develop a treatment for his two kids battling a neuromuscular disorder called Pompe. Insightful anecdotes and funny one-liners are not Ford’s forte.

Ford, 67, who lives in L.A. and speaks almost exclusively in a slow, hushed voice, says that he doesn’t remember much about Chicago but that the weather “breeds character.”

Let’s say someone tries to mug you on the street. You’ve got a light saber in one pocket and a whip in the other. Which do you go for?

[quiet laugh] I don’t know where to go with that. I think I would run away. As usual.

What do you mean as usual?

Well, I mean I’m reaching deep into the depths of my soul and I’m telling you that I’m not playing a guy with a whip or a light saber if somebody’s trying to mug me on the street.

It’s not a character; it’s just self-defense.

Well, the character choice I would be making is ... You’re asking me, and I would tell you I would run away.

It seems like a quiet drama like “Extraordinary Measures” is rare these days. What do you think about the industry’s tendency to do everything loud now?

Well, I think movies are made for the whole broad population of moviegoers. We didn’t think we would have a movie that 15-year-olds would go to three times. We understood what we were doing. But that’s why a film like this, that’s why you don’t spend $200 million or $500 million to make a movie like this.

Hopefully no one’s waiting for explosions.

I think people will know by the time they get to the theater, through articles they read in the newspaper and the ads, that that’s not the kind of movie [it is].

Do you have a favorite movie that was filmed in Chicago?

“The Fugitive,” I suppose.

How about one you weren’t in.

I’m not much of a moviegoer to tell you the truth. I can’t really remember.

How about between “Ferris Bueller” and “The Dark Knight”?

Oh, I never saw “The Dark Knight.” “Ferris Bueller,” if I remember, was a pretty suburban movie, wasn’t it?

He spent a decent amount of time in the city. At the parade, Wrigley Field, etc.

I don’t remember well enough. I’m sorry.

What stuck with you the most about growing up in Chicago?

I suppose the people. I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to characterize the people but I suppose it is the Midwest and Midwesterners are different to the people … I’ve been living on the west coast for 40 years.

Why did the last Indy film get people worked up? I thought it was entertaining.

Did they get worked up? I don’t understand.

There were definitely polarizing opinions with some die-hards disappointed by it. Yet it sounds like you’re interested in continuing the franchise whenever possible.

Sure, if we get a good idea. I think that over the four films that each of them has had a variety of different strengths.

Do you have a favorite?

Oh, I suppose the first one is my favorite in some ways. You know, I just work here. The audience can pick their favorites.

How different would Indiana Jones have been with the actor originally cast, Tom Selleck?

It would have been a lot of different. It would have been Tom Selleck instead of me.

How often do you go back and watch your own films?

Never.

Any you’ve never seen?

Um, couple. A couple, but I won’t name them.

What do people usually say when they recognize you?

“Hi! Hi, are you? Oh my gosh, can I take a picture with you?” Since the invention of the cell phone camera, that’s the most common question.

Do you get more questions about “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones”?

Uh, I don’t think people would often stop me on the street and ask me questions.

Alan Arkin has taken a few roles as the funny grandpa. Could you see yourself playing parts like that? What are you looking for right now?

I’m looking for whatever’s good that’s out there. I’ve got a comedy coming out in July in which I play a retired network news anchor. I’ve got a thriller that I’m planning on starting in April that I’m not ready to talk about yet because the ducks aren’t all in a row. I’m interested in all kinds of different characters.

If people think one thing when they think Harrison Ford, what do you want it to be?

Useful.

Why?

Who’s in charge of this game, you or me? Useful.

It’s a back and forth. I didn’t know anyone was in charge.

No, no, no. I’m kidding ya. Useful because that’s what I want to be. To the people I work with I want to be useful. To the audience I want to be useful.

You have a reputation of being a private guy. Why?

Because I am.

Has anyone asked you anything that totally crossed the line?

Yeah.

What’s the last thing?

Uh, it had something to do with a light saber and a whip.

Word association
Indiana Jones: Show business has been very, very good to me.
Han Solo: Done with him
George Lucas: A fountain from which my career sprang, more or less
Steven Spielberg: Terrific filmmaker
Yoda: Old fart
Chicago: My hometown
The Fugitive: Good movie
Mistake: Mistake? Make ‘em everyday
Challenge: Sitting in a hotel room pretending to tell the truth
Chicago sports: Cubs

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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