Harrison Ford is an institution. A household name. For almost three decades he has been one of Hollywood’s favored leading men, playing Indiana Jones, Han Solo and Jack Ryan.
So he ought to have his pick of good scripts, right?
No way, Ford said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles.
“I used to depend on a steady flow of product from the studios’ development process,” he said. “But now if you want something for yourself — something you can be proud of — you have to make it yourself. You have to spend the time and money to do it yourself.”
Part of the problem, he said, is that Hollywood tends to view actors in light of their most recent work. So in the wake of 2008’s “IndianaJones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,“studios weren’t thinking of him to star in intimate dramas or comedies.
“I’ve always done that in my career — different kinds of films, films on different scales. But despite my career choices, people tend to think of you in relation to your more commercially successful work. Which meant that if I wanted something dramatically meaty, I’d have to find it myself.”
The result of his search is “Extraordinary Measures,” a drama about real-life drug company executive John Crowley (Brendan Fraser).To save two of his children from a rare and fatal genetic disorder, he teams up with renegade researcher Robert Stonehill (Ford) to search for a cure.
“I was looking for a story that presented the opportunity for something different from people’s expectations of me,” Ford said. “And I wanted a project that kept me interested.
“This was one of a number of pieces of material that I hoped to develop. In fact it’s the sole survivor.”
By serving as the film’s executive producer, Ford could shepherd it through its various stages, from the script to hiring the names in front of and behind the camera. Had he not done that, the actor said, he would never have ended up with such a role.
“Being the producer allowed me to have some part in assuring the project on which my name appears is of the quality that I want the audience to expect from me. It allowed me to participate in the crafting of a character, and that was very important to me. This isn’t the kind of film I’d find lying around in the street.
“In fact, if this script had been circulating around the general marketplace they’d have pushed John Malkovich for the part before they got around to me.”
While Crowley, his wife and children are actual people, Stonehill is an amalgam of several researchers with whom Crowley worked to develop an enzyme to keep his children alive.
Ford’s Stonehill is a genius but an outsider who prefers to work in solitude, who is often contemptuous of other scientists and who is more comfortable with theoretical research than actually dealing hands-on with other human beings.
“I wanted to create an ally for John Crowley who wasn’t a natural fit,” Ford said. “They’re very different individuals” — one a devoted family man, the other an oft-divorced loner; one diplomatic and careful, the other a confrontational personality.
“The idea was to create opportunities for drama, conflict and humor as these different individuals collide.”
Particularly tricky, Ford said, was finding the right balance between science and drama.
“I wanted the details of the science to be accurate, for audiences to have a sense of the complexity of the task involved. But at the same time we had to find a way to get science out of the characters’ heads and onto the screen. And that’s where the conflict between these two very different characters was useful.”
After a great movie career, does Harrison Ford have favorites? If he had to pick three of his films to be engraved on his tombstone, what would they be?
“Honestly, I’d rather have the names of my kids on the tombstone,” he said. “That’s what I’m proud of.”
Ford, 67, has four grown children from his previous marriages to Melissa Mathison and Mary Marquardt, and is the father figure for 9-year-old Liam, the adopted son of his fiancee, Calista Flockhart.
“It may sound odd for someone in this business, but I’m not a natural filmgoer. I’ve never been a student of cinema. I don’t even watch many movies.
“But I like to work. I’ve always liked the work. I like the people who work on movie sets, and I like the process of filmmaking. I like the problem-solving aspects of film production, and I like being someplace where I’m useful.
“Besides, it keeps me away from such things as playing golf.
“So don’t carve any of my movies on the tombstone. I’m fine with a plain old epitaph.”