Cannes: Harrison Ford “Flattered and Uncommonly Reflective” After Career Tribute, Is as Busy as Ever (Exclusive)
As the 2023 Cannes Film Festival hits its midway point, I have three main takeaways from its first half:
(1) None of the high-profile films that have already screened — among them Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, Todd Haynes’ May December and Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest — have been universally embraced.
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(2) Street peddlers of umbrellas must be making a killing — the weather has been awful almost every day.
(3) The most exciting and moving event thus far happened Thursday evening, when Harrison Ford — arguably cinema’s biggest living legend — was greeted with a raucous standing ovation at the Palais, surprised with an honorary Palme d’Or and moved to tears ahead of the world premiere of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the fifth and, allegedly, final installment in one of the most popular film franchises of all-time.
On Saturday morning, I met up with the 80-year-old — who also starred in two major television series over the past year, as a therapist battling Parkinson’s disease on Apple TV+’s Shrinking and as the patriarch of a Montana ranching family on Paramount+’s 1923 — in a seaside cabana at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc for his only solo interview at the fest with a U.S. publication. He admitted that he was drained from celebrating late into the night Friday but emphasized that he was still riding a high from Thursday evening.
Congratulations on Thursday night. What did that reception from the audience and honor from the fest mean to you?
It was a great night. I cannot deny it. And I cannot deny being flattered and uncommonly reflective and quite literally just happy to be here.
Do you remember the first time you were in Cannes?
No, do you?
I think it might have been in 1985 for Witness, no? I know you were back in 2014 for The Expendables 3.
Oh, and there were many others in between. A couple involved Indiana Jones. [Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull premiered at the fest in 2008.] I usually ended up in the same condition I am now — I’m sober, but I was up a little late.
When you first played Han Solo in the ’70s and Deckard and Indiana Jones in the ’80s, would you have ever imagined that you would revisit those parts?
No, it never crossed my mind. I don’t even remember if that was in favor back in the older days. We didn’t do that back then. When I did the first Star Wars, the only objection I had to the contract was the sequel clause, which I didn’t sign.
Smart negotiation tactic!
I was too dimwitted to have “negotiated” that. I just ran away from it.
Because I didn’t want to be obliged. I wanted to see whether the one was successful before I was locked into two more. But, again, fate intervened.
So when you do go back to those parts, most recently Indiana Jones —
You mean I’ve got to do another fucking Blade Runner?! No, no, no, I would love to actually. I was once asked by someone — I think it probably was a journalist because I can’t imagine anybody else asking me this question — “Are you going to repeat every goddamn movie you’ve ever done over again?” [pause] I said, “Why not?”
Is returning to these parts like stepping back into an old pair of shoes?
No, there’s a bit of discipline to it. I’ve always felt, and the people that I’ve worked with have always felt, that we need to bring something new to the mix. If we’re going to do another Indiana Jones, the essential question is, “What new thing are we going to learn about Indiana Jones?” Because if you don’t progress the character when you progress the story, you’re going to be out of sync. I have not been disappointed by any of those films that I’ve done where I’ve done it over — that I can think of right now.
You say there’s always got to be a motivation. With this Indiana Jones, what, for you, was the underlying reason to revisit the story?
I’d always wanted a final chapter in the story. We first started thinking about it quite a few years ago. My ambition — all of our ambition — was to come up with a story that dealt with the reality of his age because he was such a physical character. I wanted to see him diminished and revivified by whatever the storyline was and by whoever the characters were. And when we got the story that felt right to everybody, then we went ahead.
Looking back to the beginning of your career, you were a $150-a-week contract player at Columbia and then a $250-a-week contracted player at Universal. When I first interviewed you 10 years ago, you told me the reason you walked away from the job at Universal was that they were asking you to do a lot of episodic television and, “I figured I was going to wear out my face before I had a chance to do the kind of work that I was ambitious for.”
That was my understanding, or that was my instinct, at that time. And thus the development of my carpentry career. [Editor’s note: Ford bided his time doing carpentry. Among his jobs was building an elaborate entrance for Francis Ford Coppola’s office at Goldwyn Studios. One day, George Lucas, who had already directed him in American Graffiti, walked in with Richard Dreyfuss, who was being considered for Star Wars. Shortly thereafter, Ford was asked to read opposite the other actors who were being considered, which he did for two weeks before being offered the part of Han Solo.]
I bring up that quote only because attitudes toward television — including your own — have obviously changed so much since then.
It’s not just attitudes. It’s the intention of TV. I’m not competent to assess how it’s all turned out ’cause it’s so much in flux at the moment. There are problematic aspects to it like we’re facing with the strike —
But the idea that you would, in one year, be a part of two TV series, both of which you’ve since re-upped for, is pretty striking. What, to you, is the appeal of TV today?
The quality of the writing is what attracted me. It was undeniable.
How do you feel about the volume of work that it requires and the pace of it all?
I love it. I love the fast pace. I love the collaboration of it. I love the people that I’m working with. And I love the fucking material. Can we leave the “fucking” out this time instead of putting it in the headline? [Editor’s note: Ford is jokingly referencing the recent THR cover story about him entitled, “Harrison Ford: I Know Who the F*** I Am.”]
How do you think your life would’ve unfolded if you hadn’t found acting?
I would have been a miserable carpenter.
When you were under contract to Columbia, they wanted you to change your name. Did you ever consider any alternatives?
Yeah, I did. Kurt Affaire.
Yes. It was the most ludicrous thing I could think of to tell them. And they said the usual thing, “Get the fuck out of here.” That “fuck” you can print but not a headline. (Laughs.)
You’ve been a part of so many box office hits. Which did you least expect to go over to the extent that it did?
Of course, Star Wars. But I thought Star Wars was going to work. I don’t know much about science fiction, and I’m not necessarily a huge fan — I’ve got nothing against it, I just don’t know it that well, and I never thought that much about it — but I do know about fairy tales because I’ve got kids, so I could smell the fairy tale thing. The callow youth, the wise old warrior, the beautiful princess. I sort of knew that I [as Han Solo] was the smartass that was necessary. It’s pepper. So, I sort of identified the potential for success in it. At least it would put my children to sleep.
Who in your life has taught you the most?
Well, my wife [actress Calista Flockhart] is still teaching me. I have not graduated from any course that I’ve ever been enrolled in, so bring on any available wisdom. I don’t know, it takes me a while to digest things sometimes.
If you could have your anonymity back for one day, what would you do?
Well, no one would find out. You wouldn’t be publishing something about it the next day. That I can tell you.
You’ve said that you really enjoy working with younger talents, like Phoebe Waller-Bridge from Dial of Destiny and Jason Segel from Shrinking. What do you learn from them, and what do they most want to learn from you?
That’s a good question. You save the hard ones for the end, right? I don’t know. I don’t listen very carefully when they want something from me because I don’t feel that I should be giving advice to anybody.
Because everybody does it different. The only advice I can imagine being of any value is, “Why are you asking me? You have to figure this out for yourself.” Any answer that doesn’t come from you is insufficient. Don’t imitate somebody else’s success, or try to, or think that there would be any value in it, because everybody has to obtain their own process and find their own way. And if you start trying to follow somebody else, you’ll fucking lose the trail every time.
There wasn’t somebody for you who was a North Star?
Everyone. If the dolly grip has got the next big good idea, that’s where I’m going. Because [a set] is an amazing atmosphere where everybody counts and everybody contributes. And any good idea can drop out of the sky.
You mentioned that the main reason to go back to the part of Indiana Jones was to see him in his older years and how he handles things differently than he did when he was young. What’s the most important thing that you wouldn’t have known when you were younger that you know now?
This is a reference to Phil Stutts: Keep moving. Forward motion. Don’t stop. Don’t stand around watching your own accidents. “There’s nothing to see, folks. Keep on moving.”
Interview lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
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