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Interview of the week: Harrison Ford

By KAREN BUTLER   |   July 25, 2002 at 12:17 PM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, July 25 (UPI) -- Harrison Ford is used to saving the day. He usually does it by himself. But in his new Russian submarine drama, "K: 19-The Widowmaker," he gets some help from "Phantom Menace" and "Rob Roy" star, Liam Neeson.

So, was it difficult sharing the helm of a huge action picture with another handsome, big-name actor?

Ford says, "Nyet."

"We worked together as actors to help craft a story," the former carpenter told reporters in New York recently. "It's like two shoemakers working on a pair of shoes; one guy does soles and the other guy does uppers and they have to fit together, that's all. There wasn't any conflict between us."

Noting that the project could have suffered from the "too many cooks spoiling the meal" syndrome, Ford insists that the cast and crew got along exceptionally well, especially considering in what cramped quarters they had to work.

"It was a pretty crowded kitchen," he acknowledged. "There were a lot of people involved, but I think that we all made sense of what we were there to do."

The "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" actor, who is of Russian and Irish extraction, says he chose to act in this film because he found the story so compelling. Based on real events, the film stars Ford and Neeson as Russian captains desperate to prevent their leaking sub from accidentally igniting a nuclear war on its maiden voyage in the North Sea more than 40 years ago.

"It had a great emotional basis and I felt strongly about it as I do about almost everything that I do, but you know, as much as I wanted to give dignity to the characters and their experience, a lot of what they went through had to be fictionalized for the purposes of storytelling," he warned. "I think that what we did was to dignify their experience and not make silly choices and we held pretty strictly to the Russian point of view, I think, and didn't comment on the political system or the nature of Russians."

Asked to comment on the events' historical significance and how the Cold War story might relate to current events, Ford says he would prefer to let the audience interpret the film for themselves.

"There is significance to this period of time and there are a lot of metaphorical possibilities and references to our own times, but I leave that in the hands of the people who are perceiving the film for the time. I didn't set out to make the film for that reason. I was aware of that and thought about that in my off time, but I don't really want to do that job for people who are having a first time experience with the film," he remarked.

Although Ford says he recalls the building of missile silos and bomb shelters when he was growing up in Chicago, the actor admits he knew very little about the Russian defense system of the day before signing on to this movie. Ford emphasizes that whatever peril he might have associated with Russia when he was a kid, however, he was "never able to really buy into the notion of demonizing... political systems."

"It wasn't good people, bad people," he reasoned. "The people in charge was the issue in my mind."

Ford says that when the cast and crew went to Moscow, the Russians they encountered seemed a "bit confused" about the filmmakers' intentions.

"They wanted to be reassured as to our intentions and I'm not sure that we were able to because we didn't have a finished script to show them and we weren't in a position to be able to assure them completely, but we did try," Ford explained. "I think that we were respectful and were attentive to what they were willing to share with us."

Directing a mostly male cast in a testosterone-fueled flick like "K:19" might seem like an odd choice for a lady filmmaker, but Ford insists that Kathryn Bigelow was the right person for the job.

"I don't think (her gender) ever came up, to tell you the truth," Ford said. "Through her understanding of the story and the circumstances, she had worked long and hard to develop the project and she has mastered her craft as a director, and no one ever questioned her authority or her fitness for duty on account of her gender. It never came up as far as I know."

"K:19" may be one of the most eagerly anticipated action dramas of the summer, but it definitely has some competition. Leading the pack are "Minority Report," starring Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell, and "The Sum of All Fears," the fourth installment of Tom Clancy's series, which features Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan, the role created by Alec Baldwin in "The Hunt for the Red October" and immortalized by Ford in "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger."

Already a blockbuster, the film that cast Ryan as a CIA agent more than 25 years Ford's junior apparently wasn't intriguing enough to get the actor to buy a ticket.

"You know, I don't go to movies very often," he said. "It's just not something that I do very often. I'll get a chance to see it sometime, but I haven't seen it."

Asked his opinion about the change in Jack Ryan's age, he replied: "I thought that it was just (that Affleck) was cuter."

Even though he won't be playing Jack Ryan in any more films, that doesn't mean we won't see Ford revisit a beloved screen hero in a new adventure. He recently agreed to reprise his role as the legendary archaeologist in "Indiana Jones 4." Filming is expected to begin shortly after Ford and filmmakers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg all agree on a script.

A release date has been tentatively set for 2005 when Ford will be 63 years old.

"There are a lot of different aspects of that character that I think that you could bring some more detail to, but I think that the unique opportunity in this case is to see him in the context of a different historical period of time. We'll see him in the fifties, in America, or at least for part of the film, and I think that's an interesting opportunity there," he explained.

So, does the star of two of the most successful film franchises in history get tired of playing a character more than once?

"It's a double-edged sword," he replied. "Once you've done a character, I think that you're obliged to expand on it in some way, bring more information to the audience, a different experience or a different level of experience. So, it cuts both ways."

"K:19-The Widowmaker" is in theatres now.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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