HOLLYWOOD -- Harrison Ford has starred in more top 10 box-office films than any star in the history of motion pictures, yet he remains a reclusive mystery man to most of Hollywood.
The tall, darkly blond 44-year-old Chicago native starred in George Lucas' 'Star Wars' trilogy, 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.' All five films rate among the biggest grossers of all time.
Ford, ruggedly handsome with a prominent scar on his chin, established himself as king of sci-fi fantasy and action adventure pictures, up to and including the eerie hero of 'Blade Runner.'
It was not until he starred as a Philadelphia cop in a touching love story involving an Amish woman in 'Witness' in 1985 -- for which he won an Academy Award nomination as best actor -- that Ford changed his screen persona.
Many in Hollywood, along wth millions of filmgoers, discovered that the strong, silent star of superhit adventure films was a highly polished, versatile actor.
After only a few minutes with Ford, one also learns he is an intelligent and articulate human being.
Ford has kept interviews to a minimum over the years, zealously guarding his private life and only rarely discussing his career. Now he has made himself as available as a starlet on a weekly sitcom. His purpose, however, is loftier than self-agrandisement.
He is speaking out on his new film, 'Mosquito Coast,' a drama based on the novel by Paul Theroux and directed by Peter Weir, who also directed Ford in 'Witness.'
It is a powerful film about a quirky tyrant obsessed with removing his family from the complexities and blandishments of contemporary American society to start life anew in the tropics of Central America.
Ford, dressed in dark sports jacket, dark trousers and a blue shirt without a necktie, sipped his morning coffee in a posh Los Angeles hotel penthouse suite and laid it on the line:
'There are two reasons why I am speaking up about 'Mosquito Coast,'' he said. 'This is not a pre-sold film. This is no easily identified genre film, one that people can make up their minds to see as if deciding to have Chinese food or Italian food.
'This film is something no one has ever tasted before. So it needs to be described to the audience. That's one reason.
'The other is, quite frankly, there have been mixed reviews and I think the film has been very unfairly treated in some quarters. I have never seen a serious film treated so badly by the critics. And I think they're wrong. I don't mind saying I'm here trying to counter those negative reviews.
'I'm not defensive about the picture, but I want the public to hear another point of view. Critics see a film and then rush to review it. This is the sort of movie that really doesn't sink home for about three days. It is disturbing and makes you think. It stays with you.
'The picture is well worth seeing. It has a great deal to say about family relationships, the importance of kindness and understanding in a family -- even though that isn't the case in thisfamily.
'It's a very complicated and ambitious piece and I would like people to see it. I would like to do whatever I can to help that happen.'
How does Ford feel about his 'Star Wars' and 'Indiana Jones' fans who will go to see 'Mosquito Coast' expecting to find more macho bravado?
'I think there will be various reactions,' he said, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully. 'This isn't a children's movie, but it is a picture many people will want to see with their families. People who are hard-core Harrison Ford fans don't expect the same thing over and over again. If they have any interest in me, they've learned what my ambitions are.
'They know I enjoy doing different sorts of things. And they have their choice whether this is the kind of film they want to see.
'This is the same direction I've always flown in, playing different parts in different sorts of films.'
Ford welcomed the opportunity to play the multi-layered personality of Allie Fox, the driven -- almost mad -- protagonist in 'Mosquito Coast.' Fox is a tortured man with a dream of establishing a Utopia for his family only to have it turn to ashes. But he is the source of his own undoing.
'It has been my ambition to play that kind of role,' Ford said, 'and it was consistent with what Peter (Weir) had in mind. We had to sort out many things after endless discussions and debate.
'We had to determine to what degree the character was insane and yet make him acceptable to his family as well as the audience. Fox is an unusual man determined to manifest his dreams.
'He is an angry man who shouts and screams at his wife and children, as do three or four husbands on any given residential block in any city. Fox is really angry at himself, a man who contains the seeds of his own destruction.'
Ford fails to see his performance as a major change from the demands of past roles, laughingly agreeing that he has more dialogue in 'Mosquito Coast' than all his other pictues combined.
'The job of acting is the same in every film regardless of the material,' he explained. 'It's story-telling in logical steps. In a good script it is fairly easy because you have ideas to chain yourself to -- otherwise, it's party tricks.
'There are few complications to the characters of Han Solo or Indiana Jones. But the demands of playing either of them are no less difficult than playing Fox. In many ways a character with as much experience as Fox is allowed is easier to play. You need only to note the variety of his emotions.
'And I enjoyed the increased amount of dialogue. As you can tell just sitting here with me, I am a very verbal person. Having all those lines to deliver was a pure pleasure.
'Not only did I enjoy the play on words, I took joy in the writer's good language. Peter and I abstracted and categorized dozens of Fox's lines from the book and used those quotes to amplify and describe him or his circumstances in the film's dialogue.
'From the beginning I wanted the audience to know Fox was a pain, but I wanted him somewhat sympathetic, too. I wanted people to understand he is like the average man except that he acts out his dreams. He says he is going to take his family to the jungle and he does.
'Playing a man of Fox's dimension, as compared to my previous work, wasn't as difficult a transition as some might think. I think of it more of an opportunity than a challenge.
'I liked the material and wanted to work with Peter again. Because Fox is a character unlike any I've ever played before I was aware some people would think it was a real departure. For me it didn't seem so much a departure. The job of acting is always the same regardless of what kind of character you play.
'Also it seems obvious an actor must play different kinds of parts. You must challenge and expand the public's notion of who you are and what you do. Indiana Jones, Han Solo and the cop in 'Witness' were sympathetic characters. But Fox is not essentially a good guy.
'Without understanding Fox, he serves the story. Without his deficiencies of character the story we tell would not be what it is. I don't mind playing an unsympathetic character.
'What I saw as challenge and necessity was to make Fox understandable, to allow comprehension if not sympathy, a degree of empathy from the audience. And to cause that to happen was the job at hand for Peter and me.
'As an actor I try to give value for money received at the box office. The moviegoing audience is getting older and more selective, which bodes well for the future of quality films.'
Ford, who quit acting to become a carpenter when he was discouraged in the late 1960s, enjoys his new status as superstar because he is getting first shot at top parts in good pictures.
'What I like best is taking a character off a page and putting him on the screen,' he said. 'And I like being part of a team with the same ambition. It's an emotional exercise.
'The action films offered me in the past were the best possible projects with (George) Lucas and (Steven) Spielberg. But I also recognized that 'Blade Runner,' 'Witness' and 'Mosquito Coast' were fine opportunities.
'My intellectual makeup doesn't recognize obstacles. I don't mean to say there isn't anything I can't do. But if I don't try something, I'll never know if I can do it. The question in my mind is how much I might be diminished if I don't tackle the new and difficult.
'I don't want to keep repeating my work. It's a no-win, no-growth situation. However, I plan on doing more Indiana Jones films. One more at least. I'm not turning my back on my past in any way or setting out in a new direction. My career is a matter of continued growth.'