Harrison Ford: I Love Flying Planes and Riding Bikes.
I’m in it for the money,’ says Harrison Ford, 67, in Beverly Hills. ‘And I mean that in the nicest possible way. This is my job.’
He is, of course, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Hollywood, with an estimated fortune of $300 million. His films, including the blockbusters Star Wars, Blade Runner, The Empire Strikes Back, The Fugitive and Raiders Of The Lost Ark, have grossed more than $3.5 billion.
‘Acting is my craft,’ he says. ‘I’ve spent my whole life working on it and I want to get paid well to do it, because otherwise I’m being irresponsible, not valuing what I do for a living. When I came into this business I didn’t even know the names of the movie studios – I was under contract to a studio for $150 a week. One thing I learned is that the studios had no respect for a person who was willing to work for them for that amount. So I realised that the value I put on my own work was the value and respect I would get back.’
In his latest movie, Extraordinary Measures, he plays a scientist who joins a father in his search to find a cure that will save his two children from a rare disease. They have to raise $100 million to develop a new drug.
There’s nothing good about being famous
You always think, ‘If I’m successful, then I’ll have opportunities.’ You never figure the cost of fame will be a total loss of privacy. That’s incalculable. What a burden that is for anybody. It was unanticipated and I’ve never enjoyed it. You can get the table you want in a restaurant. It gets you doctor’s appointments. But what’s that worth? Nothing. The real coin of the realm is freedom – to make choices, do the projects that you want to do and have some control over the stories and the way a film is released and sold.
It’s been years since I got my ear pierced but people still talk about it.
I had no idea people would be so overjoyed, but I did it for myself because I wanted it. I never thought of it as an element of style. I was sitting having lunch with two guys my own age who both had earrings. And after drinking one or two glasses of white wine too many, I said, ‘Why shouldn’t I have an earring?’ And I went down to the first jewellery store that offered to punch a hole in your ear for the price of an earring and suddenly I had one. I was totally unprepared for the attention it would get.
Flying is like good music: it elevates the spirit and it’s an exhilarating freedom. It’s not a thrill thing or an adrenaline rush; it’s engaging in a process that takes focus and commitment. I love the machines, I love the aviation community. I used to own aeroplanes and have pilots flying them for me, but I finally realised they were having more fun than I was. They were getting to play with my toys. I was 52 when I started flying – I’d been an actor for 25 years and I wanted to learn something new. Acting was my only identity. Learning to fly was a lot of work, but the net result was a sense of freedom and a pleasure in seeing to the safety of myself and the people who fly with me.
All of my planes are great to fly, and that’s why I’ve got so many of them.
I have a Citation Sovereign, a long-range jet; a Grand Caravan, a turboprop aircraft capable of operating on unimproved strips; and a De Havilland, a bush plane. I have a 1929 Waco Taperwing open-top biplane; a 1942 PT-22 open-top monoplane trainer; an Aviat Husky, a two-seat fabric-covered bush plane; and a Bell 407 helicopter. I also have more than my fair share of motorbikes – eight or nine. I have four or five BMWs, a couple of Harleys, a couple of Hondas and a Triumph; plus I have sports touring bikes. I’m a single rider, and I love being out in the air. I like the focus that comes when you’re riding – you really have to be very keyed into what you’re doing. I ride up into the mountains in LA on twisty little canyon roads on Sunday mornings with a group of other enthusiasts.
Crashing your plane is like scraping your bumper.
One time when I was landing I got caught in a dramatic wind shear, which resulted in about $9,000 worth of damage. That’s small change. But it was a troubling couple of minutes. I’ve had other weather-induced misadventures. I got caught in a microburst (a sudden downdraught) in my helicopter – I ended up doing an aeronautical rodeo. I was OK, but it gave me the opportunity to buy a new helicopter.
I can be scary if necessary.
When I know I’m right about something I will persist up to and past an annoying level of insistence. As a producer I don’t see myself as the boss; I’m a collaborator. Very little makes me angry. I lose my temper rarely, very rarely. But I’m as complicated as the next person. I’m certainly capable of all the good and bad things everybody else is capable of.
It used to be that somebody would send me a script, I’d call them and say I loved it and two weeks later we’d be in pre-production.
That’s what it was like with Witness – we proceeded on a handshake and they worked out a deal very quickly. It just isn’t that way any more. Money’s tight and the business isn’t as healthy as it once was. I was willing to work for something more approaching an allowance than a pay cheque on Extraordinary Measures because I understood the realities of the economics of this kind of film.
There’s nothing better than seeing a herd of elk right outside the window of my house in Wyoming.
My land gives me an opportunity to be close to nature, and I find spiritual solace in nature, contemplating our species in the context of the natural world. The property is much the same as it was 150 years ago. It’s in the mountains and had never been developed when I bought it. Apart from the home and outbuildings, I’ve kept it pretty much in that state. I know that the property will be there for as long as I live and well after that in the hands of my children.
I’m a big fan of Prince Charles.
I met him because I worked on a little film project for The Prince’s Trust last year, and he’s a charming man, very nice and a very smart guy. We may be working together on an environmental project this year for Conservation International. I’m on the board, and we’re very happy because Prince Charles asked to join us. A few weeks ago we voted to place him on our board of directors. We’ll probably do something together soon connected with the protection of the environment.
Provided I’m still alive, I’ll make myself available for the next Indiana Jones.
There may well be another film if we find a script, and we’re able to develop a story in less than the 18 years it took to make the last one. I’m not Indiana Jones – I’m an actor. I just work, and it’s important for my career to play different kinds of characters. Extraordinary Measures is a compelling story of a father’s devotion and courage. It deals with problems of health care and the difficulty of getting a drug through the pharmaceutical industry and approved by the federal government.
I don’t care about awards.
I’d rather make a living at what I do and have time to be with my family. I don’t have any expectation in that area.