More than 36 years ago, Harrison Ford became part of a science-fiction classic when he stepped behind the controls of the Millennium Falcon as Han Solo in “Star Wars.” With his new role as Col. Hyrum Graff in “Ender’s Game,” Ford said the acting challenges have not changed, even though the shift from plastic models to computer graphics changed everything around him.
“When we were making ‘Star Wars,’ they were putting together spaceships out of plastic model kits of cars and boats and trains, gluing them all together, putting them on a stick and flying them past the camera,” Ford said during a recent news conference in Los Angeles. “And it worked. It worked. It was fine: Add a little music and then you believe in the spaceship coming over your head.”
In “Ender’s Game,” the long-awaited adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s best-selling young adult novel about young soldiers waging an interplanetary war against an invading alien force, advanced computer graphics are an essential part of the training that Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) encounters on his way into battle. Ford said he appreciates the advances in special effects since George Lucas founded Industrial Light and Magic in the mid-1970s, and “Ender’s Game” finds the balance between story and visuals without going into computerized overdrive.
“The capacity to create effects on the computer has made the job easier, but it’s also introduced the complexity that, with a few more keystrokes, generate such a busy canvas that the eye doesn’t know where to go,” said Ford, 71, whose background in classic sci-fi includes Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” which used practical model-making. “You lose human scale on an event and you’re just wowed by the kinetics and the visualization, but you’ve lost … touch with the human characters and what it is that they would feel.”
That human element and the promise that it would not be trampled by effects is what drew Ford to “Ender’s Game.”
“I actually read the script before I read the book. I thought it was an interesting subject that I hadn’t seen in film, and I saw an interesting character that was responsible for supporting some questions about responsibility and the military and relationships between young people and old people — a lot of things that intrigued me,” he said. “When I met with the filmmakers, I had a sense that they were very ambitious and focused on making a film that I thought would be useful to a young audience. It was altogether attractive to me.”
Building and exploring
Ford was circumspect when answering questions about revisiting the Han Solo character in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars, Episode VII,” due in 2015. Neither he nor his co-stars in the original “Star Wars” films, including Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, are officially confirmed for the film.
Ford said that he is only interested in revisiting his classic roles when sequels offer opportunities to explore new sides to his established characters.
“What I look for is identifying what the utility of my character is in the telling of the story,” he said. “And if I can identify that from reading the script, then I’ll have a clear idea whether the character is worth playing. I love my work and will continue to look for things that have the potential to be engaging and successful, whether it’s the first time it’s been done or the fifth time it’s been done. What I always looked for in the ‘Indiana Jones’ films was that we advance the notion of the character and the audience’s understanding of the character from each film to the other in an ambitious way.
“So the potential to build on the audience’s knowledge of a character … you can take advantage of that,” Ford said. “If you’re ambitious.”
Ford continues to work hard 40 years after his breakout role as Bob Falfa in George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” — he has four screen credits in 2013 alone, including “Ender’s Game,” “Paranoia,” “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” and his appearance as Branch Rickey in “42,” a performance that is garnering early Oscar nomination buzz.
That level of activity is important to Ford, who shrugged off one suggestion during the news conference that he is a movie “icon.”
While many of his characters are considered iconic, Ford said he has little use for the word personally.
“Icon means nothing to me,” he said. “I don’t understand what it means to anybody. It seems like a word of convenience. It seems to attend to the success of the kinds of movie that I did. But there is no personal utility in being an icon. I don’t know what an icon does, except stand in the corner quietly accepting everyone’s attention. I like to work, so there is no utility in being an icon. I don’t really think about it.”
– George Lang