Ford's finesse

by Ed Symkus

There's no mistaking the incredibly low voice of Harrison Ford -- low in both pitch and volume, usually delivered in monotone. And no one who's ever been to one or two or 10 of his films would have any trouble picking out his rumpled, slightly gnarled face in a crowd. The little gold stud in his left ear is at first a bit off-putting, but, hey, even one of the most bankable movie stars in the world, and most likely the only one who's had a spider named after him, has got to have a side he doesn't show onscreen.

His new film, What Lies Beneath, a nail-biting, ghost story in which he co-stars with Michelle Pfeiffer, actually does show a different side of him. That's one of the reasons he took the part.

"First of all, I thought it was a well-told, suspenseful, scary movie," he says quietly. "That's something I haven't done for a while. The character appealed to me for its difference to what I have done lately or what I'm known to do. And then there was the opportunity to work with Michelle and [director] Bob Zemeckis. So when this came along, it was a very easy decision for me to make."

It was a good decision, as there's no doubt this film is going to be a smash. But Ford readily admits he hasn't always been exactly on the mark in picking parts. Case in point: last year's grimly romantic Random Hearts, of which most critics and viewers at the time of its release said, "It doesn't work."

"That depends on what you mean by 'doesn't work,' " says Ford. "If you mean commercially, that it doesn't make a lot of money, I'm never surprised. I've had my share of good luck, and I expect to have my share of fair luck, medium luck and bad luck. But I am not displeased with that film, and I wouldn't characterize it as saying that it doesn't work. I would say that it didn't make a lot of money.

"I'm always concerned about an audience reaction," he adds. "But I don't expect the breadth of that audience is the same for each kind of film. Random Hearts is a very grown-up film with a kind of difficult core to it. I expect that What Lies Beneath will be appreciated as a real entertainment, and will thus cross over a lot of genre barriers, a lot of age barriers. And I think people love scary movies, especially when they can intellectually participate and emotionally participate to the extent that it's allowed by this film."

Ford would love to go on and on about his current film, but there are things about many others -- both new and old -- that need some straightening out. For instance, will he ever again play either Indiana Jones or Jack Ryan? What's the story with new revelations about Deckard, the character he played in Blade Runner? And films aside for a moment, how did he come to have a spider named after him?

As far as Jack Ryan, the CIA agent he played in the film adaptations of Tom Clancy's Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, Ford says, "I've given up on that character."

He brightens up considerably on the subject of the whip-cracking Professor Jones.

"I hold a very strong ambition to do another Indiana Jones," he says. "I'd love to work on that character again, I'd love to work with Steven [Spielberg] on it again and with George [Lucas]. I keep hearing there's [going to be] a screenplay by M. Night Shyamalan [The Sixth Sense], but so far I have no personal knowledge. I know that we've talked about it and that he's expressed an interest in it. But I haven't yet caught up with either Steven or George to ask them whether all of this is in fact true."

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been murmurs from Blade Runner's director, Ridley Scott, and co-star, Sean Young, about the fact that Deckard, the cop who was chasing down renegade replicants, was actually a replicant himself. Whether a sequel is in the works or not, Ford sets the story straight:

"I knew at the time that Ridley had an ambition for Deckard to be a replicant," says Ford, with a hint of annoyance surfacing in his voice. "But when we first started, I said that I didn't like that idea. I thought the audience needed to have one person onscreen that they are assured -- either emotionally or through context or dialogue -- is a real human being. So that they can have an emotional relationship with some character that's on the screen. And Ridley said, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah.' And I always thought that he had grudgingly accepted my point of view. Later on, as the film developed, there were certain things that he did that I knew were indications of his point of view that Deckard was a replicant.

"And I argued against them," he adds. "But, of course, it's a director's medium, so Ridley prevailed. But he continues to say that he thinks it's one of the best films he ever made. It's too bad that the actor playing the lead role had no idea what was going on. I thought I did at the time."

It's again time to cheer Ford up, so he's asked about the spider business.

"That is true," he says, surprised to hear the question. "Some entomologist named a spider after me out of gratitude for some work I'd done with the Natural History Museum. I think it's called Harrison Fordus Californius, or something like that. I would not actually know it by sight."

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