Joel Reese :: Chicago, IL :: Writer/Editor

Clear and Present Anger

Thirty minutes with a surly Harrison Ford

By JOEL REESE Chicago Daily Herald Staff Writer

July 18, 2002

Harrison Ford is not happy to see us.

We are six Chicago-area journalists who are about to have an audience with one of the world’s biggest movie stars.

We are sitting in a business suite in the Ritz-Carlton, awaiting Ford’s entrance.

Harrison Ford, well – he needs no introduction. He’s Han Solo, he’s Indiana Jones, he’s Jack Ryan.

And now he’s here. A door opens and it’s Harrison Ford, the ruggedly handsome mega-icon who beats the bad guys, seduces the ladies and saves the day – all with his famously scarred chin and trademark roguish charm.

That charm is not evident today, however. Our anticipation to meet him quickly fades as he marches purposefully into the room with his head down.

Ford wears a navy polo shirt and sunglasses, although we are sitting in a dim room inside – and even if we weren’t, it’s cloudy outside.

But hey, he’s the movie star.

Ford takes off his glasses, sits down at the head of the table and grumbles a terse, barely audible, “Hello.” Apparently, this means, “Let’s begin this torture session.”

I ask him a question that refers to one of his previous films. Just as I’m about to name it, though, the title vanishes from my mind. It is simply gone.

I start snapping my fingers as I try to remember it. “When you were in … snap snap snap … that film …”

Ford looks at me tiredly and snaps his fingers. Snap snap snap.

Flustered, I say, “You know, that Michelle Pfeiffer movie …”

He smirks and doesn’t volunteer the title. “Let’s just leave it that way – ‘That Michelle Pfeiffer movie,’æ” he says.

So much for my question. The title, incidentally, was “What Lies Beneath.”

Ford mentions that he spent some time in Moscow, doing some research for his upcoming role as a Russian submarine leader.

“Define ‘research in the Soviet Union,’ ” says John Landecker of WJMK 104.3-FM. “What did you do there?”

“It’s the same as research anyplace else,” Ford says wearily. “You go and meet the people involved and talk to them and get a sense of how they felt about what they had gone through.”

Landecker follows, “The families of the survivors?”

“No, not the families,” Ford says testily. “The actual survivors of the members of the crew of K-19.”

Apparently Ford isn’t familiar with the phrase, “The only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.”

Publicity wheels turn

Ironically, we are facing Ford’s churlishness because we’re helping him publicize his upcoming movie.

Here’s how the Hollywood publicity machine works: A star makes a movie. Then he or she embarks on a tour to promote it, which means talking to the press.

This is why people like Ford and Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt appear on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

Stars don’t appear on these shows for fun; they go because they want people to see their upcoming films. After all, the bigger the audience, the bigger the paycheck.

And so, essentially, we are helping Ford get richer while he slowly reduces us to the size of tsetse flies.

Next up to face the humiliation firing squad is J. Love, a producer for Mancow’s show on WKQX (101.1-FM).

“Have you seen the film?” Love asks him about the film Ford is currently publicizing.

Ford stares at him with mock incredulity, as if Love just asked him, “Do you wear shoes on your feet?”

Silence. Ford seems too astonished to speak.

“I didn’t know if you’d seen the film yet,” Love says.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah – I’m executive producer. How do you think – yes, many times,” Ford says. He doesn’t actually close with, “you moron,” but it’s implied.

The thing is, Love’s question is perfectly reasonable. Tom Hanks hadn’t seen “Road to Perdition” prior to the recent Chicago screening, and it’s pretty common for stars not to see the final cut of a film before it’s released.

Ford seems almost angry with us for not knowing the internal machinations of the Hollywood film-release process.

Soon, he has belittled everyone in the room. It’s like a rite of passage: We ask our questions, he replies with curt answers that would have been as insightful if he gave them in Swahili.

Ford is asked, over the course of his career, which of his roles is his favorite.

“I really don’t have favorites,” he says.

“Are they kind of like your children?” Love interjects.

Ford looks at Love with barely concealed disgust, sighs, then says, “I have said before, and you’re forcing me to say again, that they’re like your kids. You don’t choose which is your favorite kid. It’s really for the audience to judge. I don’t have favorites.”

The room is becoming quieter. No one wants to speak, lest he face the disgrace of asking a bad question.

And Ford certainly isn’t rushing to fill the dead air. If he were any more subdued, we would have to get a defibrillator and shock him back to life.

Go away, pests

Ford seems to see us as pesky moths circling the blinding light of his fame.

But since we are part of the publicity machine, and he wants many people to see his movie, he must give us his time.

And of course, we might have asked an eye-roller question or two. But there are only so many new questions you can ask a star who’s been interviewed a couple of million times before.

So you’d think he’d give us a little bit of a break here. After all, Ford is from the Chicago area. He grew up in Park Ridge and went to Maine Township High School, now Maine East.

We are, theoretically, his homies.

Instead, he gives us platitudes about Chicago like, “I really like the city – I like the people, I like the scale, I like the proximity to the lake.” He says he misses Chicago hot dogs.

Whoa, stop the presses.

Ford is getting paid $25 million (plus 20 percent of the gross box office) for a role that was shot over 20 days – a new record for Hollywood fiscal insanity. That means Ford initially received about $156,000 an hour, if he worked an eight-hour day.

Even a waitress at the local greasy spoon usually manages a smile, and she’s lucky to make eight bucks an hour, not $156,000.

Given the amount of cash he’s receiving, you’d think Ford would muster up some graciousness for this roundtable interview.

Or at least fake it. Act. He could look at it as part of his job, to promote this film.

“You have a place in Jackson Hole, Wyo.,” asks Kathy Hart, Arlington Heights resident and disc jockey for WTMX. “How many acres?”

“A few,” he says.

Silence.

Finally, it ends. The publicist comes in and tells us Ford’s 30 minutes of torture are finished.

He gets up, puts his sunglasses back on and strides out.

We collect our meager belongings and silently follow Ford out of the room. We head down the elevator and out onto the busy street, far below his air-conditioned suite.

Incidentally, his next movie is called “K-19: The Widowmaker.” It opens Friday.

There’s your publicity, Mr. Ford.

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