Harrison Ford on zero gravity, gluing spaceships together, and ‘Enders Game’

In a career spanning six decades, Harrison Ford has played multiple roles that have established him as one of Hollywood’s top heroes. From Han Solo to Indiana Jones to Jack Ryan, Ford has become almost an archetype for those characters he has portrayed. From the dashing rogue to the quintessential adventurer, audiences have come to know him as the guy you want to root for.

“… what I always looked for in the Indiana Jones films was that we advanced the notion of the character…”

In Ender’s Game, however, Ford plays a more complex character in Colonel Hyrum Graff. It may not be fair to call Graff an outright villain, but he is certainly no hero. The story revolves around young Ender Wiggin, a prodigy of sorts at space-based combat, and Graff is the man that will stop at nothing to see the boy’s potential realized. Even if it destroys Ender’s humanity in the process.

We had the chance to speak with Ford about the movie, as well as his own life and career. The actor shared some insights on children, how he chooses his roles, and the differences in making an effects-laden sci-fi movie like Ender’s Game, compared to Star Wars.

For a closer look at the movie Ender’s Game which hits theaters on November 1, check out our review.

In the world of Ender’s Game, the idea of playing and having fun are almost totally forgotten. When you were the same age as Ender is in this movie, how did you play with your friends?

I grew up in a city, and instead of playing games in space, we played cowboys and indians. We played games that were built on imagination. We used to play Superman or stuff based on the characters we knew from comic books or stories. I think kids will always have imagination, and right now that imagination is stimulated by electronic games. I have a 12 year-old, and I see him and all of his friends play outside a lot. Their parents limit the amount of time they can spend playing with a video game or on their iPhones and things. I think there’s a huge responsibility in parenting. There was in the time when I was growing up, and there continues to be that responsibility. This film is one of those opportunities to do some parenting and engage your kids with some of the issues that it speaks to.

Are there any themes or questions for younger audiences that should be discussed because of this movie?

I think a lot of questions will be raised, and that’s why I think it’s a really good family movie. I think young people are likely to drag their parents to this movie and require answers from them about what’s going on. And the other way around; I think parents may wish to bring their kids to this as well. The themes are the individual responsibilities and what the military does to create leadership capacity.

Harrison-Ford-Enders-Game

But this is a strange situation here. We’re talking about a world government meeting the threat of an alien invasion. So there’s not the usual issues of militarism and military adventure. This is not one country with a national interest trying to control another country. This is not a kind of national patriotism, this military is in aid of protecting life on Earth. These themes, while they seem familiar, are a little bit differentiated by the context that they come up in.

How have the changes in visual effects affected storytelling over the years?

Well, obviously the techniques to create the visual elements have changed enormously. When we were making Star Wars, they were putting together spaceships out of plastic model kits of cars and boats and trains and gluing them all together and then putting them on a stick and flying them past the camera. And it worked! It worked and it was fine. You add a little music, and believe that big spaceship coming over your head. The capacity to create effects in the computer has made the job both easier, but has also introduced the complexity that you can, with a few more keystrokes, generate such a busy canvas that the eye doesn’t know where to go.

“I think kids will always have imagination, and right now that imagination is stimulated by electronic games.”

You lose human scale on an event, and you’re just wowed by the kinetics and the visualization, but you do often, I feel, lose touch with the human characters and what it is that they would feel, and how they might feel. I think that is still the most important part. So I think you have to be very careful with effects, so that they don’t overpower the story with the visual element.

What was it like hanging in the wire harness during your zero gravity scenes?

Well … just another day at the office. It’s basically nothing too spectacular. You put on a harness and they cut a couple of holes in your costume and hang you from wires. It’s better than a real job. You do that for a couple of hours, and it’s no big deal. For the kids it was quite rigorous training because they had so much of it to do. I did it in an environment where there are handholds so I could balance for a brief period of time on the wires and then propel myself… or appear to propel myself when in fact someone was sliding a trolley overhead that I was hanging from. But the kids had to maintain that balance without anything to hold onto, and they worked really hard at it.

What do you look for in choosing your roles? Especially if that role is someone you might have played before?

What I look for is identifying the utility of character to the telling of the story overall, and if I can identify that from reading the script, then I kind of have a clear idea of whether or not I think the character is worth playing. Then the creation of that character… is it fully realized? Is there more work to be done? Can I think of an idea that might make it better? I just like the process of taking something written on a sheet of paper and giving it life. And I like the collaborative process of filmmaking, which is simply to say that I love my work and I would continue to look for things that have the potential to be engaging and successful.

Whether that’s the first time that’s been done or the fifth time that’s been done… what I always looked for in the Indiana Jones films was that we advanced the notion of the character, the audience’s understanding of the character, from each film to the other in an ambitious way. So Indiana Jones’ father would appear, his long-lost love and the son he never knew would appear. All of that made it much more interesting to me. So the potential to build on the audience’s knowledge of a character, I think you can take advantage of that if you’re ambitious.

(Images and video © Lionsgate Entertainment)

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