LOS ANGELES — In the midst of 20 months and within the midst of a pandemic, Harrison Ford filmed a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” sequel in England. He shot a 10-part comedy, “Shrinking,” in Burbank. He herded cattle up a mountain in subzero Montana temperatures for “1923,” the newest prequel to the hit western series “Yellowstone.”
He also celebrated his eightieth birthday.
“I’ve been working just about back-to-back, which is just not what I normally do,” said Ford, unshaven, wearing bluejeans and boots and easing right into a chair on the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel here earlier this month. He was in Los Angeles for one night, for the premiere of “1923,” debuting Sunday on Paramount+. From here, it was on to Las Vegas the subsequent morning for the subsequent screening, yet one more stop after a stretch of filming, travel and promotion that might exhaust an actor half his age.
“I don’t know the way it happened,” Ford said, taking a sip from his cup of coffee. “But it surely happened.”
It has been 45 years since Ford leaped off the screen as Han Solo in the primary “Star Wars” movie, laying the inspiration for a blockbuster profession during which he has personified a number of the most commercially successful movie franchises in film history. He has appeared in over 70 movies, with a combined worldwide box office gross of greater than $9 billion. By now, it could seem, he has nothing left to prove.
But at an age when lots of his contemporaries have receded from public view, Ford is just not slowing down, much less stepping away to spend more time at his ranch in Jackson, Wyo. He remains to be trying recent things — “1923” represents his first major television part — still looking for yet another role, still driven to remain before the camera.
“I adore it,” he said. “I like the challenge and the means of making a movie. I feel at home. It’s what I’ve spent my life doing.”
And why should he decelerate? Ford shows no sign of fading, physically or mentally — he was fleet and limber as he strode into the Luxe for our interview, cap pulled down, and later, as he worked the room on the post-premiere party on the Hollywood restaurant Mother Wolf. In his pace and eclectic alternative of roles, including the weathered and weary rancher Jacob Dutton of “1923,” he seems as determined as ever to point out that he might be greater than just the swashbuckling motion hero who gave the world Han Solo and Indiana Jones.
“He can rest on his laurels: He doesn’t must work financially,” said Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars” and who, at 71, doesn’t miss the 5 a.m. wake-up calls and the hustling for the subsequent role. “To be doing one other ‘Indiana Jones’ — I’m in awe of him.”
Ford is thought for being gruff and nonresponsive, an actor not given to introspection and with little patience for “put me on the couch” questions. There have been flashes of that in our 45 minutes together. “I do know I walked myself into that dark alley where you’re now going to must ask me to explain the character,” he said at one point. “And I don’t need to.”
But for probably the most part Ford was forthcoming, relaxed and contemplative. This was a promotional tour, and after a half-century within the business, he knows methods to do that. “I’m here to sell a movie,” Ford said, though, after all, he was there to sell a TV show — and to some extent, himself.
“I don’t need to reinvent myself,” he said. “I just need to work.”
FORD WAS ALWAYS greater than just one other charismatic Hollywood motion star. He could act. There was the swagger and the smirk, but they were put to service in presenting complex heroes with flaws and self-doubt, including John Book, the detective in “Witness”; Jack Ryan, the C.I.A. analyst at the middle of the Tom Clancy novels that inspired the movies; and Rick Deckard, battling bioengineered humanoids in “Blade Runner.”
That style distinguished him for much of his profession from monosyllabic, musclebound motion stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme, and it has all the time been integral to his appeal: Hamill said he was struck by it the primary time they acted together.
“He was impossibly cool, world-weary, wary, somewhat snarky, flippant,” Hamill said.
Television isn’t entirely recent territory for Ford. When George Lucas forged him as a white-cowboy-hat-wearing drag racer within the 1973 film “American Graffiti,” Ford was 30, making a living as a part-time carpenter in Los Angeles. By then he had already been picking up modest roles in series like “Ironside,” “The Virginian” and “Gunsmoke” because the late Sixties.
His role in “1923” is anything but modest: the great-great-great uncle of John Dutton III, the family patriarch portrayed by Kevin Costner in “Yellowstone,” TV’s hottest drama. As with “Yellowstone,” the scope of “1923” is vast — the Western vistas, the sweeping aerial shots, the complexity of the characters and their stories. It also features one other major star, Helen Mirren, as his wife, Cara, the tough matriarch of the family.
Ford watches little television — he said doesn’t have the time — and he knew little about “Yellowstone” when his agent first brought him the role. (In preparation, he watched a few of “1883,” the primary “Yellowstone” prequel, which follows an earlier generation of Duttons as they travel west by wagon train to determine the family ranch.) Based on an advance screener of the pilot, the cinematic ambitions of “1923” could be familiar to anyone who has watched “Game of Thrones” or “Breaking Bad.” But they’ve, these past 4 months, been a nice surprise for Ford.
“They keep calling it television,” Ford said, gesturing with a twist of his upper torso to a television screen in the subsequent room. “But it surely’s so un-television. It’s, you realize, an enormous vista. It’s an incredibly ambitious story that he’s telling in epic scale. The size of the thing is gigantic I believe for the tv.”
Ford said he had agreed to the role after Taylor Sheridan, the lead creator behind the “Yellowstone” franchise, brought him to his ranch outside Fort Price and sketched out the character. (“I’m 80, and I’m playing 77,” Ford said with a wry grin. “It’s a little bit of a stretch.”) Ford was intrigued by Dutton, a stoic and somber rancher who must battle in the ultimate years of his life to guard his land and family.
“The character is just not the standard character for me,” Ford said, likening it to his role playing a psychiatrist with Jason Segel in “Shrinking,” created by Segel and Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein (of “Ted Lasso”), debuting next month on Apple TV+. “I’ve never been to a psychiatrist in my life.”
Filming “1923” tested his resilience and his love of the craft. Montana proved a brutal place to work; the forged and crew encountered blinding blizzards and stunningly cold temperatures during 10-hour days spent almost entirely outdoors.
“It was a nightmare,” said Timothy Dalton, a former James Bond, who plays a rancher who challenges Ford for control of the land. “We’re on top of a hill with a blasting wind coming at us. The cameras freeze up. Your toes freeze up.”
Ben Richardson, who directed a lot of the “1923” episodes, described filming Ford as he rode horses up steep mountains, against knife-sharp winds, as Dutton herds cattle to higher altitudes and the promise of fields to graze.
“I’ve never had a grievance from him,” Richardson said. “I can’t express how much of a team player he’s — to the purpose that it’s shocking. He’s Harrison Ford. He might be doing anything. I’m sure there are individuals who would like to have a double standing in. He didn’t.” He added that he had “probably seen ‘Blade Runner’ 20 times,” studying how Ford presented himself onscreen.
“There’s something truly compelling about watching him cope with difficult situations,” he said.
From Ford’s earliest days as Han Solo, he has been wary of being typecast as a go-to motion hero. He agreed to do the blockbusters urged on him by a Lucas or Steven Spielberg, but he also sought greater than laser guns and bullwhips, gravitating to movies like Peter Weir’s “Witness” (1985), and to directors like Alan J. Pakula (“Presumed Innocent,” “The Devil’s Own”).
“I all the time went from a movie for me to a movie for them,” he said, referring to directors — and audiences — with a taste for action-hero blockbusters. “I don’t need to work for only one audience.”
So it’s that Ford will play a rancher in “1923” and a therapist in “Shrinking”— six months before his fifth “Indiana Jones” movie, “The Dial of Destiny,” opens in June.
“He doesn’t get the credit for the variety of his decisions that he has chosen,” Hamill said. “Everybody loves ‘Indiana Jones,’ but we all know what it’s, and we’ve seen it before — he could do those for the remaining of his life. The proven fact that he’s doing something more difficult and more thought-provoking is something I love about him.”
A CENTRAL PARADOX of Ford’s biography is that “Star Wars,” the franchise arguably most chargeable for reshaping the industry in its image, made him one in every of the last true movie stars, a person whose name alone could sell tickets; Hollywood’s shift from star vehicles to mental property, from big screen to small, can now be neatly tracked over the arc of his profession.
“Star Wars” united a rustic — crossing geographic, class and political lines — enthralling audiences who gathered in theaters to share in its fairy-tale story of affection and adventure. Today, audiences are made up of family and friends gathered in a lounge, and Ford faces questions on whether the “Yellowstone” franchise is a paean to Red America.
“I’m aware of the interest within the politics of the characters,” he said, adding that he had no real interest in the political views of Jacob Dutton. (Ford, who was born in Chicago to Democratic parents and supported Joe Biden against Donald Trump in 2020, suggested that the audience for “Yellowstone” was so vast that it was unlikely to be made up of only Republicans.)
When Ford began working on “1923,” Sheridan told him to approach it as if it was 10 hourlong movies. “And that’s the best way it feels to me,” Ford said. “But we’re working at a television pace. There’s something about movies that enables for, you realize, just a little bit, you realize, a sort of luxury of time and a certain …”
He hesitated as he considered the risks of a road higher not taken, of Harrison Ford weighing in on the merits of films versus television. “I don’t think I actually need to get too deep into this because there’s no place to go together with it, for me.”
“I’m doing the identical job,” he said. “It’s just being boxed and distributed another way.”
Ford is just not a pioneer. He resisted television for a few years, and in finally relenting, he’s following other major box office stars — Kevin Costner on “Yellowstone” and Sylvester Stallone on “Tulsa King” — who’ve joined Taylor Sheridan television productions.
Still, as he prepared to attend the premiere of “1923,” at an enormous screen tucked away in an American Legion Hall in Hollywood, it was clear where his heart remained.
“The necessary thing is to go right into a dark room with strangers, experience the identical thing and have a chance to contemplate your common humanity,” Ford said. “With strangers. And the music — the sound system is healthier, right? The dark is deeper, right? And the icebox not so close.”
Ford paused at his revealing reference to a kitchen appliance from one other era — the era when he grew up. He couldn’t help but laugh at his lapse. “Icebox!” he said.