The Engaging, and Engaged, Harrison Ford

Actor Harrison Ford poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)(AP/Steven Senne, Winslow Townson) carousel /images/2010/01/16/image6104622.jpg
AP Photo/Matt Sayles
In his latest movie, "Extraordinary Measures," Harrison Ford plays a doctor on a mission. Yet for all his extraordinary success as an actor, Ford's own childhood seems about as ordinary as they come. Rita Braver learned all about it firsthand for this Sunday Profile:

He's created some of the most memorable characters in the history of film: An intergalactic smuggler . . . an adventurous archeologist . . . and a hands-on president.

So Harrison Ford understands a good story, like the one about the Chicago boy who grows up to be a movie star . . . and goes back to his old stomping grounds with his best boyhood buddy.

Ford's mom was a homemaker, his dad an advertising executive. Neither Ford, nor Bob Blattberg, now a marketing professor, had any idea what life had in store for them when they lived there in the 1940s.

Ford showed us the second-floor apartment where he lived, across from his friend's. "We had this tin-can telephone," he said. "Probably the worst trouble we got in was that somehow the line drooped, and some irate neighbor came here and, you know, we got accused of trying to strangle sombody!"

He said, growing up, he wanted to be a coal man who made deliveries. "''Cause I really admired the guys who took this huge pile of coal and put it down in the basement, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow," he said. "And I thought that was really remarkable what he did.

"I think I wanted to be a forest ranger" as well, he added, "but that was the height of my ambition."

Bobby said his friend was called Harry back then. "Everybody had an -ie on their name," he laughed. "My sister was Joanie, his brother was Terry …"

So who knew that little Harry Ford would blossom into actor Harrison Ford? Or that he would be releasing his 42nd feature film this Friday?

"Extraordinary Measures" is based on a true story, in which parents try to find a cure for their children's rare disease.

The film was made by a division of CBS, with Ford as an executive producer. He plays a cantankerous, driven doctor who at one point yells, "I only work around the clock!"

(Left: Ford with Brendan Fraser)

Ford says he's heard that line is already taking off.

"It's gone viral, whatever that means!" he laughed. "It means that people are starting to use it on the street."

People expect a lot from a Harrison Ford film. Is that for you a blessing or a curse?

"I hope they do. I hope they do. And if that's the case, that makes me feel good about what I've done. It addresses the sense of responsibility I feel to the audience for anything that carries my name."

It was at Ripon College in Wisconsin that Ford says he discovered acting . . . but he wasn't much of a student…

"You finished college?"

"No! They threw me out, four days before graduation."

So he and his first wife, his college sweetheart, headed for Hollywood.

"We literally packed up the Volkswagen with everything we owned and put the cat in there and flipped a coin to decide which way to go."

"Flipped a coin?"

"It came up 'New York.' I said, 'Wait a second . . . Let's make it two out of three!'" he laughed.

In Los Angeles he worked in TV, did some small film roles (like playing a bellhop in "Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round"), and worked as a carpenter. His first memorable role: playing a hot rodder in "American Graffiti" in 1973.

But George Lucas, who'd directed "Graffiti," wasn't going to cast Ford as Han Solo in his follow-up film, "Star Wars," asking him instead to help audition other actors:

"And I read through with about 300 actors, without ever, you know, having had it suggested to me that I might be appropriate for the role I eventually played."

"So how'd you get it?"

(Lucasfilm Ltd.)
"I think they ran through their options, and there were two final choices, and I think Chris Walken was who would have played the other Han. So, thanks a lot, Chris!"

(Left: Ford with Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher in "Star Wars.")

Ford says he knew the film would be a hit, but wasn't too keen on the cynical mercenary he played:

"I didn't love him," he said. "You know, when the third film came, I wanted to kill him."

"You wanted him to be killed off by the Ewoks, right?"

"Not necessarily the Ewoks," he laughed, "but I didn't like the Ewoks very much either, so I thought, you know, well why not sacrifice him? Give it some bottom. And George said, 'Oh, no, no, no, I'm not doing that.' I had to give up that idea."

Indiana Jones was another part Ford almost didn't get. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" director Steven Spielberg had cast Tom Selleck in the role . . . but he had a conflict (the TV show "Magnum P.I.").

Ford jumped right in . . .

But when he was supposed to film a long duel, using his whip against a sword-wielding bad guy, Ford was suffering from dysentery:

(Lucasfilm Ltd.)
"I'm dying here," he recalled, "and I got out of the car and I found Steven, and I said, 'Look, I got this gun, why don't we just shoot the son of a bitch?' And he said, 'You know, I was thinking that, too!' And so we did!"

(Left: Indiana Jones goes with Plan B against a sword-wielding baddie in "Raiders of the Lost Ark.")

Ford may be known as an action hero, but he's proud of his work in quieter films, too, like "Witness," released in 1985. The role of an undercover cop who falls for an Amish woman brought Ford an Academy Award nomination.

And let's be frank . . .

"You know, for a lot of us who go to Harrison Ford movies, your looks are part of the draw," said Braver. "And yet I've heard that you . . ."

"You should get your eyes examined!" he laughed. "I don't see myself as (clears throat) having 'movie star looks.'"

"You don't?"

"No, no."

What Ford does see as an asset is his Midwest work ethic . . .his focus, after all these years . . . on making a connection with the audience:

"I want them to believe in the character," he said. "I want them to have the opportunity to feel what the character's feeling. I work desperately hard at getting the best I can out of every opportunity, and out of myself."

In real life, Ford, now 67, has four children, from two former marriages.

(AP Photo/Francois Mori)
And he's now engaged . . . to the very engaging Calista Flockhart (pictured, left, in 2008).

"I am!" he said, adding "It's a full time job. Just kiddin', honey!"

He and Flockhart have raised her son Liam together, juggling their careers.

"Would you ever do a film with your fiancee?" Braver asked.

"I would love it, yeah. I think she's one of the most talented actresses working these days. I love her work."

"Are you planning to get married soon, or is this just of those engagements that's a long engagement?"

"I don't . . . hmmmmmmm . . . (long protracted silence) . . . sure, we'll get married, I'm sure we'll get married."

Married or not, Ford . . . always listed as one of the top money earners in Hollywood . . . has no plans to retire. After all, he says, his best acting days are not behind him.

"Do you think now, looking back, that you were a good actor when you played Han Solo?" Braver asked.

"Short answer: no. Quite dreadful, in fact, because I hadn't had the opportunity to develop the kind of seasoning it takes."

"Do you feel like you're a good actor now?"

"Yep," he said. "And I think I can get better."

For more info:
"Extraordinary Measures" (Official Movie Site)