2000 Harrison Ford Tribute
By Rochelle L. Levy
The Trustees of the American Film Institute selected Harrison Ford to
receive the 28th Life Achievement Award.
Harrison Ford is a true artist, one who unwaveringly maintains his integrity
and, through his choice of roles, continually challenges both himself and his
audiences' perception of him. Unique among action heroes, Harrison Ford
brings to the screen believable, flesh-and-blood men, flaws and all. Invariably
sympathetic and relatable, Ford relies on his intelligence and wit, rather than
on manufactured superpowers, to defeat his foes. Whether he's playing a
doctor, lawyer, archeologist, CIA agent or even the president of the United
States, all of Ford's characters share his humanity, warmth and, most
significantly, his vulnerability. At the same time, Ford is an undisputed
box-office champ, with his movies having earned more than $2 billion just here
No other contemporary actor matches Ford's charisma and Everyman qualities.
He's more a throwback to great stars of the past, both introspective
loners, as well as swashbuckling romantic heroes. Ivan Reitman, who directed
Ford in SIX DAYS SEVEN NIGHTS, likens him to Humphrey Bogart or Clark Gable,
"guys who wear a rumpled exterior comfortably, engage in classically male
activities and retain a sense of humor about themselves." Other
comparisons have included screen legends Gary Cooper, James Stewart, John Wayne
and Errol Flynn.
It is Ford's vulnerability that makes his performances so much fun to watch.
Always on the run, he habitually makes a mistake and finds himself face-to-face
with his adversary, with seemingly no means of escape. But, just when we think
this time he's finally trapped, he triumphs over impossible odds — be it
crawling through slithering snakes or jumping off a dam into raging
waters — leaving us breathlessly laughing at his shrewdness and daring.
A deliberate and cerebral actor, Ford always takes his work — but never himself — deadly seriously. While he appreciates the abundant accolades
bestowed upon him (1994's N.A.T.O. ShoWest Star of the Century,
1996's Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theatrical Man of the Year,
1997's Peoples Choice Award for Favorite Male Actor, 1998's G.Q.
Magazine's Man of the Year Award and 1998's People Magazine's
Sexiest Man Alive), the awards ultimately mean less to him than turning in a
precise, refined, delicate performance.
Throughout his 25-plus year career, Ford has always forged ahead with a clear
vision, refusing to bow to pressure or demands. When early on he was told that
the name Harrison was too pretentious and must be changed, "I suggested the
dumbest name I could think of — 'Kurt Affair.' They were understandably
chagrined." Even when he couldn't financially afford not to take
whatever roles were offered, Ford refused to compromise his ideals, teaching
himself carpentry in order to support his family and to give himself the luxury
of only accepting roles he deemed worthwhile. A consummate craftsman, Ford soon
found himself a "carpenter to the stars," whose reputation as a perfectionist
assured him plenty of work. And, the way Ford sees it, similar intellectual
processes lead to success as either a carpenter or an actor : "You have to
have a logical plan. You have to perceive it from the ground up. You have to
lay a firm foundation. Then every step becomes part of a logical process."
Ford's early years did not augur future superstar status. This exceedingly
specific actor, whose meticulous research is well-known to co-stars and
directors alike, is a self-described "late bloomer," who was admittedly
academically unmotivated in college and simply "wanted to be an actor. I
didn't really care how — at what level. I never had an ambition to be
rich and famous."
Ford's celebrated public persona as a macho, ruggedly handsome action hero is at
odds with his childhood, during which he spent much of his time alone, breeding
rats and collecting snakes. And, while seminal performances, such as Indiana
Jones in the INDIANA JONES trilogy, Dr. Richard Kimble in THE FUGITIVE
and President James Marshall in AIR FORCE ONE, relied upon Ford's physical
prowess at performing his own stunts, the actor actually dislikes exercising
and sports in general, calling himself a passionate "anti-jogger." As
for his sex symbol status, Ford remains both amused and mystified. "I don't
know what ladies like," he says. "I think it has to do with the movies I have
made and people's impressions. It has to do with being allowed into someone's
emotional world over a lonely period of time." His own thoughts on his
world-famous countenance: "I'd like to give my nose one more chance to find a
normal position on my face."
Breaking away from the action adventure heroes for which he was best known, in
1985 Ford took on the role of detective John Book in Peter Weir's WITNESS.
For the first time, his performance depended solely on raw, naked emotions,
devoid of eye-popping special effects. His elegant portrayal earned him an
Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. The role of the irresponsible,
unsympathetic father, Allie Fox, in Weir's THE MOSQUITO COAST was an even
further departure. Although playing completely against type wasn't easily
accepted by audiences, Ford defends his choice. "What sense is it to be an
actor if you play the same thing over and over again? You need to challenge and
broaden yourself." In 1988's WORKING GIRL, Ford's first romantic comedy,
his droll sense of humor delighted both audiences and critics, adding one more
dimension to his extraordinary appeal.
Unwilling to slow down either professionally or personally, Ford has spent his
50s indulging in a long-held passion — flying his own planes. "I enjoy
refining my skills and developing new skills," he says. "That's always been an
interest of mine in acting, in carpentry, in everything else I have
done — to achieve a level of skill and excellence. Flying is no different,
just more critical." Ford piloted his own plane in SIX DAYS SEVEN NIGHTS,
bringing a heightened sense of realism and believability to his role.
Given that the price he pays for his phenomenal movie stardom is a complete loss
of anonymity, Ford particularly appreciates the unassuming brotherhood he
shares with fellow pilots. "The fraternity of aviators cares little for other
trappings; they welcome you because of a shared interest and judge you on your
flying skills." Bemused by those eager for a more intimate look into his
private life, Ford points directly to his body of work. "What more could you
know than what you see on screen? That's real. Those are real emotions
represented. That's real thought, those are real feelings. I admit to all of
While Harrison Ford is undeniably a movie star, more significantly he's a truly
gifted craftsman; his sense of joy and accomplishment come from an absolute
dedication to his art — be it building furniture, soaring solo through the
skies or creating a fully realized character within whom we recognize
ourselves. Because of his remarkable sense of commitment and integrity in his
work and in his life, the American Film Institute is honored to present
Harrison Ford with AFI's 28th Life Achievement Award.
NOTE: Due to licensing restrictions, the telecasts of the AFI Life Achievement Award Tribute are currently not available for distribution or purchase.