Harrison Ford was waiting for me in his New York hotel suite. On my way from the lobby I had been musing over a tactful way to approach the interview. The key question was whether he was having a severe mid-life crisis. He had ditched his sober image, left his wife of more than 20 years, checked into a series of luxury hotels and started to hit nightclubs like a teenager who had won a few million on the lottery. He then moved in with actress Calista Flockhart, just turned 40. He celebrated his 63rd birthday on July 13.
And what is the first thing I notice about Ford when we meet? A gold earring, dangling incongruously from his left ear. The question leaves my lips with remarkable ease: “Are you having a severe mid-life crisis?”
Ford shoots a look of dark anger, mixed with silent hurt. His hunched, suited figure takes on a sort of bristling menace, as if he’s wondering whether he should throw me from the window. And we are on the 19th floor. “A lot of people might be asking that,” he finally growls. “But they are not actually saying it.”
We are off to a lively start, then. But I have interviewed Ford several times over the past 30 years. Put aside, for a moment, that he’s one of the three most successful film actors in the world. His personality has always been guarded, ring-fenced with safe answers to questions. Think of a castle with a deep moat and a dozen cannon on the turrets. In other words, unassailable.
One example: 10 years ago, he was starring in Sabrina, and making an untypical hash of it. I had asked him, perfectly reasonably, about the most romantic location he’d ever been to with his wife. “Romantic?” he asked, as if chewing a wasp.
A long silence followed. “Fez, in Morocco,” he finally declared. Why?
“Because everyone there leaves me alone.”
But now? Ford has suddenly become twinkle toes on the dance floor, a lad who likes a drop of the hard stuff at the bar, the life and soul at party time. After scorning the bright lights of Los Angeles for years in favour of the wilds of an 800-acre ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, he is suddenly Mr Hollywood. How did it happen?
“I was interested in changing my life,” he says simply. “I have always had the ability to change and to become other people through my acting. I took a good look at myself and decided that I wanted something different from the way I was living. That’s not such a bad thing, is it? But, because of my past, I think it took a lot of people by surprise. They wondered what was happening to me. I was very much aware of what was happening. I’m living the way I want to live.”
Ford’s steely blue eyes have softened. He sounds relaxed. He has always answered questions slowly at a voice level hardly above a murmur and it is no different today. He is wearing a dark-blue Armani suit over an open-neck light-blue shirt. His hair is grey, but thick. He stretches himself this way and that as we speak.
He points to the earring, as if to get the subject out of the way. “I decided to start wearing one,” he says. “I was surprised at everyone’s reaction to it. Even now, people say: ‘Oh, you have an earring?’ And I say: ‘So what?’
I have always kind of fancied having one. When I act I take it out. When I am in private I put it back in.” He gives a fairly hefty shrug. “Hardly a big deal.”
But it still looks as if Ford has gone through a major mid-life crisis. He has just ended a year-long holiday during which he toured Europe with Flockhart, pausing to hire a narrow boat on canals in Shropshire. A search for the youth which has passed him by, perhaps?
He has spent so long working on a hugely successful career, doing and saying the right things, that there is a sense that he’s sick to death of playing the straight man. And if he’s passing muster as the oldest swinger in town, then so be it. “It’s not as if I’ve had botox or my hair dyed,” he says. “I am still in original condition.”
That’s as maybe. But he can’t resist a swipe at the headlines which have dogged him since he left his wife Melissa, writer of the film ET, whom he married in 1983. They have Malcolm, 18, and Georgia, 14. He also has Ben, 37, and Willard, 35, from his first wife, Mary, whom he divorced in 1979. That first divorce hardly rated a mention, since his only real success in a 13-year acting career to that point had been in Star Wars. Not this time.
“It has been irritating, because so little of it is accurate. Tabloid journalism is such competition for the mainstream press that they can overlap. There is so little test of the truth. It is unbelievable.’
Does he protest too much? Even last year, when with new love Flockhart – the eccentric lawyer in the TV series Ally McBeal – he was photographed with women in a bar, downing tequila. It did not quite match his trip to a strip joint where he told waitresses that he was “Tom, a meat processor,” but he certainly did not look like a man thinking about a bus pass.
He flashes a smile at the recollection. “The great thing is that the public appetite for that sort of thing is so ravenous, there is always somebody else to pick over,” he says. “So it passes relatively quickly and on to the next person. Maybe the heat will start to cool down.”
But why invite the heat in the first place? “I did not think I was,” he says, evenly. “I am not the first man who wanted to make changes in his life at 60 and I won’t be the last. It is just that others can do it in anonymity.”
So how did he celebrate his 60th? “I can’t remember,” he says, looking surprised at his forgetfulness. “Someone will get really pissed off with me if they read this. I was probably given a party but I am not big on birthdays. I don’t have a problem with getting older.”
The recent evidence is to the contrary. He’s worked less and partied more, as if trying to beat the clock. He has set up home in Hollywood with Flockhart and her three-year-old adopted son, Liam. And he has taken it easy after a 20-year routine, averaging one box-office hit a year at more than £11 million a film.
So Ford is showing signs of being far more laid back these days, despite his declaration when we met in 2000 at the Venice Film Festival that he was swearing off Hollywood. At his ranch, a carpentry workshop was his pride (long before becoming an actor, he was renowned as a skilful cabinet maker in Los Angeles). He was also a perfectionist. He not only kept his tools arranged in sizes but the same rules applied to his wardrobe. His suits were hung just like the tools: colour-coded, heavy to light. His shirts and socks were neatly folded in colours. Those days are over now that he is with Calista Flockhart and her young son.
“I am quite happy with all that,” he insists. “It’s fun to be around young kids.” And would he ever consider yet another child? “I have a couple of grandchildren with my older boys and perhaps there are already enough youngsters in my life. But you never know.”
No one knows where they are with Ford these days. For a man who was predictable in his work ethic, he seems to have ripped up his own rule-book. A glance at his remarkable record of film successes, during which he kept a low profile in his personal life, is all that is needed to prove how much he has shaken things up.
He enjoyed an incredible run of success with 30 films that include Witness (1985), Presumed Innocent (1990), The Fugitive (1993), Air Force One (1997) and What Lies Beneath (2000). But that remarkable run, which began with Star Wars and lasted for more than 25 years, came to a halt with Hollywood Homicide, in 2003. It delivered his worst reviews, amid reports that he did not get along with his 27-year-old co-star, Josh Hartnett.
Ford says: “It was a difficult film for everyone. We did not have a final script and we were under pressure. I was comfortable with that. Josh was less comfortable.”
Ford is now back in action in Vancouver, Canada, with British actor Paul Bettany in a thriller, The Wrong Element. There have also been reports that he will next year attempt a fourth film as action-man Indiana Jones, at the age of 64. “It is now a probability,” he confirms.
“George Lucas, the producer, works with a writer for a time and then the director Steven Spielberg and I work together. We have all agreed on a concept.”
Has Ford’s vanity got the better of him? Is he really expecting to throw himself into action scenes? It seems so. “I have picked up plenty of bumps, bruises and cuts over the years,” he says. “I have injured a shoulder and torn a hamstring – that sort of thing. “But I have got so used to taking a battering, on screen as in life, that I feel anything is possible.”
This article was first published in Saga Magazine in 2005. For great articles like this, subscribe to the print edition or download the digital edition today.