×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The untold truth of Harrison Ford

There aren't many actors in the history of cinema as influential or popular as Harrison Ford. Throughout his decades-long career, Ford has appeared in some of the biggest franchises and blockbusters of all time, including the original Star Wars trilogy, Blade Runner and its sequel Blade Runner 2049, thrillers like The Fugitive and Air Force One, a handful of Jack Ryan films that include Patriot Games and A Clear and Present Danger, and, of course, the Indiana Jones film series, playing the beloved title character.

A rugged, taciturn presence with a dry sense of humor and an excess of talent, Ford has long been one of Hollywood's most instantly recognizable faces — but he earned his fame the hard way, rising from obscurity as a carpenter to become one of the most famous actors of all time. From his humble beginnings to his dreams for Han Solo and his personal scandals, here's the untold truth of Harrison Ford.

Harrison Ford's first roles were hard to come by

You might think that Harrison Ford, with his undeniable good looks and talent, would have become an instant sensation, but in reality, it took a while for this future star to get started. After growing up in Chicago and spending time as a Boy Scout, Ford attended Ripon College in Wisconsin, and though he dropped out before graduation, he took his first acting class there, which helped him overcome his naturally shy tendencies.

Despite his newfound love for performance, Ford had a pretty slow start, picking up background roles here and there, but even those didn't go very well; after his first uncredited screen appearance in 1966's Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round as a bellboy, a Columbia producer criticized Ford for underperforming, telling him that when movie stars like Tony Curtis played bellboys, they did so like "movie stars." Ford continued to snag small roles here and there, but simply couldn't book a big breakout part, though one director did have his back early on. French director Jacques Demy lobbied for Ford to play the leading role in his 1969 film Model Shop, but the studio wanted a more recognizable name, and Demy was overruled.

How Harrison Ford finally landed Star Wars

After his first credited screen role in 1967's A Time for Killing — in which he was billed as Harrison J. Ford to avoid confusion with a silent film actor named Harrison Ford, despite the fact that the "J" doesn't stand for anything — Ford got the break of a lifetime with a little help from Fred Roos, a casting director and producer. After appearing in the smash 1973 hit American Graffiti (directed by George Lucas, a filmmaker audiences around the world would soon know by name), Ford couldn't afford to survive on his acting wages alone and resumed work as a carpenter to support his family. Roos had other ideas.

Despite the fact that Lucas didn't want anyone from American Graffiti to audition for Star Wars, Roos, who was hoping Lucas might let Ford read for the film, hired him to do some carpentry work on the lot where auditions were being held, and while he was building a door, Ford ran into Lucas. As Roos later put it, the entire encounter was "serendipitous."

Harrison Ford: From casting assistant to star

Fred Roos may have gotten Harrison Ford into the audition room, but apparently, Ford's Star Wars casting was still very much up in the air. Smartly, Roos suggested that Ford read alongside actors who were already auditioning in the hopes that he would catch Lucas' attention.

After reading with over 100 actors hoping to score a role in this new film, Lucas realized Ford was a perfect fit for the role; in an interview with Leonard Maltin, the director recalled, "I said, 'We're short one Han Solo... Harrison, you want to do this, you want to stand in, read some parts against these other parts so we can get through this thing?' And he said yeah, and he started reading, and he read them better than anyone else did." Naturally, Ford was absurdly casual about accepting the role that would change the trajectory of his entire life and career: "They asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said, 'Sure, why not?'"

How Harrison Ford wanted Han Solo's story to end

Once Harrison Ford booked the role of Han Solo, we all know what happened next; alongside fellow Star Wars stars Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill (Leia Organa and eventual Jedi master Luke Skywalker, respectively), he was catapulted to instant fame and acclaim. However, Ford was hoping Han would have a much more dramatic ending in the original trilogy's final installment, 1983's Return of the Jedi.

As Ford told Conan O'Brien, he wanted Han to die at the end of the third movie: "I thought the best utility of the character would be for him to sacrifice himself to a high ideal and give a little bottom, a little gravitas to the enterprise, not that there wasn't some already but I just wanted in on some part of it. That was at the third occasion of filming the original three." Lucas vetoed his wishes, but Ford got what he wanted years later.

Ford reprised his role as Han Solo in 2015's The Force Awakens, the first film of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, only to be killed by his own son Ben Solo, a.k.a. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Ultimately, Ford felt that his arc was complete, saying, "I think it's a fitting use of the character. I've been arguing for Han Solo to die for about 30 years, not because I was tired of him or because he's boring, but his sacrifice for the other characters would lend gravitas and emotional weight."

Harrison Ford wasn't the first choice for Indiana Jones

After four amazing films packed full of thrilling adventures and action, it seems impossible to imagine anybody but Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, the whip-wielding, fedora-wearing archaeologist who always manages to save the day — so it might surprise you to learn that Ford wasn't the first choice for another role that would define his career.

Apparently, when Ford was floated as a possible contender to play Indy in 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of the film's writers spoke up; George Lucas, who was still working with Ford on the Star Wars trilogy, was worried that casting Ford would set an unintentional standard. According to a behind-the-scenes featurette from Raiders, Lucas told director Steven Spielberg,”Oh, Steven. He's been in two of my movies. I don't want him to be my Bobby De Niro," in reference to actor-director pairings like Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro.

Lucas and Spielberg both hoped Tom Selleck would play Indiana Jones, but since the actor was already committed to Magnum P.I., they went with Ford instead. Now it seems crazy to envision a world without Ford as Indy, much less one where Selleck played him instead. Lucas agrees; in a different bonus feature, he admitted, "He was perfect for the part. I can't imagine anybody else in that part."

Harrison Ford stole the role of Jack Ryan from another superstar

Public feuds between movie stars are nothing new in Hollywood, and since the 1990s, Ford has had one of his own with fellow actor Alec Baldwin. Baldwin, known for film roles like Glengarry Glen Ross and television shows like 30 Rock, is one of several actors who've played Tom Clancy's legendary secret agent Jack Ryan throughout the years, appearing as the hero in 1990's The Hunt for Red October. However, according to Baldwin's memoir Nevertheless, Ford swooped in and stole the role from him before the next film came around.

Baldwin claims that Ford, who took over as Jack Ryan for 1992's Patriot Games and reprised the role in 1994's Clear and Present Danger, went behind Baldwin's back to take the role during negotiations. In his memoir, Baldwin says that Ford lobbied for the role while Baldwin was still negotiating pay, and even says that Ford profanely told director John McTiernan to forget about Baldwin when McTiernan asked if Ford knew Baldwin was still in contention for the role.

Harrison Ford regrets saying no to Syriana

Any actor with a long enough career probably has one or two projects they regret turning down, and Harrison Ford has been unequivocal about one of his biggest regrets in that area. In 2006, in an interview with The Irish Examiner, Ford revealed that he passed on 2005's Syriana and wished he'd taken the lead role after all; that role eventually went to George Clooney, who took home an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work.

As Ford told the outlet, "I saw a bit of (director) Steve Gaghan's movie Syriana and I wish I'd played the part that was offered to me — George's part." Ford was admirably honest about his regret, continuing, "I didn't feel strongly enough about the truth of the material and I think I made a mistake. I think the film underwent some changes and I think a lot of it is very truthful. The things that I thought weren't, were obviated after I left the table."

Harrison Ford's life-threatening injury in a galaxy far, far away

On-set injuries happen all the time. Unfortunately for Harrison Ford, he experienced one during the filming process of 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In June 2014, paramedics from the Thames Valley Police in Oxford, England were called to the set of The Force Awakens after getting reports that a "71-year-old man" was injured by a "garage door," only to find Han Solo himself basically trapped in the door of the legendary Millennium Falcon. Ford suffered from a broken leg and recovered after surgery, but that wasn't the end of the story.

Two years later, Foodles Productions — a studio subsidiary created by Disney to disguise the fact that they were making Star Wars — were held liable and accepted responsibility for what was eventually deemed a completely preventable accident, paying a penalty to make up for Ford's medical woes. Luckily, Ford recovered quickly, but the situation could have been much worse.

Harrison Ford is an experienced (and unlucky) pilot

You know Harrison Ford as a hero on the big screen, and in real life, he's got a super power as well: Ford is an accomplished aviator who has been licensed to fly planes for decades. Over the years, he's purchased several jets, typically flying out of a field in Wyoming, and he's even saved stranded hikers while out on flights, cementing his status as a man of many talents.

However, notwithstanding every successful flight Ford has taken, he also has plenty of accidents and errors on his record. Since 1999, Ford has experienced everything from failed engines to crossed flight paths — and some of these incidents unfortunately seem to be Ford's fault. In 2017, Ford landed at Orange County's John Wayne Airport ahead of a commercial Boeing 787, and in 2020, the FAA investigated when Ford crossed a runway ahead of another plane, proving that even experienced aviators can have a few preventable slip-ups.

Harrison Ford's complicated relationship with Star Wars

Most Star Wars fans have heard — multiple times — that Harrison Ford has a relatively complicated relationship with the franchise that brought him worldwide fame and acclaim. As it turns out, Ford's bonds to Star Wars might be a little complex, but he still values the series that made him a star and handed him his career.

Though Ford is infamous for mocking George Lucas' Star Wars scripts by quipping, "George, you can type this s***, but you sure as hell can't say it," there's actually a second part to that story. After the fact, Ford acknowledged that it wasn't all bad, admitting, "I was wrong. It worked." Not only has Ford spoken fondly of his time on Star Wars over the years, he was "delighted" to return for Force Awakens and even came back one last time to play Han Solo's ghost in 2019's The Rise of Skywalker. Despite his apparently curmudgeonly attitude towards Star Wars, it still holds a special place in his heart.

An on-screen romance turned real

Onscreen romances occasionally blossom into something more, and that was definitely the case during the original Star Wars trilogy. As Leia Organa and Han Solo, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford made one of the most dynamic screen couples in film history. Leia was never just a damsel in distress and Han was a little too irreverent to be a traditional romantic lead; together, they forged a bond that helped fuel the entire franchise.

In 2016, shortly before her untimely passing, Fisher finally revealed what many had already guessed; in her memoir The Princess Diarist, Fisher wrote that she and Ford had an affair on the set of 1977's A New Hope, while Ford was married to his first wife, Mary Marquardt. As Fisher put it during an interview with People Magazine, "It was so intense. It was Han and Leia during the week, and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend." In the aftermath of this reveal, Ford commented it was "strange" to relive the memories, but in any case, it's clear that Ford and Fisher's onscreen chemistry was no fluke.

Blade Runner was one of Harrison Ford's hardest jobs

Based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the 1982 cult favorite Blade Runner is still regarded as one of the best science fiction films ever made, and Harrison Ford's central performance certainly doesn't hurt. As Rick Deckard, a police officer referred to as a "blade runner" who is tasked with hunting extremely realistic human "replicants" and "retiring" them, Ford brought yet another classic role to life, later returning to play Deckard in 2017's Blade Runner 2049.

As it turns out, the entire experience of Blade Runner was pretty difficult for Ford. In a 2017 retrospective on the film in Vanity Fair, Ford recalled, "It was a long slog. I didn't really find it that physically difficult — I thought it was mentally difficult." Ridley Scott's directing style didn't allow the flexibility Ford craved, and the production was plagued with problems, to say nothing of the reshoots that came later (as well as the fact that the film flopped at the box office). It's no surprise that the original Blade Runner was difficult for Ford, but generations of sci-fi fans have thanked him for his efforts.