LOS ANGELES — Harrison Ford has played some of the most iconic characters in film history, from Han Solo to Indiana Jones.
Despite becoming a global superstar, Ford's uncomfortable with the topic of being a film icon.
"'Icon' means nothing to me. I don't understand what it means to anybody. It seems like a word of convenience. It seems to come from certain kinds of movies I made. But, I don't know what an icon does except stand in a corner and quietly accept everyone's attention," Ford says. "I like to work, so there is no utility in being an icon. I don't even think about it."
This isn't false modesty. He's the first to say that everything he was concerned about when making a movie like "American Graffiti" 40 years ago — script, direction, character — has not changed.
Ford puts it very simply when he says "I love acting." He sees acting as a profession but one that he's continuously trying to perfect. And, he's got such a respect for the craft, Ford's not going to sign on to a project unless he feels there is something substantive for him to do with the role.
"What I look for is identifying what the utility of the character is in telling the story overall. If I can identify that from reading the script, then I have a clear idea of whether the character is worth playing," Ford says. "I like the process of creating something from a sheet of paper. Giving it life, shape. I like the collaborative process of film making."
Ford says his latest movie, "Ender's Game" — his first space film since his days of piloting the Millennium Falcon in "Star Wars" — has that potential. He plays the commander of a group of teens who are Earth's best hope to survive in case an alien race strikes back.
"I felt it was an interesting subject that I hadn't seen in film. I saw an interesting character that was responsible for supporting some questions about responsibility, the military, relationships between young people and old people. There were a lot of things that intrigued me," Ford says. "When I met with the filmmakers, I had a sense they were very ambitious and focused on making a film that would be useful to a young audience."
The themes about responsibility and leadership are so strong, Ford wants parents and children to see the film together so that they can talk about all of the issues raised.
Those themes were intriguing enough to attract Ford to the project. As for whether he would ever be intrigued enough to return to one of the iconic roles again, Ford says it all comes down to what he sees in the script.
"I will continue to look for things that have the potential to be engaging and successful. Whether it's the first time it's been done or the fifth time it's been done.
"What I always looked for in the 'Indiana Jones' films was that we advanced the notion of the character and the audience's understanding of that character with each film."
That was done through the introduction of characters such as Indiana Jones' father (Sean Connery) or his long-lost son (Shia LaBeouf). If there's that kind of potential, then the whip and leather jacket could come out of storage.
Ford doesn't even lean toward a certain film genre when picking a project. This year alone, he's gone to space, been involved with the financial thriller "Paranoia" and played legendary Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey in "42." His work in the baseball movie has been getting Oscar buzz.
Oscar talk doesn't faze Ford despite the fact he's never taken home one of the acting statues. He brushes off the studio's efforts to get him an Academy Award nod as more designed to get additional people to see the movie. That makes him happy because he's proud of his work in "42."
Whether the Oscar buzz turns out to be real or his work in "Ender's Game" gives him another iconic character, Ford has already put together a movie career that could be inspiring to young actors just getting started. That's the last thing Ford wants.
"I am not prone to giving advice. What's important is to figure out how to be useful and not to concentrate on themselves but what they can do to make the overall collaboration with all of the other people working on the movie work," Ford says. "Don't base your ambition on anybody else's history. Try to figure out how to use your own particular personality to help tell stories.
"Don't try to imitate anyone else's success. Do it for yourself, by yourself."
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com. TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.