By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 27, 2013 at 4:28PM
Harrison Ford is an iconic actor who can still draw crowds in an Indiana Jones sequel -- but at age 71, he is starting to enjoy his rights as a character actor in such roles as Branch Rickey in "42" and Colonel Graff in "Ender's Game."
You have to credit Ford with one of the most extraordinary 25-year runs as an A-list movie star in Hollywood history, from his break-out in George Lucas' "American Grafitti" in 1973 through iconic roles in the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" franchises and the Jack Ryan series that ended with "Clear and Present Danger' in 1994. He was a dishy romantic lead in "Witness," "Working Girl" and "Regarding Henry," but made his fortune as an action hero in tentpoles such as "The Fugitive" and "Air Force One."
But he was nominated for the best actor Oscar only once, for Peter Weir's "Witness," back in 1985. That may be because while Ford argues in our interview below that he took the role of global superstar reluctantly, he always took it seriously. I have never understood why he turned down the lead in Steven Soderbergh's Oscar-winning "Traffic," which went to Michael Douglas, in favor of the Russian-accented captain in "K-19: The Widowmaker." (He tells me that he didn't approve of the cardboard bad guys in the film.)
Now that Ford no longer guarantees that such studio pictures as "Cowboys & Aliens," "Paranoia," "Morning Glory," "Extraordinary Measures" and "Crossing Over" will be hits, he's free to do whatever he wants, including visiting Comic-Con and a turn in the action ensemble "Expendables 3." "Why not?" he laughs in our video interview below.
What goes through his mind when Ford chooses his roles? He once told Sydney Pollack on Charlie Rose that he demands a good paycheck to pull him away from home and hearth. "It's risky every time you go out," Ford tells me.
It's fun to see the actor in "42" step into a broader character role, where he gets to lose himself in order to embody a real person, the hard-charging, stubborn, growly, cigar-chomping Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, the man who broke the color barrier by hiring Major League Baseball's first African-American ballplayer, Jackie Robinson. It's such a surprising turn for the star--who admits that he had to erase Harrison Ford-- that there's awards talk around it. While the Twittersphere speculates about Han Solo's return to J.J. Abrams' reinvented "Star Wars" universe, hopefully Ford will recognize that clearly, popular commercial hit "42" is a step in the right direction.
Video tip: Turn up the volume, Ford's voice is low.