It seems hard to believe, but for an actor so associated with the science-fiction genre, Harrison Ford hasn’t been “back” to outer space since the conclusion of the original “Star Wars” franchise. That changes with the release of this weekend’s “Ender’s Game,” writer-director Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s Hugo Award-winning novel. Set a generation after the devastating attack of Earth by an ant-like alien race, the book details the selection, training and manipulation of a brilliant young military cadet, Ender (Asa Butterfield), by a forward-leaning colonel (Harrison Ford) looking to prosecute his strategy of a preemptive war to end all wars. Recently, ShockYa had the chance to participate in a Los Angeles press day with the film’s cast and crew, to talk about the movie and its weighty themes, as well as some of their upcoming projects. The conversation with Ford is excerpted below:
Question: What was both your first contact with and impression of “Ender’s Game”?
Harrison Ford: I actually read the script before I read the book, and I thought 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 and the military, and the relationships between young people and old people, and a lot of things that intrigued me. When I met with the filmmakers I had a sense that they were very ambitious, and focused on making a film that I thought would be useful to a young audience. So it was altogether attractive.
Question: What themes in particular do you think apply to young boys and girls, or are things that should be discussed after seeing the movie?
HF: Well, I think a lot of questions will be raised, and that’s why I think it’s a really good family movie. I think young people are likely to drag their parents to this movie and require answers from them about what’s going on — and the other way around, too. I think parents may wish to bring their young people to this movie as well. The themes are individual responsibility and what the military does to create the leadership capacities, but this is also a strange situation because we’re talking about a world government meeting the threat of an alien invasion so there’s not the usual issues of military adventurism or one country with a national interest trying to control another country. This is not a kind of national patriotism (on display) — this is a military in aid of protecting life on Earth, so while these themes seem familiar they’re a little bit differentiated by the world and context they occur in.
Question: You’ve had a great year, with this movie and of course playing Branch Rickey in “42.” I understand there’s an Oscar campaign being mounted for you for that film. How important would that sort of recognition be for you? Is that something that you feel you’ve missed in your career with everything else?
HF: No, I think a campaign like that is largely in aid of drawing a greater audience to the film and I think that would be a good thing. I think “42″ is a wonderful movie, and I’m very proud of it.
Question: Did you ever think you’d go back into space?
HF: I don’t have any sort of genre preferences. I’m always just looking for a good story and a good character, whether it’s Earth-bound or not.
Question: Gavin Hood said that Asa was the only actor (as Ender) who could establish any chemistry with you.
HF: Asa has a strength and capacity and I think Gavin was concerned about having — well, let’s face it, Asa was cast before I was, and he was glad that Asa was up against… (self-effacingly) blah, blah, blah. I think that’s Gavin’s attempt to be flattering more than anything else. But Asa is amazing young person, and an accomplished actor. He has an amazing capacity to focus and concentrate, and has a wonderful work ethic. And that, combined with talent, bodes well for his future.
Question: Can you speak to the changes in production between this film and your first experience in the sci-fi genre, and do those changes make your process as an actor any different?
HF: Well, the techniques to create the visual elements have changed enormously. When we were making “Star Wars” they were putting together spaceships out of plastic model kits from various cars, boast and planes and gluing them all together, putting them on a stick and flying it past the camera. And it worked — it was fine. You add a little music and you believed that was a spaceship coming over your head. The capacity to create effects in the computer has made the job both easier but it has also introduced the complexity that with a few more keystrokes you can generate such a busy canvas that the eye doesn’t have anywhere to go and you lose human scale. And you’re just wowed by the kinetics and visualization but if you’re not careful you lose touch with the human characters and how they might feel — and that’s still the most important part, I think.
Question: At this point in your career is easier or more difficult to find roles that are still intriguing and engaging? And what might be of interest in, say, the fifth part in a series?
HF: What I look for is the utility of a character in the telling of a story overall. If I can identify that from reading the script then I kind of have a clear idea of whether the character is worth playing. And then the creation of that character — is it fully realized, is there more work to be done? Can I think of an idea that might make it better? So on and so forth — I just like the process of taking something written on a sheet of paper and giving it life and shape. For me the fun of movies is always the collaboration, the work itself on the set, which is another way of saying that I love my work and I would 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 is that we always advanced the audience’s understanding of the character from each film to the (next) in an ambitious way. So Indiana Jones’ father would appear, Indiana Jones’ long-lost love, the son he never knew — all of that made it very much more interesting. So the potential to build on the audience’s knowledge of the character in a way that would still take advantage of that would be exciting.
NOTE: “Ender’s Game” opens nationwide on November 1, from Summit Entertainment.
Written by: Brent Simon