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carpenter turned actor actor Harrison Ford in the movie Witness

Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford made his living as a carpenter. At least he did so prior to making “American Graffiti.” There is a story about how he was working around tinsel town, building sets when he was approached by George Lucas to play a role in Graffiti. When Ford heard what the studio was willing to pay him for the project he said: “I can make more money as a carpenter.” Some negotiations ensued and Ford took the role. More importantly, established the connections which launched his acting career.

Another story is that when Star Wars rolled around Ford became even savvier about the business end of things. He asked for a percentage of what the film ultimately grossed. If this story is true, with one single move, it seems he set himself up for life.

Ford’s background as a tradesmen gave something of an everyman quality to his acting. There was a rugged depth to his early character work that made his action heroes believable. Even in the far out personages of Han Solo, Indiana Jones or Rick Deckard, Ford seemed at home. I once read a quote from him about his acting style that I will paraphrase here: “when I am playing a guy who is in trouble I just try to think and feel like a guy who is in trouble.”

It is one style of acting to stay close to oneself, taking each action and reaction on a personal level.  And while this style does not always endure and remain believable. Over the course of a long career, when Ford (playing John Book in Witness) is seen using a block plane or climbing into the rafters during a post and beam barn raising, it is believable.

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9 thoughts on “Trading Places :: Harrison Ford

  1. You are so right, Barry, Ford brings the Gregory Peck everyman feel to “doing things.” and I loved Witness. he was pretty good in … well, everything. I think the hardest is when they play athletes – baseball, golf esp, the finesse sports. and its hilarious when they play architects… none can draw (hm… can new architects draw either??), v ugly. I love movie stories.. cindy @urbanverse

  2. b. . . did you bring the carpenter in you to your role this weekend? (b . . . worked on a movie this past weekend.) I have to say that I myself always admired set designers too. . . It is one thing to build something for real, another to build something for make-believe and make it look real. excellent post!

  3. I don’t know if Harrison is a great actor or not, but he’s HOT. And I especially love the movies where he removes his shirt. Something about guys and wielding tools (and shirtless, no less) that just is worth that $9 ticket! Oh, sorry, where were we?
    When you guys do a post where you’re all working on JB’s kitchen, holding hammers or drills or planes or whatever, take a shirtless picture and I’ll send my $9 to you!

  4. plus really and I think my wife would agree . . is there really any thing hotter for a lady then a hot guy working on a/your kitchen?

  5. Hi Cindy,

    Ah, Gregory Peck… He was something else because besides the everyman thing he also embodied elegance.

    I definitely agree about the awkwardness that comes off of some actor’s when they are playing a role which is obviously foreign to them.

    I remember that short lived ABC drama “October Road” In which there were some contractor types that did my head in. Of course the whole medium is often to blame as writer’s, directors and actors alike perpetuate stereotypes and rely on a willing suspension of disbelief to Save the day.

    My wife is a native Russian speaker and almost always laughs at the way Slavic people are portrayed.

    As far as whether architects can draw any more, I have noticed an influx of stencil’s and rules and such filtering through our local thrift stores. Expensive stuff going for next to nothing. Handwriting, I understand has also been taking a hit in schools.

    Have a great evening!

  6. Hey jb,

    I did bring my carpenter self to the film and also luckily my truck. There was a shot where it need to be raining really hard but the night was completely calm and clear. I was able to use the skills and tools from my day job to mount the porch roof and set up a series of sprinklers that ended up making some pretty convincing rain. Fun.

    I admire set designers and set builders too and count some of the things I have done in that regard amongst my most satisfying work. It is building for sure and belongs here.

  7. I also don’t know if Harrison is a great actor. Honestly, he sort of fell off my radar. I know he played a Russian submarine captain in “K-19: The Widowmaker” and he is terrible…

    If I took a picture of myself with no shirt and sent it to you I would feel compelled to send you 9 dollars. And I reckon you might still feel you got the bad end of the deal. :-)

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