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Friday, December 11 2015 09:25

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS - Harrison Ford talks Action Figures, Acting, Family & "The Guy in the Chewbacca Suit"

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When it comes to the actors of the original STAR WARS Trilogy, Harrison Ford is arguably the biggest "movie star" to have emerged from "a galaxy far, far away" - his role as cocky smuggler Han Solo serving as a springboard from obscure studio player to Hollywood leading man. Notoriously private and a mercurial man when promoting projects, Ford has a long-held reputation for being a challenging interview subject - one whom after five decades in the game has heard it all, has been asked it all, and will again and again. Perhaps the biggest focus of interview frustration was once Ford's association with STAR WARS itself, with questions ducked, dodged and in some cases, flat-out shut down. Thing is, behind the oft-serious face of one of the greatest actors of our time is that smirk - the same one that helped endear characters like Indiana Jones and Han Solo to audiences on such a mass scale - as if, perhaps there's a little more love for the material than he'd like to lead on, despite a self-professed lack of nostalgia and a stance of just "serving the audience." But here we are, and Ford is back on the interview circuit to discuss his return to the role of Captain Solo - packing a blaster at his side for the first time since RETURN OF THE JEDI in 1983, something that no one would have ever expected. This past Sunday at the Global Press Event for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, Ford started his day with a special sit-down with my group... and in case you had any doubt, I most certainly brought some toys.

As I looked at our itinerary for the #StarWarsEvent, I was actually relieved to see that Ford would be first-up, getting what I figured would be the hardest interview of the bunch knocked out within the first 30 minutes. The unique thing for me was also the scariest part of this equation - the fact that, while I've interviewed countless entertainers over the years (and even worked in front of, and behind the camera on occasion), I'm a fan of Harrison Ford.

Not only did I grow up playing and pretending to be his character (which I've mentioned before), but Ford is probably partially responsible for my marriage. It was July of 1997 when I took the girl who would eventually become my wife and the mother of my children to see AIR FORCE ONE. Fingers were crossed that our meeting would be a good one... and it was.

Toys Standing by for Captain Solo...

With an assortment of toys laid-out on the table to break the ice, Ford walked in to find a couple of the new Hot Wheels STAR WARS vehicles (the Millennium Falcon and a sweet Han Solo Van) alongside an appropriate pair of Vintage Kenner STAR WARS Action Figures of Chewbacca and Han Solo (Bespin Outfit). Chewie had already accompanied me to Los Angeles once before (pics here), but the "Bespin Outfit" Han was the vintage figure that looks closest to what Solo wears in THE FORCE AWAKENS, so the duo was ripe for some #Toyography this time around. So what's the first thing that Harrison did? He surveyed the table, and quickly laid Han face down!

Harrison Ford

In many ways, Ford's interview demeanor hasn't changed much over the years, and I wanted to revisit something that was touched on in a 1982 interview with David Letterman in which Dave, at a time between RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, BLADE RUNNER and the then-forthcoming RETURN OF THE JEDI, had asked about Ford's image being on "lunchboxes and thermal mugs." I asked him, "Out of all of the toys that have been made in the last four decades, is there anything that you particularly like or do you collect any of them for yourself?"

"Well, I just don’t get caught up in the toys. I really don’t care personally," says the actor as he maintains perfect eye contact while opening his jacket to place my vintage Han into his pocket, the entire room erupting in laughter as he entered into an expanded version of the "service occupation" analogy that he's related to the acting craft over the years.

Harrison Ford plays with my Action Figures...

"[The toys] are great and that’s for other people. A great deal of this is about others - this is service occupation. Storytelling is a service occupation much like being a waiter. You deliver the food. You don’t bang it on the table in front of them. You wait 'til the right moment, you slip it down. You keep your eyes scanning the crowd - the diners - and you are there when you see them beginning to look for you. It's the same. It’s a public service job, and the toys are for them, they’re not for me. You know, first of all, I could get them for free if I wanted them [laughs], but it’s not about me. I’m not the customer exactly, but I love working here."Harrison Ford

Vintage Kenner Han Solo in front of THE FORCE AWAKENS Solo Costume

Much of the beauty of Harrison is that he's unapologetically honest, straight-forward, and like all human beings, sometimes things change... like returning to the helm of the Millennium Falcon.

Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Captain of the Millennium Falcon, a fast ship."You put on those clothes, you turn around and see that guy in the Chewbacca Suit - you know what the drill is," he recalls about his first days on the set of THE FORCE AWAKENS. "I've walked more than a mile in those shoes and it was a familiar path. I was happy to be back. It was familiar - same thing, only different, and I was there in service of a script that I thought was very good - a sort of road map for a character that I thought was worth coming back to with a Director whose work I admired, and who I knew from a previous film [REGARDING HENRY] twenty five years ago. It was an all together attractive prospect. If we were trying to do exactly the same thing - if I died my hair and pretended that 30 years had not gone by, I would be much less comfortable. THE FORCE AWAKENS acknowledges the reality of the passage of time. It deals with the question of what happened while I was off stage for 30 years, and it deals with it in a really smart way."

As we move toward the release of THE FORCE AWAKENS, it's interesting to think of how different a movie this could've been had Ford said "no" - the elusive Luke Skywalker himself (Mark Hamill) even noting on occasion that Harrison held the keys to the entire affair - had he passed on it, the rest of the original cast likely would've as well. So why back to it now? We know he loved the story, but when it comes to the true reason... there is another: family.

"It's great to be back with Mark and Carrie [Fisher]. I spent a little time with them and Peter Mayhew (Chewie) and a lot of the crew. Some of the older members of the crew have worked on the earlier films, but more often there were sons and daughters of the people who worked on the original films that are now in the same craft business and were back to work with us."

"If it were not for the fact that these films have been passed on by parents to their children at an appropriate juncture in their lives and that generations have thus been introduced to me, I probably would have a much different career. I’m very grateful for the fact that these were family films that been passed on as though there were some nugget of useful information or at least entertainment in them, and recognizing their value to the audience gives them significance to me."

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS opens Friday, December 18, 2015. Get tickets now via Fandango.

For the latest on THE FORCE AWAKENS, ROGUE ONE and more, keep your browser pointed at TheRockFather.com/StarWars

Disclosure: THE ROCK FATHER Magazine has partnered with Disney/Lucasfilm for this coverage series. Travel and accommodations provided by Mickey Mouse. Thanks to Louise Bishop of MomStart.com for taking photos of the interview.

James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade as Publisher of The Rock Father Magazine, he joined Adventure Publishing Group as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider—a destination for all things pop culture. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 25 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, WGN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, BusinessWire, Babble, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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