The remarkable story of how Harrison Ford landed his role in ‘Star Wars’
At 78, Harrison Ford is still one of the most charming and sought-after stars in Hollywood. Having worked with heavyweight directors, including George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Peter Weit, Mike Nichols and more, Ford has portrayed a wide range of characters in various films. He is best known as the ‘non-superhero superhero’ Indiana Jones in the eponymous franchise as well as the ‘cynical loner’ Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise; the latter earned him worldwide acclaim and catapulted his career, making him one of the biggest names in Hollywood. The journey, however, was ridden with obstacles and had it not been for doors, Ford would never have earned his big break.
A self-declared “late bloomer”, Ford had taken up drama class in his senior year at Ripon College to deal with his shyness, and fascinated, decided to pursue acting. He had starred in “extra” roles in a few films before incurring the displeasure of Jerry Tokovsky which pushed him to the bottom of the hiring list. Declared by the head of Columbia Pictures to having “no future” in Hollywood and frustrated with the quality of roles being offered, Harrison Ford decided to pursue a fall-back job to support his family. He became a self-taught professional carpenter.
“Through carpentry, I fed my family and began to pick and choose from among the roles offered,” he once said. “I could afford to hold out until something better came along. But I never gave up my ambition to be an actor. I was frustrated but never felt defeated by my frustration.”
While he was still a contract player for Universal Pictures in the 1960s, Ford had caught the Hollywood casting director Fred Roos’ eye. Roos, who was a friend of Ford’s, constantly tried to boost the latter’s acting career. In 1973, Ford bagged a role in George Lucas’ comedy-drama American Graffiti which despite being a hit did not help his career. The producer of the film, Francis Ford Coppola, however, cast him in small roles in his films The Conversation and Apocalypse Now, besides hiring him to build portico doors.
In 1976, while Lucas was casting for his next film Star Wars, he had a basic rule where he would not repeat casting from his previous movie due to the fear of the latter being typecast as “American Graffiti in space”. Roos insisted on Lucas hiring Ford as Han Solo. To prove his point, he ended up hiring Ford to build a door for him in the American Zoetrope offices, where Lucas had arranged the casting call, to facilitate their “serendipitous” encounter.
As Fred Roos recalls, “Harrison had done a lot of carpentry for me…He needed money, he had kids, he wasn’t a big movie star yet. The day he was doing it, George happened to be there. It was serendipitous.”
Roos’ plan was a success and Harrison Ford landed the role of Han Solo, a character he played in four sequels over a course of 42 years. When asked about the same, years later at an interview, in friendly banter, Ford teased Lucas by insisting that he had not planned on landing the role as carpentry had been his priority back then. “No, no, that didn’t happen…I wouldn’t just sit around waiting for you.”
Carpentry turned out to be a godsend job for him. By building doors for famous Hollywood moguls, he not only carved his own path to successful stardom but also continued winning hearts with phenomenal performances in Indiana Jones, Blade Runner and the like. Today, it is almost impossible to imagine anybody else playing the roles Harrison Ford had starred in. However, had it not been for the doors he built as well as Roos’ undying trust and friendship, our beloved icon would not have been here. As Ford rightfully said:
“To me, success is choice and opportunity.”
Watch Harrison Ford read the lines as Hans Solo alongside Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) during the Star Wars casting call below.