Harrison Ford is back in the fedora with Sunday’s world premiere of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” at the 61st Cannes Film Festival, and while it took 18 years to get a script to the liking of filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Ford taught both of them a long time ago that sometimes they should put down the screenplay and let their star take a leap in improvisation.
That’s because two of the signature cinematic moments of Ford’s long, crowd-pleasing career were brash ad-libs that ended up giving Indiana Jones and Han Solo their rakish aura of the beloved scoundrel.
During the grueling shoot for “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the script called for a extended fight between Jones and a flamboyant swordsman dressed in black. But the actor, ailing from food poisoning, had a better idea: Why not just make a gesture of weary exasperation and shoot him?
Then there was the Ford ad-lib on the line, “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”
“Yeah, I guess the black swordsman has become a bit of a Hollywood story,” Ford said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “I almost wish it hadn’t. I’m not so crazy about the audience having that much awareness of the process that went on. I just want to enjoy the movie and I’m not sure that helps.”
In “The Empire Strikes Back,” Han Solo is being lowered into a deep-freeze when an overwrought Princess Leia tells him she loves him. His response is pure, perfect scoundrel: “I know.”
For Ford, that “Empire” moment led to an interesting debate with producer Lucas.
“It was such a contest between George and I about whether that was appropriate or whether the audience would enjoy that line or not, to the point where he made me go to a test screening to sit next to him to prove it was going to get a bad laugh,” Ford recalled with a smile. “And it didn’t. It got a good laugh. So it stayed in.”