Steven Spielberg Gave Harrison Ford An Unusual Amount Of Creative Control Over Raiders Of The Lost Ark
After watching the trailer for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” it might be hard to picture anyone else but Harrison Ford at the center of this franchise, but Ford has openly admitted that he was not the first choice to play the titular professor/archeologist. Initially, collaborators Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were eyeing Tom Selleck to play the action hero, but Selleck had prior commitments to CBS’s “Magnum PI.” Ford, in fact, was the second choice for Indy, but since he had already collaborated with Lucas twice before, he initially wasn’t very enthusiastic about taking on the role.
According to the book “The Films of Harrison Ford” by Lee Pfieffer and Michael Lewis, Ford had concerns that he would just end up playing “Han Solo in a Guyana hat.” Though he did end up signing on to what would become “one of the most lucrative roles ever given an actor,” Spielberg and Lucas still made sure to reassure Ford that they would be headed in a different direction for the character, putting his fears of repetition to rest.
As Spielberg and Ford continued to bounce ideas off each other on set, they formed a dynamic pairing. Spielberg would come to trust Ford’s instincts so much that he allowed Ford an almost unprecedented amount of creative freedom while filming “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” praising his natural storytelling abilities and physicality in playing Indy.
Ford was ‘more than just an actor’
Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark
“Harrison Ford was more than just an actor playing a role in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ He was involved in a lot of decision making about the movie as we went along,” Spielberg said. “And this wasn’t by contract; it was because I sensed an exceptionally strong mind and a very smart person, and called on him time and time again.”
Filming “Raiders” was a challenge for Spielberg coming off of his previous films, due to its smaller crew and slim budget. Due to these constraints, Spielberg tried his hardest to stay true to the storyboards he had mapped about 50% of the film from. When there was room for Ford to do his own stunts, like actually running from the faux boulder about ten times, Spielberg was happy to oblige. Famously, there was a completely staged and choreographed fight scene against a swordsman in Cairo, but running under time constraints, Ford proposed that it would be faster to “just shoot the son of a b****.”
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” would become a box office smash in 1981, exceeding Paramount’s own expectations. It also proved that audiences were interested in seeing Ford in roles outside of “Star Wars.” According to “The Films of Harrison Ford,” a reporter once asked Ford if his stardom was in part responsible for the film’s success, to which he sarcastically responded:
“Besides the full frontal nudity, the sex with a camel, the free place setting we’re giving away in the theaters, and the opportunity to win the presidential yacht? Folks will see it I guess because it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun. If not, I’d ask for my money back!”