submarine of doom
He’s made Hollywood more money than anyone else, so HARRISON FORD gets to be picky about his screen roles. So, why is he playing such an unsympathetic character in K19 — The Widowmaker? Words: Miles Fielder
arrison Ford's films have collectively grossed
more money than those of any other movie star
in the history ofcinema: $5.7bn and rising. But although he’s one of the most popular actors working today. Ford is not a prolific talent; he barely makes one film a year these days and has twice taken a sabbatical from showbiz. once at the start of his career to take up carpentry. returning to acting to make his first hit, 1973‘s Ameriean Graﬁtti. and again in 2000. after the supematural thriller What Lies Beneath.
Since then the bit [in 60-year-old has separated from his second wife. the screenwriter Melissa Mathison ([27). been hanging out on the 8()()-acre ranch he built in Jackson Hole. Wyoming. actively involved himself in a number of conservation projects and. much to the delight of the tabloid press. started dating the 5ft Sin 37—year-old Ally MeBeal star Calista Flockhart.
Ford is in London to promote his first film in two years. K19 — The Widmi'maker. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Paint Break. Strange Days). it details the true story of a near-catastrophic disaster aboard Russia‘s ﬂagship nuclear submarine in 196] during the Cold War. Submarines. nuclear weapons. Ruskies — isn’t this dated and irrelevant now that Putin and Bush are playing best buddies? Clearly. he doesn’t think so. ‘The chance to tell the story of another culture is extremely rare in American film.‘ says Ford. whose physical presence and manner — he’s hunched over. choosing his words carefully. uttering them slowly — is not at all what you'd expect from a movie star. ‘In fact. I can’t think of another American film that does this and addresses the issue of a former enemy that is now an important ally. To see the Russians as they saw themselves and to realise that underneath the skin of the their culture and politics they are much like us was important to me.’
Ford plays Captain Alexei Vostrikov. the naval officer the Kremlin chooses to command the K19 on its doom-laden maiden voyage. When the boat‘s nuclear reactor leaks. the captain is forced to make some tough decisions between his crew‘s safety and the national security of his country. Vostrikov is a far cry from the comic book heroes Han Solo and Indiana Jones. or the grittier protagonists Ford has played in Blade Runner and Witness. His Vostrikov comes across as a Soviet Captain Bligh. In short. it‘s an unsympathetic part. something often avoided by Hollywood’s leading players.
“It was quite a rare and unusual character for me.‘ agrees Ford. ‘My character does not operate with the usual devices that gain audience sympathy and understanding. You come to know this character under the extreme circumstances depicted in this film and in relationship to the other characters.
‘One of the predominant skills of acting is observing.’ says Ford. ‘and understanding what you see.‘ Accordingly. Ford and his co-star Liam Neeson
went to St Petersburg to meet some of the survivors of
‘My Character does not operate with the usual devices that gain audience
the K19 (many of them. including Vostrikov. are now dead. either of radiation poisoning or old age). ‘lt was emotionally very informing.‘ says Ford. ‘It gave me an even greater sense of responsibility to get it right.
Although what I was interested in was the details of
their stories. more important was to know how
emotionally they felt at the most important time of
their lives. I felt honoured to be able to tell their story.‘
The story of the K19 and its crew was kept hushed up by the Russians until 198‘). Which brings me back to the question of how relevant it is now. more than four decades after the events and 13 years since they became public? Bigelow. who spent five years researching the film. suggests there‘s a warning in the story of the K19 that the modern world should be taking notice of. ‘This was only a potential accident with very responsible individuals.‘ she says. ‘One can only imagine what with the proliferation of arms what would happen if you add intentionality to that.‘
‘The enemy.‘ adds Ford. ‘is nuclear weaponry. The enemy is also a habit of mind that requires the demonising of the opposition.‘
They‘ve got to be talking about the stand off between America and Iraq with its much speculated build up of weapons of mass destruction. And if the filmmakers needed any further evidence of the awful relevancy of their film. they got it when another Russian nuclear sub. the Mask. sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea.
So. it comes as no surprise that Ford is in sombre mood. He says it didn‘t bother him at all when he was required to don make-up to play Vostrikov as an old man. ‘It was really interesting. because I hadn‘t played beyond my actual age.‘ he says. and then adds with a wry grin that Hollywood always comes to him first when a 5(l-years—plus leading man is required for a film. 'What really got to me.’ he says of K19. ‘was wearing this radiation sickness make-up in the scene in which my character was being interrogated. That.‘ he says. ’was serious.‘
Maybe Ford has had enough of being serious for the time being. He‘s back to the more straightfonvard hero in his next two films — Tim Cops. which he begins filming in Los Angeles this month. and A Walk among the Tombstones. which he will work on early next year. After that he returns to his most popular role to date.
‘Iiach film has a different set of challenges.’ says the star. who notably lightens his mood when asked about working with Steven Spielberg on a third sequel to Raiders ofthe Lost Ark. ‘But the primary challenge is to help tell the story. to give definition to the character. Some.‘ he says in reference to K19. ‘are more privileged processes than others. However. I enjoy making all different genres of films. from comedies to drama. And I like to make pure entertainment. so I‘m happy to go back and make another Indiana Jones lilm.‘
K19 - The Widowmaker is on general release from Fri 25 Oct.
rill/r .s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (10 December) What ’3 to say about the second instalment of this fantasy blockbuster three-film series based upon JRR Tolkien's epic? Well. part one proved blockbusters can wow audiences with special effects and do character and story (you'd think the contrary if you’d only seen last year's other fantasy blockbuster. Harry Potter). The Two Towers features the return of the wizard Gandalf (who fell down a pit with a demon in part one) and much more of the Ring's biggest fan. Gollum. You might also want to revisit the first ﬁlm on DVD. where 45 minutes of previously unseen footage is now on show.
The Happiness of the Katakuris (late 2002) If you've seen Audition you’ll know Japanese filmmaker Miike Takashi doesn’t play by the regular rules of cinema. His new film. however, is the craziest genre bender yet. mixing as it does a Sweeney Todd- style tale of multiple murders with surreal stop-motion clay-animation sequences and musical numbers one part karaoke. one part Bollywood song and dance and a third part 808 pop video. You might well find it all too much, but that’s kinda the point of this exercise.
Star Trek X: Nemesis (3 January 2003)
The Next Generation crew — Pickard. Data. Wort, et aI — undertake their final mission: to negotiate a truce with the planet Romulus. Wouldn't you know it. the Romulans (sort of Roman Vulcans) are intent on invading Earth. Despite the new TV show. the Star Trek franchise looks a bit weak up against the new Stars Wars instalments. The Matrix films and the majestic Lord of the Rings. Still, Trekkie lore holds (kinda correctly) that the even-numbered films are the best. and this is number ten . . .
3- li' ()(tl 2’00? THE LIST 19