Harrison Ford produces and co-stars with Brendan Fraser in CBS Films’ Extraordinary Measures, which details the true story of a man’s quest to develop a cure for the rare disease that plagues his children. North by Northwestern sat down with Ford and a handful of other journalists in downtown Chicago to discuss the project.
You play Dr. Stonehill in this movie, a fictional character representative of several professionals who worked to solve Pompe in real life. What about the role interested you?
In looking for the nature of this character, the reality of this character, I did research in academic science labs. I found that in fact the coach of the football team does make more money than the entire science department. I found circumstances that might believably produce a guy of this ilk… He’s a guy who works alone, lives alone, fishes alone, he goes every night and watches sports at a nearby bar, he’s not your conventional idea of a scientist. But he’s unequipped to deal with the corporate world, he’s unequipped to give up control or authority, indisposed to dealing with money issues.
It’s clear that you are really passionate about this project. How, at this point in your career, do you go about choosing the roles you want to play?
Well sometimes I feed opportunistically and sometimes I participate in the development of the material. I have a thriller coming out in April that I am involved in as a producer, and I have a comedy coming out in July (Morning Glory), that I had no input in until I was cast in the part, then I had the natural sort of input of a collaborative atmosphere. The circumstances are always different. Since I no longer fit into the main vein of meaty roles, age-wise, I will be developing things more and more for myself.
Your character does real legwork to develop a cure for this rare disease. In a world populated by actors who operate as “faces” for charities and other organizations, how do you deal with the issues closest to your heart?
My first wife has Multiple-Sclerosis. I have supported research in MS for a number of years. But personally, quietly. I am not an advocate. I don’t appear preaching the gospel. My interest in conservation is longstanding, I spend way more time in board meetings discussing the minutia of running a $125 million-a-year organization than I do as a poster boy for conservation. I believe that I am useful as a communicator. I do not believe that I should used be used as a member of an all-star team.
Do you see yourself as acting as a communicator on the issue of Pompe Disease in Extraordinary Measures?
I didn’t take this role for the purpose of obtaining a bully pulpit from which to preach about the difficulties of bringing a drug to market, or to indict the pharmaceutical companies for their policies or to become an instant authority on the health care system. I wanted to tell a story that would exercise people’s emotions and would let them decide what they want to do with their responsibility for other human beings.
Some would categorize you as an action star. Many would do the same with Brendan Fraser, your co-star in this movie. Why drama? More specifically, why this drama?
Who can deny the experience of going into the theater and participating in the positive experience of this guy and his family? You may miss the car crashes and blowing shit up, but you may walk away with a positive feeling about humanity and be compelled to consider your common humanity rather than your singular existence. You may even remember the story fifteen minutes after you walk out of the theater. I am not about kinetics. Even in the films which I feel are often unfairly characterized as “action movies,” I am always focused on character and emotion and good storytelling.
Extraordinary Measures is a movie about taking risks. What do you perceive as being the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?
I never consider that I’m doing anything risky. If there is risk, if you are capable of perceiving risk, then you must be capable of mitigating risk. Some people think that flying in the back country, which I do, is risky. I think it’s about developing skill and planning and developing experience to mitigate against risk. I’m never out there looking for risk. I’m looking for challenge. I’m looking for quality in the work that I do. But I don’t think of myself as a big risk taker. Even when I was making the riskiest move of my life, and deciding I wanted to be an actor, I didn’t consider it risky. I just considered it unlikely that I would be successful.