2013-04-01

42 – Harrison Ford on Becoming Branch Rickey

by Yo Snyder

One of the most surprising things about 42 isn’t some of the tough times Jackie Robinson had to suffer
through, or that we as a culture could be so cruel and ignorant, or even how
the movie ends, rather the most surprising thing is that Harrison Ford isn’t in
this movie. I mean, he is, but he’s not really himself. Now, let’s be honest,
kind but honest; Harrison Ford really hasn’t done much but play some sort of
grumpy version of himself in most of his recent films. It’s pretty much just
Harrison Ford up there on the screen. Come on, we all know it’s true. However,
with 42, Mr. Ford does something
different. As he put it at a recent press event we attended, “I had the idea
that the film would be much better served by a Branch Rickey look alike than a
Harrison Ford look alike.” In that regard, he was most certainly correct, and
the result is probably one of Mr. Ford’s better roles in recent years.

Branch Rickey was the President and General Manager of the
Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1945, which was the year when he made a decision that
changed…well, a whole more than just baseball. Now for Mr. Ford to achieve his
desire of being more of a Branch Rickey look alike in the movie instead of just
another Harrison Ford look alike, that meant digging and doing quite a bit of
research. “There was actually more audio tape available of him than there was visual
material, but there was some. I tried to find as much of that as I could, and
Brian [the director] and his people who worked on the film helped me a lot in
that regard and I studied all the photographs. I didn’t want people going into
the film thinking that they knew me from some previous experience in the
movies, and I knew that was Brian’s ambition as well. So I invested in the
process of trying to figure what I should do, what I shouldn’t do, and how to
achieve the look of the character.”

It’s not just the way Mr. Ford speaks in the film that’s
different, he actually looks quite different. In fact, it seemed to me that he
put on a few pounds. However, he revealed later in our interview that was just
something simple, but it helped him really become the character. “What helped
more than anything actually was the fat suit, because it really did give me a
sense of what it meant to maneuver at that size.” It did seem like he looked
more his normal self at the press event, so the revelation that it was a fat
suit made a lot of sense because I didn’t really think that Harrison Ford would
gain a lot of weight and than lose it all again just for a role, especially at
his age.

And speaking of age, one the thing he pointed out was that
even though Branch Rickey was technically younger than what Mr. Ford is now,
considering the day and age he lived in, he was actually much older. “You know,
he was sixty-five years of age at the time of the telling of this story, around
sixty-five, and it gave me the opportunity to play a younger man, which is not
going to happen a lot any more in my career. But what was interesting to me was
I remember my father in that period of time and other men of that age at that
period in time, and we’re lucky now. We eat better, we live better, and
sixty-five in those days was an older man. So I wanted to acknowledge that part
of it, that he wasn’t, you know, hale and hearty at that point in his life. So it
really helped me a lot to be specific about behaviors that I had observed and
bring them into play as utilities to help describe the character and tell a
story.”

Well, even though Harrison Ford may be playing an
older/younger man in his portrayal of Branch Rickey, it’s clear from the film
and from the time he spent talking about the character that it’s a role that’s
rejuvenated him a bit. This isn’t just more grumpy ol’ Ford, this is one of the
icon of the movie really enjoying himself again. There’s a scene where Branch
Rickey tells Jackie Robinson that Jackie helped him love baseball all over
again. One can’t help but wonder if being apart of this story has helped
Harrison Ford love being an actor all over again. You can see for yourself when
42 releases in theaters on April 12.