Why is Star Wars star Harrison Ford so grumpy?

“I never thought of myself as having potential as a leading man... I wanted to hide, to be somebody else, to live somebody else’s life"

I hear Harrison Ford before I see him. I’m sitting on a chair in the corridor of the Hollywood hotel where we’ve arranged to meet. The walls to his suite are thinner than you might expect and he’s locked in discussion with his assistant about what suit to wear to an event he has to attend this evening. His voice is loud and stentorian, as if he’s constantly projecting to the back row of the theatre. 

The time of our allotted interview has already ticked by. A lunch trolley, with the remnants of a plate of food and a half-empty jar of ketchup, has been wheeled past. Eventually, after 15 minutes, I hear Ford say: “Bring her to me,” and I’m reminded at once of a medieval king demanding his wench be dragged to court before ordering her to her death.

As it turns out, this pretty much sets the tone for the interview. At several points during the bristling, difficult 45 minutes that follow, I find myself thinking it would probably be marginally less uncomfortable to face an axe-wielding executioner.

At the age of 73, Ford is resuming his most famous role as Han Solo, in Star Wars Episode VII: the Force Awakens, directed by JJ Abrams. But he’s already sick of talking about it. He’s been asked the same questions by journalists over and over again, he says, as he takes a seat on the sofa next to me.

His grey-brown hair is gelled back in the style of Sonic the Hedgehog. A twinkling diamond is studded into his left earlobe.

“Ask me again,” Ford says morosely. “I’ll probably feed you a new sack of s***.”

Well, I think, this is a promising start.

Is he someone who prefers solitude to doing interviews? “Yes!”

Ford has a famously ambivalent relationship with the movie that made him a household name. He only got the part in the first Star Wars film in 1977 because the director George Lucas hired him to read lines in auditions for other actors.

At the time, Ford was making a living as a carpenter: he had moved to Los Angeles from Chicago in 1964 to become an actor but the work was patchy. When he went to register his name at the Screen Actors Guild, he was told there already was a Harrison Ford who had been a star of silent films in the 1920s. “They said: ‘You can’t use that name. There’s a gentleman registered under that name. He’s 92 years of age. He got here before you.’ And I said, ‘Well, OK, I’ll be Harrison J Ford.’”

So Star Wars was something of a lucky break. Despite Ford calling his character “dumb as a stump” and taking issue with the clunkiness of some of Lucas’s dialogue, Star Wars became one of the most successful movie franchises of all time and brought Ford worldwide fame. Soon, he was able to drop the J.

By 1981, he was starring as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. For a while, Ford was one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, commanding a $20 million pay packet in a succession of blockbuster hits, including Blade Runner, Witness, Patriot Games, Working Girl, The Fugitive and What Lies Beneath. He’s still working – Ford has cranked out six movies over the past two years alone.

And yet he seems a reluctant star.
“I never thought of myself as having potential as a leading man,” he says. “I wanted to hide, to be somebody else, 
to live somebody else’s life.”

In fact, he wanted Lucas to kill off Han Solo at the end of Return of the Jedi (1983) because he was “exhausted” by “the wise-cracking, cynical nature of the character”. He thought Solo’s death would “deepen the emotional context”.

But he must be pleased Lucas let Solo live, especially now he’s reprising the role in one of the biggest cinematic releases of the year?

“I’m relieved to know that I have the opportunity to visit the character again,” he replies with no enthusiasm. He says it was the opportunity to work with JJ Abrams that drew him back into the fold: “I loved the script. I loved the director.”

How did it feel getting back into the costume?

“It fit.” Silence.

He seems resolutely determined not to acknowledge that his return after a 32-year absence is kind of a big deal. The Force Awakens sees him reunited with original cast members Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker).

I say that I’ve read a piece about the making of the film, which included an interview with the president of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy. She recalled that the moment Ford, dressed as Solo, walked on board the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca, the entire set fell silent.

“It’s supposed to,” Ford responds. “We’re recording sound.”

He doesn’t feel sentimental about the past and spits out the word “nostalgia” as if describing an unpleasant disease.

I press blindly on, trying to elicit some sort of response that isn’t a scowling monosyllabic put-down. John Boyega, one of the younger actors on set, brought in Han Solo merchandise for Ford to sign. How does something like that make him feel? “It doesn’t make me feel… It’s strangely unremarkable. Does that seem indifferent? I’m not indifferent. I’m just a bit inured by age. And callous.”

Has he ever thought about what makes Star Wars so enduringly popular? “That’s for you guys to do.”

Does he think he’s a good actor? “Good enough.”

Was he a good carpenter? “Good enough.”

I move on. Maybe he just doesn’t want to talk about Star Wars. Or carpentry. So I try a series of different tacks. I attempt the softly-softly approach, asking unthreatening questions about things he might like. He has been on narrow-boating holidays in North Wales with his wife, actress Calista Flockhart, and their teenage son. Does he have a particular love for the area?

“Not exactly.”

What about flying? He’s a private pilot of both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. In March, his plane suffered engine failure and he made an emergency landing, ending up in hospital with a broken pelvis and ankle. He doesn’t want to talk about this. Instead, he says what he loves about flying is the “amalgam of freedom and responsibility”.

Is there anything he would like for Christmas? “No.”

Is he difficult to buy for? “Yes and no.”

Does he think he’s good at buying presents for other people? “No. I tend to buy them what I like.”

I try asking him about broader issues. He’s a man in his 70s still getting lead roles in major Hollywood movies. Being married to an actress in her 50s, does he think there are fewer roles available for older women? “No good roles for women?” he scoffs, holding up a glossy magazine from the coffee table in front of him with Lupita Nyong’o on the cover. “Do you know who that is?”

I do – the Mexican-Kenyan actress co-stars in The Force Awakens – but I wasn’t saying there were no good roles for women. I was asking if it’s harder for women to age in this industry than men.

“Yeah probably,” he replies. “But I can’t make a useful assessment of the opportunities when there’s a Helen Mirren, you know, at large and active in the world.”

He blusters, he hesitates, he ums and ahs, he says he’s “not comfortable giving you generalisations” and then concludes: “You know, there’s an element of truth in what you’re saying, but I also think there’s opportunity.” When I ask about the fact he’s signed up to star in the sequel to the cult classic Blade Runnerdirected by Ridley Scott, Ford curls his lip.

“It’s not a sequel,” he says. “It’s a continuation of the story.” Pause. “Is there a difference? I’m not sure.” I’m not sure either, I say. Presumably you’d be the expert. “I would be if I chose to be, but I’ve not chosen to be an expert on anything.” We wrap up the interview. As soon as the tape recorder is switched off, Ford becomes more relaxed and personable. He makes a joke about this being for Radio Times and having a face for radio. He says he’s happy with his life: “I have good friends, good family, wonderful experiences. I like my work.”

As for interviews? He could probably live without them. 

Star Wars Episode VII: the Force Awakens is in cinemas from Thursday 17 December. Harrison Ford is Jonathan Ross’s guest on Saturday 19 December, 9.45pm ITV