The legendary star of “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” gives advice to young actors, talks about his mentors, and his work with the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.
Question: How did you become involved with the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation?
Harrison Ford: I became involved with conservation work and thought that Dr. Wilson's Biodiversity Foundation, which I am on the board of because it was clear to me that mankind, human activity, was degrading our Earth's resources at an alarmingly rapid rate and that we were losing species right and left, important species perhaps. In some cases, we knew, and in other cases, we had not yet full knowledge of a species or an organism before it was lost.
It is my understanding that much of our medicine, much of our food stuff that may be required in the future will come from these reserves of biodiversity, which are rapidly disappearing. And unless we have fully protected biosystems, we will lose the potential to learn how nature works in some very specific cases. And that information may be critical in our understanding of how to manipulate what is in our power to manipulate to save biodiversity, save the power of our planet to sustain life.
Question: How has E.O. Wilson affected your thinking on conservation?
Harrison Ford: The work itself is, as Dr. Wilson has said, is an educational effort to cause people to understand and to protect these reservoirs of biodiversity. I have not so much changed my mind about how to accomplish these things; it's really the mission of Dr. Wilson's foundation to bring understanding to the broad population and young people who will be making important decisions in the future and to current leaders both in the business community and in government who can make policies which are more beneficial to the preservation of biodiversity. So I cannot say specifically that his way of approaching biodiversity has changed the way I think about it, except to say that Dr. Wilson has a great gift of language and he has made a very powerful argument in favor of living nature. And I find his argument, his persuasive powers, have led me to think about ways of presenting the problem to other people.
Question: Can you talk about your work with animal trafficking?
Harrison Ford: I make myself available to do on-camera public service announcements and whatever I can do, and I was approached by the State Department which is responsible for animal trafficking in wild animal parts and wild animals to do a series of PSAs, which I was happy to do. So that is just part of my commitment to the work of conservation.
Question: How has your love of nature informed your acting?
Harrison Ford: That is a very difficult question and I do not know that I have an answer for it.
I think the basis of acting is empathy. I have always thought that; knowing how other people feel.
And certainly one of the important judgments you can make about a person is how they fit into their environment, into the world they live in specifically, whether they are a positive force or a negative force.
I have always loved the quiet and the solace of nature; I have been fascinated by the complication of nature, and in a way, I have found that although I was raised without a formal religion, that I have found an ethical reality in nature and the preservation of it, and I think that informs me in every way.
Question: Can we live green and also live well?
Harrison Ford: Well, I think the answer is that we cannot live well without living green. We have come to the point where we have stretched our resources to the point of failure; we have not seen it coming with enough time, and so now, it has reached the stage where we are recognizing that we are in a crisis; that the effects of global warming, the effects of the degradation of the sea, the effects on the future for fresh water--all of those are very serious problems which are begging for solution.
If we are not able to commit the resources and the energy and the wisdom, that we do have, to solving these problems, we will likely disappear and the world will be a better place for it. The world will continue without human beings, it is not a problem. But to ensure a future for human beings, we have got to make better use of our resources and manage a more sustainable lifestyle.
Question: Is Indiana Jones an environmentalist hero?
Harrison Ford: Indiana Jones is a fictional character. I cannot really think of him as an environmental hero or anything outside of the context of the films in which he lives. I think that is the answer.
Question: Is there a role you really want to play?
Harrison Ford: I don't really think about my work in acting as--I do not have an ambition for particular roles. I have an ambition to do good work with good people, tell stories that are compelling and emotional and to engage my own ambitions to do good work. That is my goal for my professional life.
Question: What is your advice to young actors?
Harrison Ford: The only advice I have ever offered young actors is to try and figure our how to do it yourself. Never be caught with the idea that you can imitate someone else's success. As much as you might admire what someone else does, do no try to imitate that. Find your own way, find your own voice, find your own feelings, and that will give you a unique opportunity.
Question: Who were your mentors?
Harrison Ford: My first mentors were teachers and scoutmasters, and I think it had a lot to do with my sense of the importance of nature; it had a lot to do with my sense of what a true and just and useful man is, and it is pretty fundamental, basic human kindness expressed in a variety of different ways.
And my professional mentors are well known. They are the wonderful directors that I have had the good luck to work with--[Steven] Spielberg and [George] Lucas and Sydney Pollack and Alan Pakula and others who have been very important to my professional life and to my personal life.
Recorded on: June 19, 2008