Ford's a classic now — "like old shoes," as he puts it. Three years out from having earned $65 million for his most recent Indiana Jones film, he can claim one of the most charmed acting careers ever, playing a raft of beloved characters in timeless movies. In the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series, as well as in such blockbusters as The Fugitive, Presumed Innocent, and Clear and Present Danger, Ford played the everyman, the reluctant hero drawn into extraordinary circumstances. "He's authentic," says his longtime friend Tom Brokaw, "the same kind of guy you see on-screen. I get into trouble when I use this expression, but Harrison is a man's man. He is not a Hollywood dandy in any form. He likes to take a belt from time to time, and he has a wicked sense of humor."
He still adores making movies. "I love acting probably more than I did before," Ford says. "I like working and problem-solving with people on a story." But the transition from having his pick of plum action roles to finding intriguing character parts for a man his age has been tough. The failure of last year's Morning Glory — a comedy costarring Diane Keaton in which his vain and aging news-anchor character joins a morning show — hit Ford especially hard, according to his friends and business associates. "I just want to make good movies that people want to go see," he says. "I hate making movies that people don't go to."
Ford is eager for people to see his new film, Cowboys & Aliens, an unlikely hybrid of a western and an alien-invasion movie that he's hoping will be a hit. He was thrilled to grow some stubble for the movie, put on a dirty hat, and gallop across the glorious New Mexico range. "Nothing better," he says, laughing.
Director Jon Favreau says Ford was perfect for the part of ornery rancher Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde, who rules the 1875 desert town of Absolution with an iron fist. "Harrison is like John Wayne in the autumn of his career," says Favreau. "In movies like The Searchers and True Grit, Wayne was always giving a younger man a run for his money."
In this case the younger man is Daniel Craig, the film's principal star. "I give enormous credit to Daniel," says Ford. "He gave me the room in his movie to make a part that was probably as much fun to play as any I've ever had." Ford claims somewhat convincingly that it's liberating to hand off the leading-man baton. "The leading man has a special responsibility to carry the audience. I can just dodge in, and that's wonderful."