With a flash of his iconic grin, Harrison Ford assured work is play, in fact, it keeps him young. But playing a historical figure for the first time in “42”, wasn’t just play, it was meaningful.
“This was an important story, well written, with a director whose work I admire [Brian Helgeland], an opportunity to play a character different to what I had played in the past,” said Ford, who hails from Chicago and turns 71 in July. “I had a chance to work on a film which is about something important and significant.”
The Oscar nominee’s latest role is playing 65-year-old Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, in the gripping film “42” about the life of baseball great Jackie Robinson. The direct gained attention in the baseball world by signing the first African American player. Rickey would also draft the first Hispanic player Roberto Clemente in 1954.
Ford watched archived footage of Rickey seemingly melting into the character by adapting body language to the man with the wire-rimmed glasses, bow tie and the husky voice. Psychologically, and emotionally, Ford connected with Rickey.
“I find it possible to emotionally relate to different kinds of people,” Ford said from Los Angeles. “And this is a character I can fully understand his motivations, his behavior--his belief system. It was easy to emotionally relate to him and the circumstances of the partnership between he and Jackie Robinson was kind of a delicious opportunity as an actor. ”
There was a scene in the film where a young fan mimics his father's hatred by hurling racist remarks. Otherwise the child was rooting for Robinson. Movie goers will be taken into this environment of bigotry; death threats and also see the resilience of Robinson, starring Chadwick Boseman (“The Express”) and Robinson’s wife Rachel (played by Nicole Beharie).
In the front office, the following exchange sets the dynamics between Rickey and Robinson’s relationship.
Here's a taste.
“I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back...Your enemy will be out in force, and you cannot meet him on his own low ground,” Rickey growled at Robinson.
“You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, and I’ll give you guts,” Robinson responded.
Rickey made it clear if Robinson didn’t resist relentless attacks, the color barrier would never disappear. Just play ball, and there will be validation and a world championship.
Boseman, who is also a screenwriter, felt the depth of the ballplayer’s sacrifice.
“He [Robinson] doesn’t have a lot of words in difficult moments to express himself and you have to do it nonverbally. I think it’s harder to play roles like that when you have to express things in that way.”
For Ford, there were little reservations about working or challenges, that is.
“I love to work, I enjoy my work. I don’t consider it to be a challenge. Maybe a challenge for other people to deal with me,” he laughed. “It’s a problem solving business. How do you give the best expression to an idea that’s the key part of a scene? It’s fun. It’s great fun for me.”
Robinson, a six-time MVP, became the first player to erase Major League Baseball’s color line when he walked onto Ebbets Field on April 1947. April 15th is Jackie Robinson Day when players from every team will wear the No. 42.
“42” comes out in theaters on April 12. Watch Beliefnet's interviews with the cast.