LOS ANGELES – Harrison Ford is trading in his human co-star for one played by a man’s best friend.
The Hollywood mainstay ushers in the newest big-screen iteration of Jack London’s classic 1903 adventure novel that sees the film’s main protagonist played by a sensitive, yet ambitious pup named Buck, who’s thrust into unfamiliar surroundings after he’s taken from his posh California ranch abode and sold off into the world of Alaskan dog sledding.
Fox News spoke with Ford, 77, at the Los Angeles press day for “The Call of the Wild,” and asked the actor how much of his performance was a test of skill, considering much of his screen time is had alongside the CGI-created Buck.
“That’s not what I think about. I mean, I think about creating behavior for a character that helps tell the story,” Harrison explained.
He continued: “And I think about the opportunity that we had with the basics of this book to amplify the character of John Thornton, to bring the presence of the influence that Buck has had on the character that I play to an emotional expression that the audience can relate to.”
For his part, Harrison was partnered with former Cirque du Soleil performer Terry Notary, who played the live-action model of Buck, complete with dog-centric mannerisms, ill-timing and emotional behaviors. Notary, who has since become one of Hollywood’s premier motion specialists and movement choreographers, spent hours studying the movement of canines and learning the external sensibilities of dogs, which proved invaluable in producing the film.
“It was an odd idea and I didn’t know how the cast would react to it because you’ve got a grown man who is on all fours, in a funny gray suit with these prosthetic front legs playing a dog,” said film producer Erwin Stoff. “But it turned out to be a genius move because Terry gives us such a committed portrayal that it improved every actor’s performance.”
Ford echoed Stoff’s sentiment that the interaction he shared with Notary as Buck proved vital in creating a dynamic that fostered a creative setting where Ford could see Notary not as himself, but as a genuine canine.
“I’m very, very good at not seeing him as a human. But I see him as a dog. I mean, because I’ve had dogs in my life,” Ford explained. “I remember the experience I’m playing. I’m treating him like I would treat a dog and he’s treating me as a dog might, emotionally. And so that contact, that’s very helpful. Very important.”
In discussing the role of Thornton, a man who ventures to the Alaskan wilderness in order to “run away from complications in his life that he’s unable to face,” Ford said he appreciates the film’s ability to strike a familiar chord with the audience through its underlying message.
“[Thornton’s] relationship with Buck leads him to the place where he can recommit to redressing the failures of his past at the same time that Buck is finding his destiny,” Ford explained.
“I know I can remember personal moments in my life, but not so much in my career,” Ford admitted. “But look, this is about the opportunity to gain courage and a quietude that comes in the context of the isolation and the pure beauty of nature, which generates a kind of peace and out of that comes this relationship.”
Despite his more than 40 years in the film business, Ford said he marvels at every acting opportunity that comes his way.
When asked if there was anything left he wanted to do on the creative front, Ford simply said he loves what he does and offered an interesting anecdote about “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” mastermind George Lucas, 75, that Ford carries with him to this day.
“George Lucas used to have – as a director, [he] would often say at the end of a take, ‘OK, do another one,’ and [I would] say, ‘Well, what would – do you want me to change something?’ And George would say, ‘Same thing, only better,’” Ford recalled.
“Well, there’s always better,” he continued. “So I love the craft and I love the storytelling aspect of what I get to do. I work in collaboration with other people and that gives me great pleasure. If I could just get to do the same thing, only better – that would be enough for me.”
“The Call of the Wild” is currently playing in theaters.