Ford, 77, went full-on feral for his role as expert outdoorsman John Thornton, who befriends leading dog Buck in “The Call of the Wild” (in theaters Friday).
The new screen adaptation of Jack London’s famed 1903 novel, set in the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, features an unusual screen pairing: Ford and “Planet of the Apes” motion-capture actor Terry Notary, who plays Buck.
Having the human actor, who was digitally transformed into the massive sled dog, helped Ford.
“I had an emotional relationship with this consciousness that was Terry Notary. And he became the consciousness of Buck,” he says.
Ford spoke to USA TODAY about the perils of burly facial hair and his impressively “Wild” shirtless scene.
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Question: In those scenes where you are patting Buck on the head, was it hard getting used to head-patting Terry Notary?
Harrison Ford: Petting him on the head wasn’t the weird part. Rubbing him on the belly was a little weird at first. We got over it real quick. It just becomes normal.
Q: Your beard is glorious. How long did it take?
Ford: It took about 3½ months. Then I shaved it off. And then we did some reshoots. So I had to grow it again. My wife (Calista Flockhart) will never forgive me for that. But it was right for the character.
Q: It looks great! How could she not love that beard?
Ford: You don’t have to scratch me behind the ears or rub my belly.
Q: You don’t see a lot of Harrison Ford beards in movies. Why is that?
Ford: It’s a funny story. When I worked for Warner Bros., there was a wonderful executive named Bob Daly. If I tried to grow some facial hair, he’d say, “Nah, I paid for your face.” I’d explain the beard rationale, but he’d say, “I don’t care.” When I shot “The Fugitive,” I explained to Bob I’d either have a beard to start with or when I was running away from the police. A beard would be the easiest way to disguise myself. He finally agreed. When I did “K-19: The Widowmaker,” playing a Russian submarine captain, I grew this Russian kind of goatee. But he said, “Nah.” So I shaved it off, put it in an envelope and sent it to Bobby. He put it in the Warner Bros. museum.
Q. I have to ask this straight. You’re so buff in your shirtless scene. Did you get any digital enhancement?
Ford: I was fit and it was very cold water. I’m healthy, I enjoy being active and fit. I’m aware of keeping my old (butt) in shape.
Q: Did they have to whiten your chest up to keep you realistically prospector pale?
Ford: Well, I don’t sit out in the sun anyway, so I was already prospector-like there.
Q. Your John Thornton is a pushover who lets Buck take over his bed. Do you lose a lot of battles at home with your dogs?
Ford: (Sighs.) My wife will not tolerate a dog whining on the floor next to our bed. So they do sleep on our bed most of the time. (Sighs again.)
Q. I take it you’re not excited about that.
Ford: I have mixed feelings about that.
Q. How did J.J. Abrams get you to shoot your cameo for “The Rise of Skywalker” after Han Solo’s “Star Wars” death?
Ford: When J.J. asked me to do it, I said, “Are you kidding? I’m dead!” And he said, “Sorta dead. You can do this.” He hadn’t written anything at the time. But he said, “This is going to be great!” If J.J. asked you to do something, you’d probably do it, too. He’s a very persuasive guy.
Q. Were you bummed that you couldn’t come back as a Force ghost, given Han’s Force skepticism?
Ford: Force ghost? I don’t know what a Force ghost is. (Whispers.) Don’t tell anyone. I’m not talking loud enough for your recorder. I have no (expletive) idea what a Force ghost is. And I don’t care!”