Star sits in pilot's seat on and off screen

The blades of the helicopter stop spinning, and Harrison Ford slips out of the pilot's seat to take a few healthy stretches in a small town in Nebraska. The attendant asks the usual question, "Fuel 'er up?"

Ford nods, and then asks, "Is there a place around here I could get a hamburger?"

"If you want the best burger in town," the man says, "it's two blocks down the street." At the diner counter, Ford orders without looking at the menu. "The best burger in the state," he says.

"You came to the right place," says the waiter, who quickly turns to the grill and puts on a hamburger patty. "I know you're from away from here; it's a little early in the day for lunch.... You know," he adds, looking him squarely in the face, "you look a lot like Indiana Jones."

"I get a lot of that," Ford smiles.

"No, I mean Harrison Ford," the waiter says while flipping the burger.

"I am Harrison Ford."

Ford, who has flown his own jet plane for seven years, got his helicopter license about 2-1/2 years ago. "This summer," the actor explains, "we transferred my airplanes and helicopter back and forth; we were moving the family from Manhattan to vacation at our ranch in Wyoming. So there was a lot of flying."

It was director Sydney Pollack who interested Harrison and another actor, Tom Cruise, in becoming pilots. Says Ford, "There's something special about flying - the point of view, the isolation, the quiet. It makes you feel different. There are moments you are all alone and have to make something happen, which is on the edge of your capacity. There's great satisfaction when you can do it."

"Now they [Ford and Cruise] own large planes that can go coast to coast, and I'm still having fun flying my prop plane," Pollack says. He directed Ford in "Sabrina," and his latest, "Random Hearts."

While Ford and Pollack were making "Random Hearts" in Washington, D.C., and Miami, they flew together. "He's a serious flier," the director says. "I enjoy going up with him. We believe there are no old bold pilots."

"Random Hearts," opening today, revolves around a commercial plane crash in which the spouses of a cop, played by Ford, and a US congresswoman, performed by Kristen Scott Thomas, are killed. The characters quickly learn their spouses were having an affair.

"My wife's betrayal is devastating to my character. I play ... a sergeant in the Internal Affairs Division of the Washington, D.C., police department. [To prepare for this role], I spent a month with these men, watched them do their jobs, hung out with them, ate with them. It gave me a real feel for their job....

"The film is more mental than muscle. I like to run, jump, fight - all the things I do in an action film," Ford confides, "but I also like this kind of movie, which makes an actor work harder emotionally."

Ford enjoyed working with Scott Thomas. "She's an adult with a husband and kids who has an investment in the real world. When acting, she brings texture and definition to a character."

So just how does Ford unwind? "Look," he says with that trademark crooked grin, "it's all pretend. You focus on it while at work, then you come back to the real world."

His real world consists of his wife, screenwriter Melissa Mathison, their young son, Malcolm, and daughter, Georgia. He also has two grown sons, Ben and Will, from his first marriage. Rancher Will and his wife have given him his first grandson.

Currently Ford and his helicopter are in Los Angeles where he's starring with Michelle Pfeiffer in "What Lies Beneath." He's a genetics professor married to Pfeiffer who thinks she sees ghosts. It's his first time working with director Bob Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump").

Aside from acting, he and his neighbors in Jackson, Wyo., are working to stop the building of a nuclear incinerator in a power project in Idaho about 100 miles from their downwind homes. They have a meeting in Washington, to talk with Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson to present their facts. Ford's also involved with Conservation International, an environmental group based in D.C.

Ford never dodges a question. Yes, he does like Bill Bradley; no, Ford isn't running for office; yes, he would like to play Indiana Jones again. No he isn't worried about Y2K, and yes he will celebrate the millennium - "at home, in bed."

During his early days in Hollywood, Ford kept food on the table for three years laboring as a carpenter building houses. "I have a workshop at the ranch," he says, "but I usually go there just to fix something. I haven't built a piece of furniture in five years." What he has done is build a career that includes such accolades as the People's Choice Award as "Favorite All-Time Movie Star."

"I'm the kind of person who likes the [collaborative] process, which is definitely a must in filmmaking. I'm someone who needs to work."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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