One of the most surprising things about 42 isn’t some of the tough times Jackie Robinson had to suffer through, or that we as a culture could be so cruel and ignorant, or even how the movie ends, rather the most surprising thing is that Harrison Ford isn’t in this movie. I mean, he is, but he’s not really himself. Now, let’s be honest, kind but honest; Harrison Ford really hasn’t done much but play some sort of grumpy version of himself in most of his recent films. It’s just Harrison Ford up there on the screen. Come on, we all know it’s true. However, with 42, Mr. Ford does something different. As he put it at a recent press event we attended, “I had the idea that the film would be much better served by a Branch Rickey look alike than a Harrison Ford look alike.” In that regard, he was most certainly correct, and the result is probably one of Mr. Ford’s better roles in recent years.
Branch Rickey was the President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1945, which was the year when he made a decision that changed…well, a whole more than just baseball. Now for Mr. Ford to achieve his desire of being more of a Branch Rickey look alike in the movie instead of just another Harrison Ford look alike, that meant digging and doing quite a bit of research. “There was actually more audio tape available of him than there was visual material, but there was some. I tried to find as much of that as I could, and Brian [the director] and his people who worked on the film helped me a lot in that regard and I studied all the photographs. I didn’t want people going into the film thinking that they knew me from some previous experience in the movies, and I knew that was Brian’s ambition as well. So I invested in the process of trying to figure what I should do, what I shouldn’t do, and how to achieve the look of the character.”
It’s not just the way Mr. Ford speaks in the film that’s different, he actually looks quite different. In fact, it seemed to me that he put on a few pounds. However, he revealed later in our interview that was just something simple, but it helped him really become the character. “What helped more than anything actually was the fat suit, because it really did give me a sense of what it meant to maneuver at that size.” It did seem like he looked more his normal self at the press event, so the revelation that it was a fat suit made a lot of sense because I didn’t really think that Harrison Ford would gain a lot of weight and than lose it all again just for a role, especially at his age.
And speaking of age, one the thing he pointed out was that even though Branch Rickey was technically younger than what Mr. Ford is now, considering the day and age he lived in, he was actually much older. “You know, he was sixty-five years of age at the time of the telling of this story, around sixty-five, and it gave me the opportunity to play a younger man, which is not going to happen a lot any more in my career. But what was interesting to me was I remember my father in that period of time and other men of that age at that period in time, and we’re lucky now. We eat better, we live better, and sixty-five in those days was an older man. So I wanted to acknowledge that part of it, that he wasn’t, you know, hale and hearty at that point in his life. So it really helped me a lot to be specific about behaviors that I had observed and bring them into play as utilities to help describe the character and tell a story.”
Well, even though Harrison Ford may be playing an older/younger man in his portrayal of Branch Rickey, it’s clear from the film and from the time he spent talking about the character that it’s a role that’s rejuvenated him a bit. This isn’t just more grumpy ol’ Ford, this is one of the icon of the movie really enjoying himself again. There’s a scene where Branch Rickey tells Jackie Robinson that Jackie helped him love baseball all over again. One can’t help but wonder if being apart of this story has helped Harrison Ford love being an actor all over again.