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A Salute to an 'Epic' Actor as AFI Honors Harrison Ford

February 19, 2000|KATHLEEN CRAUGHWELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Director Mike Nichols said he could be "grouchy." Teen actress Thora Birch said he was "a little intimidating and even a bit cranky." Brad Pitt called him "cool." Anne Heche said he was "supportive, funny and cute."

But it was his "Star Wars" co-star and famous Hollywood wit Carrie Fisher who used perhaps the most fitting adjective--"epic."

All of these people and more than 1,000 others gathered in the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Thursday night to fe^te Harrison Ford, recipient of this year's American Film Institute Life Achievement Award.

Directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who have collaborated with Ford on some of the most successful films of all time (the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" trilogies), presented the award to the reticent actor.

Lucas--whom Ford said was "responsible for the whole mess" of his career--admitted that not once but twice he was reluctant to cast the actor in the films that would make him a superstar.

"When we were casting 'Star Wars,' [producer] Fred Roos suggested Harrison. I said, 'I've already used him [in 'American Graffiti']; I don't want to use the same face twice. I want each of my projects to be fresh."

"I really stuck to my guns on that one," he added facetiously.

Three years later, when Spielberg suggested Ford for the lead in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Lucas insisted: "I know one thing for sure. I'm not going to use the same actor in three of my movies. . . . Well, I lost that argument too."

In his acceptance speech, a soft-spoken Ford, 57, singled out his manager of 30 years, Patricia McQueeney, and thanked her for her "wisdom, counsel, charm and professionalism."

Then--to an audience that included Anne Archer, Jennifer Aniston, Ted Danson, Daryl Hannah, David Schwimmer, David Lynch, Ed Zwick, Carl Franklin, Amy Heckerling and Ford's wife, screenwriter Melissa Mathison--he said: "This evening has been more than I expected: more scary, more fun, more touching than I could have imagined. You've made me laugh, and I'm going to get the hell out of here before you make me cry."

Director Terrence Malick, who did not attend, was awarded the Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal, which is given to AFI alumni who are "committed to quality filmmaking." Producer and AFI founding director George Stevens Jr. accepted the medal on Malick's behalf.

The ceremony will air on CBS on a date still to be announced.

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