42: Harrison Ford’s Example of Preparing for an Audition

I am interested in writing a nonficiton book and talked to an editor about the idea this week. She is interested. Hurrah!

But she needs a full proposal that includes a table of contents and a sample chapter. In other words, I have to do some–no, a lot–of work, on spec, before I get a contract. And then, it will be a ton of research to write the book. It’s daunting. To even be in the game, I have to do a lot of work.

I am inspired by Harrison Ford. In an article in the April, 2013 issue of American Way, Jan Hubbard reports on what Ford had to do to get the his latest role. Ford had read an early version of the screenplay for “42,” the new movie about Jackie Robinson’s entry into the world of baseball. Ford was intrigued by the role of Branch Rickey, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who desegregated baseball by signing 26-year-old Jackie Robinson.

Director Brain Helgeland wasn’t interested in well-known actors for any of the parts. He wanted people to see the movie because they wanted to learn about Jackie Robinson; he didn’t want people to go to see another “Harrison Ford movie.”

Helgeland refused to even talk to Harrison Ford about the role. Ford was too big an actor.

“Nothing against him,” says Helgeland, who won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for L.A. Confidential in 1997. “He’s obviously a strong actor and a movie star and someone that movie fans int he country are really fond of, but I didn’t see how it could work. I didn’t see him playing a character.”

Now–what would you do, if you were Ford?
Move on to the next role? There are probably lots of directors courting him for their movies.

Instead, Ford went to work.
He studied his character, Branch Rickey. He found archival film of Rickey and listened to hours of audio tape. He read and re-read the script. He did his homework.

Then, and only then, did he insist on a meeting with Helgeland. (OK, he’s a big enough actor to get that meeting, but the rest of the story depends on his preparation work.)

During the conversation, Ford asked Helgeland how he saw a particular scene playing out, because there were two ways it might go.

Then, Ford broke into a private audition, complete with Rickey’s voice and mannerisms.

“He took on that Branch Rickey voice and he did the whole scene off the top of his head, so he obviously had memorized it,” Helgeland says. “And I was sitting there saying, ‘Geez. He could really pull this off.'”

From the movie, "42."

OK, Mr. Big Actor, Mr. Harrison Ford. If YOU can do that much prep to get a part, I can work hard for my proposal, my audition. I can do the research, create a viable Table of Content and write that sample chapter. And I will work hard enough to nail it. Because I want this book.

4 thoughts on “42

  1. You just revealed Ford’s reason for success – Never, ever, ever, ever give up. There are dreamers, but Ford, you, and many other success stories move the dream right into the “get things done” category.

    If we don’t believe in ourselves – who will?

    When your book published, let us all know about it.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

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