“I hadn’t imagined quite how it was going to work, but it seemed a little weird,” Harrison Ford said about his initial thoughts on working opposite of his digitally animated co-star in “Call of the Wild.” To the rest of us watching, Buck is a St. Bernard/Scotch Collie mix, but to Ford, Cara Gee (François), director Chris Sanders, and others on set, they weren’t staring at a dog – they were looking at Terry Notary. Notary is the gifted Cirque du Soleil gymnast who is well known for his movement choreography in films such as “Planet of the Apes.”
“Not only was Terry there for us to be able to know where the dog would be, we could track a shot and have a space that was properly framed, but the thing that was really fantastic about it, that I didn’t really think about in the beginning, was that Terry allowed us to talk to Buck and to develop a scene,” Chris Sanders explained during our roundtable interview.
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
The team worked to put a 21st-century twist on the Jack London novel. Screenwriter Michael Green delivered a solid interpretation that blended live-action with digital enhancement. Harrison Ford says that working opposite Notary as Buck allowed him to create an emotional relationship with the character. “It did feel a little funny at first to be scratching him behind the ears. But he got over it, and so did I,” Ford joked during the interview.
Ford has generated a lot of buzz lately, not only because of his relationship with Buck in this new film but also because of his relationship with the environment. “Call of the Wild” has been conjuring up the actor’s passions about climate change and the serious state of emergency that our world is in today. Ford says that while his disposition toward nature is part of his personality, it wasn’t what motivated his choice to do the film.
“I didn’t take the project as an environmental activist. I took the project as a father, a member of a family,” he admits. “It was a story that I thought would be good. That would make a good family film. The character really was developed beyond the character’s presence in the book to have a story that parallels, in many ways, Buck’s story. And while Buck is gaining the courage to accept the call of the wild, if you will, John Thornton is finding the courage to go back and assume his domestic responsibilities, to go back and face the complications of his life,” the actor went on to point out as he praised Buck’s indomitable spirit.
Cara Gee, who booked this role only a month after moving from Canada to Los Angeles, says that overall, she’s proud of how the entire movie came out. “I think there’s this real sense of wonder and awe, and there’s this sort of storybook quality to it that our remarkable VFX team was able to achieve. There were a lot of things that drew me to being able to work on this project,” the actress said during press day. “I feel extremely proud, as an Indigenous woman, to be playing this role.”
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Although the story takes place in the 1890s Yukon, during the Klondike Gold Rush, it was filmed in modern-day Santa Clarita, California. A lot of preparation and problem-solving went into “Call of the Wild” to deliver what you see on screen. “What motivates me is what has always motivated me – the opportunity to wrestle with an intellectual problem, to take on a challenge, without knowing it’s going to work. But investing in it with others and trying to make it work. I love telling stories,” Ford continued. “I love hearing stories. I think stories are very important to our lives, and the stories we tell ourselves are very important, the choices we make about the kind of stories we want to hear. Storytelling is a service occupation, and if you want certain kinds of stories, you’ll find them if they’re important enough to you… This is a positive story about courage, spirit, commitment, affinity, empathy, and the power of nature.”
In casual conversation, Ford then began to reminisce about his iconic, longstanding career. “Over the years, I’ve had more than my share of opportunity. My plan is to do the best I can with each job that comes my way. And then reflect on that and go do something else.”
The “something else” that everyone has been talking about lately revolves around the revival of one of his most beloved characters, Indiana Jones. The fifth installment in the movie franchise is expected to be a continuation of the famed fictional archaeologist’s tale. The actor will be reprising his role as the good, Dr. Jones. Steven Spielberg will be directing once again, and it will welcome back franchise creator George Lucas as executive producer. It’s something Ford says that he’s very much looking forward to.
When the actor is not off finding adventure with his family in some of the most exotic places in the world, he remains focused on what’s in front of him. For now, that’s “Call of the Wild.” Ford walked away from the film seemingly feeling fulfilled, having had the opportunity to work with a talented group of people, and that together, they were able to bring something to life that is of value to other people.
The “Star Wars” actor explained to Hollywood First Look Features how he hopes this movie will do just that. “Any emotional exercise, any opportunity to experience your common humanity, with other people that you don’t know, that don’t look like you, that don’t act like you, that think other things that live other places. They’re a different color or a different instinctual behavior. That’s what makes us human. That’s what reminds us that it’s not just about us. It’s about all of us.”
“Call of the Wild” also stars Omar Sy, Dan Stevens, Bradley Whitford, Jean Louisa Kelly, and Karen Gillan. The movie opens in theaters on February 21.
Published on Hollywood First Look Features.