Harrison Ford made one of the biggest comebacks of the last decade with 2008’s hugely successful Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but he was looking to offer a more meaningful film as his followup. He found the right kind of project in the new film Extraordinary Measures, playing a research scientist who helps a desperate father (played by Brendan Fraser) find a cure for the rare genetic disorder Pompe Disease. Fraser’s character, John Crowley, is a real person who inspired a book called The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million—and Bucked the Medical Establishment—in a Quest to Save His Children, which chronicles his efforts to treat his children’s Pompe disease.
While Measures feels like a by-the-numbers exercise overall, Ford digs into his role with gusto in creating a cranky yet principled loner who will go to the mat for his beliefs. The film was a dream project for Ford, who shepherded the film for six years as one of its executive producers. He joined costar Fraser, director Tom Vaughn and writer Robert Nelson Jacobs to discuss Extraordinary Measures with RELEVANT.
Harrison, you found the story of the Crowleys six years ago. Did the lengthy process of making the film help you make the film and your role deeper?
Ford: I certainly was able to discuss the story plenty with Robert before he started the script. These were people who’d done films with real meaning and humanity before, and I trusted it would all come together perfectly.
What was the main moral dilemma in the film, in your eyes? It seems that no one’s really the bad guy here, as the film doesn’t tackle specific issues like health care.
Vaughn: it was interesting to have John doing the right things for his kids, but not the right thing from everyone else’s point of view. He’s acting out of desperation.
Fraser: The antagonist is usually a person, but in this film, it’s not having enough time to save the kids. That’s kind of abstract but important.
Why was Stonehill such a fun character?
Ford: Because the character is a fiction[al amalgam] of the contributors to enzyme therapy, we had the opportunity to make him up out of those things that make up the story. We wanted both an ally and antagonist for John, for John to reach out to this awkward guy out of desperation. Stonehill is a different character. I didn’t want to do a conventional scientist and when I met scientists I found them to be as different as any other group of people.
I’ve never been an actor who says “my character wouldn’t do that” because you should go wherever you need to. I found it a very interesting character to play and my ambition was to make a different character for myself than what I usually do.
Harrison, you’re well known for wanting to get a role’s details right. I was surprised so much of Stonehill’s work was done on white boards and not computers.
Ford: That’s what I saw when I went out there, just guys sitting around a table thinking of what they can try. Stonehill is an academic researcher, used to working alone, underfunded and left pretty much alone. He has absolute faith in his science and one thing we put that attracted his relationship with Crowley was his passion for science. We tried a lot of ways to set the hook with Crowley and we figured a desperate man would seek out a person with the kind of conviction Stonehill had. I think the science is laid out in a very good way.
How hard was it restraining from being political about health care?
Ford: We were all against creating a polemic, a bully pulpit to proclaim our point-of-view and let the audience decide for themselves. We wanted to concentrate on human relationships level of detail.
Jacobs: It’s a story about a father’s love for his children and his solution to the problem.
Harrison, this is a project different than what you normally do. What are you planning to do differently in the future?
Ford: I’ve always sought out different genres and different kinds of characters. The next thing I think I’m gonna do is a thriller, a very different kind of character, and I have a comedy coming up in July. I develop some things for myself but I’ll take good parts as they come along.
As you get older, how do your priorities change?
Ford: My work has always been important for me but I do it and continue to do it because I love my work. I don’t mind playing older characters. I find it interesting and they’re parts I couldn’t have gotten at 30.
Your part is also different for you, Brendan.
Fraser: This is a real life individual. Crowley is very much alive and exists and that’s the challenge I wanted to take on. I wanted to show his drive to succeed without falling into trap of being mawkish and sentimental and insincere. Crowley is one of the most principled people I’ve met and to give an idea of what kind of guy he his, he says others deserve all the medals.
Vaughn: When I read the script, I knew Harrison was attached and I knew Brendan’s work and his dramatic work as well and felt I hadn’t seen him do that in a while. He came in with such a great take on the character that it seemed a perfect fit. He had the experience of being in every scene too.
Ford: What Brendan brought was an authenticity. He didn’t attempt to impersonate John Crowley but he just understood from his own emotions. He’s worked with a lot of good people in the past and learned how to do it really well.
Both of you have played iconic screen characters, but it was your first time working together. What’s it like to play heroic men?
Fraser: It was my pleasure to award Harrison at the Spike TV awards with [an award for onscreen heroism]. I later asked him what he did with it and he said he sold it for scrap metal.
Ford: We later met for drinks. Brendan correctly perceived how to get the tone of the film and character, and he knew what the job was. I thought he was tremendously affecting in the role. An actor only has his experience to work with.