Not a Game

Harrison Ford Discusses ‘Ender’s Game,’ Drone Warfare, Vietnam, and Playing A Badass President

Harrison Ford stars as war-hungry Col. Graff in Ender’s Game, in theaters Friday. The screen icon talks to Marlow Stern about drone warfare, being a conscientious objector to Vietnam, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones 5.

Richard Foreman/Summit

Harrison Ford’s having a pretty busy year. The 71-year-old star of classics like Star Wars, Blade Runner, and Indiana Jones, didn’t appear in a film in 2012, but this year, he’s already turned in a fine performance as baseball exec Branch Rickey in the surprise hit 42, appeared in the dud Paranoia, and will have a small role in the upcoming film Anchorman: The Legend Continues, out Dec. 20.

His latest—and most prominent—turn this year is in the sci-fi flick Ender’s Game. Directed by Gavin Hood (Wolverine), and based on a novel by Orson Scott Card, Ford stars as Colonel Graff, leader of the International Fleet, and chief administrator of the Battle School—a school preparing the world’s brightest children for interstellar warfare, via war games, to prepare for an all-out assault on the Formics, an alien race that devastated the earth years ago. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a shy but brilliant tactician, is the world’s best hope for survival. The $110 million production is a surprisingly engaging film, and features Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, and Hailee Steinfeld in supporting roles. And Ford delivers another impressive performance as the hard-ass, take-no-prisoners colonel; like a hardened, grizzled Han Solo.

Ford spoke with The Daily Beast about Ender’s Game, drones, war, and much more.

Were you reluctant at all to return to the sci-fi genre/outer space after the Star Wars films? It seems like you’d become known as an iconic sci-fi guy and then didn’t do any more for a while.

No. Genre doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s like wallpaper. What I’m looking for is a character I can identify with and a human, emotional story. It doesn’t make any difference whether it takes place in space, or someone’s drawing room, or the back of a horse. It just doesn’t matter to me. What’s interesting about Ender’s Game is that it’s really a family film; it’s a movie for young people to go to with their mother and father, both for what the adult will see, in terms of some of the issues their children are facing, and for young people, to ask questions of their parents and require some dialogue on how it came to be like this.

I found the film pretty relevant to the current atmosphere in terms of international relations, and war. There’s a good line towards the end of the film: “It’s the way you win that matters.” Did you view Ender’s Game as a post-9/11 allegory of sorts?

Well, you know … I think that, emotionally, we register this, but also, we need to make ourselves responsible for understanding that this is not about nations fighting other nations, cultures fighting other cultures, or religions at war with another religion, or a war fought over economic control of oil resources, or anything like that. This is an alien invasion, and the film proposes that there’s a world government and an international fleet.

But I saw some parallels as far as the lack of diplomacy goes. The International Fleet refuses to even broach the idea of diplomacy with the aliens, which is something that really rubs Ender the wrong way.

Yeah. I see that as well. Although it’s proposed that the earth has suffered devastating losses from the invasion of this life form before, in this particular case, they’re taking the conflict to them. The imminent threat has been “politically managed” to create the fear of an imminent threat, when it in fact is a pre-emptive military move. That has a lot of reference to our lives. And the drone warfare aspect of it has a lot of reference to our lives.

What’s your take on drone warfare?

It’s … incredibly complicated. What’s interesting to me is that these guys sitting in an air-conditioned trailer in the Mojave who can go home for lunch and are still getting a feedback through the joystick that’s causing them to suffer post-traumatic stress. Even though they’re not there and can’t smell the gunpowder and see the blood and have to walk past the collateral damage, they’re still affected by it. I think we’ve got to breed out the taste for the lust of warfare at some point.

Ender is under the impression that he’s playing a simulator, like a video game. There’s a lack of intimacy there, as far as killing goes.

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Look what’s happened to him, though. He’s gone from a shy, young boy, to a grand orchestra conductor; the master of war. And it’s only when he sees the shocking result of it that he feels corrupted, and abused, and makes himself responsible for a redemption, to some extent. But you know, there’s another interesting metaphor that I see here. It’s in the DNA of every life form to find the potential for reproduction and the continuation of the species, and that’s what this alien life form is looking for—not for conquest, but for water. I see that metaphor as being very important and useful in our lives right now. The preservation of potential for life on earth is a threat.

You’re not in the Newt Gingrich camp of pro moon colonization, are you?

[Laughs] Not so much! I won’t go there. I think we’ve got to make it work here, and we have to, for our young people.

Did you model your International Fleet honcho on anyone? I saw him as a cross between Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf and John McCain.

[Laughs] Yeah! Well, he’s charged with a responsibility. I don’t judge the characters I play in terms of the morality of that character. I try to understand what his utility is in the telling of the story, try to place him in a context, emotionally, that I can understand, and I try and look at his relationships with the other characters. This character is both mentor and manipulator, which makes him complicated—and interesting. But it’s not up to me to decide if he’s a good guy or a bad guy. I wouldn’t want to send my kids to a school where he was the head trainer.

One of the first major motion pictures you appeared in was Apocalypse Now. And as far as the Vietnam War goes, I read that you were a conscientious objector.

Yeah. I never got the status, but I did apply for it. My thought at the time was that it was a managed conflict; a created conflict. I never really was a strong believer in the Cold War, and the threat of an economic theory wiping out our potential to prosper, and enjoy our own political system. I thought it was all a managed conflict, myself, and I didn’t feel morally comfortable with being part of it at the time.

Around the time Air Force One came out, there was this funny poll conducted that said people in this country actually wanted you to run for president.

Well, I think more than that it was a president who had a kind of clarity, and the situation was so simple. This was a president that wasn’t concerned about his next term in office. The complications of leadership were romanticized to the extent that people could have that concept. We’re over that now, I think.

How would President James Marshall have handled the government shutdown?

[Laughs] He would’ve kicked ass!

As far as the new Star Wars film goes, I grew up with the Star Wars movies and, as far as the prequels go, I felt like the technology hadn’t caught up to what Lucas had envisioned.


Were you a little reluctant to get back in the Star Wars saddle because the prequels hadn’t lived up to the standard set by the first three films that you starred in?

[Laughs] I’m not going there. No and no.

Is Indiana Jones 5 happening?

Um … not yet! But if it did, I’d be happy to be involved.