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Harrison Ford takes on Tom Clancy...again

Despite a previous clash, the actor and the ”Patriot Games” team head back into the zone

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Entertainment Weekly: Have you spoken to Tom Clancy since you finished Clear and Present Danger?
Harrison Ford: We spoke about a month ago. I ran into him in Las Vegas at a symposium for honor students.
EW: What did you talk about?
HF: It was a private meeting. We chatted for some period of time.
EW: Did you know Clancy would be there?
HF: Listen, I’m not going to continue talking about this. I don’t want to make this interview about me and Tom Clancy.

Perched on a San Francisco hotel couch two and a half weeks before the opening of the latest Tom Clancy-based techno-thriller, Clear and Present Danger, Harrison Ford seems tense. The edginess is uncharacteristic for someone who has made a career out of appearing unflappable. Ford’s low-key performances as regular guys rising to extraordinary occasions have helped his films make more than $2 billion. And he has made his roles in the two most lucrative franchises in cinematic history, the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, seem effortless.

The attempt to launch a third Ford franchise hasn’t gone so smoothly. The actor faced hard work and headaches on 1992’s Patriot Games, when he first played Jack Ryan, the CIA-analyst hero of Clancy’s hugely successful (and just plain huge) novels. Clancy proved a loose cannon, trashing the film to the press, and a new ending was shot at the last minute after the first one bombed with test audiences. Ford signed on for another tour of duty in Danger, and it didn’t get any easier.

Danger is a case study of the perils of adapting a best-seller for the screen. It’s no easy task boiling down a nearly 700-page, labyrinthine novel (in which Ryan battles both Colombian drug lords and the U.S. politicos who wage an illegal war against them) to a 126-page screenplay without alienating devotees of the book, most notably its own cranky author. Ford’s insistence on altering the politically charged material threatened to rend the uneasy alliance between liberal Hollywood and conservative Clancy, a former insurance agent who skyrocketed to literary superstardom during the Reagan era thanks to a series of hardware-heavy novels, starting with 1985’s The Hunt for Red October. The ever-escalating cost of action movies (Danger cost nearly $60 million) made the stakes even steeper.

It’s not a pretty story, but it may have a happy ending: Danger opened in first place at the box office, earning $28.8 million in its first five days. So why isn’t Harrison Ford — or Tom Clancy — smiling?

Once upon a time, Tom Clancy was pleased with a Hollywood adaptation of one of his books. Well, sort of. Producer Mace Neufeld bought the rights to Hunt in 1984 before it was published, and when the 1990 film, which starred Alec Baldwin as Ryan, bagged $120 million in the U.S., Clancy conceded, ”They didn’t screw it up too much.”

Clancy then sold Paramount two more Ryan novels, 1987’s Patriot Games and 1989’s Clear and Present Danger. But when Baldwin opted to star in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway and Ford took over the Ryan role, things began to go sour. Prior to the June 1992 release of Games, the author started firing verbal torpedoes. Clancy (who declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this article) publicly accused the filmmakers of bastardizing his book with plot alterations and technical mistakes, and sniped that Ford, who was 49 at the time of filming, was too old to play the 31-year-old Ryan.

Brandon Tartikoff, then head of Paramount, reached a cease-fire with Clancy, reportedly by offering him a rich deal for future projects with the studio, none of which have materialized. Nonetheless, if Clancy had intended to damage the franchise, he succeeded to some extent. Games fell short of Hunt domestically, with a solid but unspectacular take of $80 million.

”I think [Clancy’s criticism] did hurt the film,” Ford told Entertainment Weekly on the Mexico set of Danger in January. ”I don’t think it should have. It’s inevitable that a book changes in bringing it to the screen. It’s generally accepted by those professionals that have had some experience with the process. And if one doesn’t want to submit to the process, the simple expedient is not to sell your stuff.”

But Clancy had already sold more of his stuff. Games did well enough to sustain Paramount’s interest in continuing the Ryan film franchise with Danger. The next step was getting a screenplay ready. John Milius, who had cowritten Apocalypse Now, had completed a script for Danger before Games started shooting. ”Tom loved it,” says Milius, a right-wing comrade of Clancy’s. ”I was very faithful to his book.”

Given the books content, fidelity was a virture the filmmakers couldn’t afford. Ryan barely appears in the first half of the story, and he spends most of his time cooped up in a D.C. office, leaving many of the big action scenes to a squad of professional soldiers.

”There was no place for Harrison Ford in that film,” says Phillip Noyce, who directed both Games and Danger. Then, correcting himself, Noyce adds, ”There was a place, but the audience would have rioted.” So in March 1992, Paramount hired one of Games‘ and Hunt‘s cowriters, Donald Stewart (Missing), to put Ryan at the center of the story.

Stewart’s script — and a reported $10 million-plus payday — was enough to convince Ford, who commits to only one Ryan movie at a time, to agree to do Danger. Meanwhile, Clancy was getting steamed again. In June 1993, he told a Washington Post reporter that Stewart’s script was ”really awful.” Privately, Clancy’s words were even less kind. He faxed a series of memos to the production team, with comments ranging from quibbles (corrections of nautical commands and complaints about changes in characters’ names) to condemnations (”If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, then this ‘script’ must have been crafted by a panel of maniacs”). He even took a potshot at Noyce’s oeuvre: ”If you shoot this script, Sliver will look like Citizen Kane.” (Noyce laughs off the salvo: ”He’s a writer. Hyperbole’s his trade.”)

”First things first,” Clancy wrote in sum, ”Clear and Present Danger was the No. 1 best-selling novel of the 1980s. One might conclude that the novel’s basic story line had some quality to it. Why, then, has nearly every aspect of the book been tossed away?”

Note to Clancy: What works on the page doesn’t always work on the screen. Or as Ford put it to EW in January, ”You do things when you’re typing that you would never do if you had to f—ing stand there and deliver [the lines].” Still, Ford and Noyce had their own concerns about Stewart’s script, and another Games coscribe, Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List), came on board. His semi-contradictory mission, as stated by Noyce: to make the movie more like the book while continuing to strengthen Ryan’s role.

Hewing to Clancy’s vision, a subplot concocted by Stewart that had Ryan’s doctor wife (played by Anne Archer) performing experimental eye surgery on a young patient was excised. ”It was another movie, not just another strand,” says Noyce. ”I don’t think [Archer] was too happy.” (The actress was not available for comment.)

Zaillian’s script significantly departs from Clancy’s blueprint in the final scene, however. (Warning: Skip the next four paragraphs if you don’t want to know the ending.) In the book, Ryan confronts the President in the privacy of the Oval Office about the covert drug war. In the film, he then blows the lid off the scandal by publicly testifying before Congress.

Ford was a driving force behind this change. ”I thought we would be making an insufficient entertainment if we didn’t give people the satisfaction of knowing Ryan did testify,” he says. ”It’s hard to make an ambiguous ending to a two-hour movie. The audience is not normally satisfied [with that].”

With Danger‘s resonances of Iran-contra, this new coda seems to attack the President, a Reaganesque figure let off easy in Clancy’s book. Says Ford, ”We have softened somewhat the political bias [Clancy] brings to the subject, not because we’re bleeding-heart liberals, but because we wanted to divest it of some of its baggage and let it walk on its own two legs.”

Clancy liked this script even less, according to Milius, who himself objected to the new ending. ”To go before Congress, which as we well know is a nest of snakes, is ridiculous,” he says. ”Anyone in this day and age who thinks that Congress is an honorable organization is a fool.”

Yet Milius’ reservations didn’t prevent him from cutting a special deal to rejoin Danger as an adviser for the action sequences, including the film’s centerpiece, in which a convoy of Chevy Suburbans carrying Ryan and other U.S. officials is ambushed by terrorists on a Bogota street. ”I said, ‘You are going to have four Suburbans destroyed. You will buy five, and my Suburban will be packed with Cuban cigars.”’ When Milius’ payment arrived, he reports, ”it was pretty packed.”

Perched on a wicker couch at a hacienda near Cuernavaca, Mexico, in January, Harrison Ford plays with toy cars. Storyboards spread out in front of them, Ford and Noyce use the mini-vehicles to plot out the Bogota ambush, which they will start filming in a few days. Pacing nearby, Neufeld speaks on a cellular phone to Zaillian, who’s working on the scene’s dialogue back in the States.
”Tell him it’s not invested with enough emotion,” Ford says to Neufeld.
”Tell him yourself,” Neufeld jokingly replies. ”What am I, your messenger boy?”

When cameras finally started rolling in L.A. last November, obstacles continued to arise. The company moved to Washington, D.C., in time for a record-breaking cold spell. Some of the D.C. footage that had been sent back to L.A. was damaged in the earthquake. And Danger relocated to Mexico just days after rebels launched a revolt in the southern state of Chiapas.

But Noyce had bigger worries once he reached Mexico City for the ambush: Clear and Present Danger was going over schedule. The scene, scheduled to be filmed in five days, stretched to eight. (”It took two days more than forever” is Ford’s memory.) ”As more Suburbans got destroyed, the smoke level built up, so it became very difficult to work,” Noyce recalls. The situation didn’t improve as Danger moved to its final location, the rural town of Jalapa, where persistent fog caused further delays in filming. ”Sometimes you couldn’t see your elbow,” Noyce says.

The tension on the set grew almost as thick. Ford and Noyce debated fine points of the script, which was being rewritten by the day. All of the film’s action scenes had been left until the end of shooting, partly to give a knee injury Ford sustained on The Fugitive time to heal. ”The worry about physical danger was compounded by the increasing fatigue everybody on the production was feeling,” Noyce says. ”Certainly compared with Patriot Games, it was more stressful. It was harder to reach agreement on things.”

Both Ford and Noyce downplay their on-set conflicts. ”We had less of a script this time, so we had more to argue about — I mean argue in a responsible way, not bicker,” Ford says. ”The first time you work with a person, the debate tends to be polite. Then the marriage continues and maybe the second time you know each other better, so you conduct the argument more like a husband and wife than business associates.”

As the production wound down, there was one last snafu with the script: The film’s action climax, in which Ryan and a mercenary comrade played by Willem Dafoe save a unit of soldiers the U.S. has abandoned, needed to be rewritten. Stewart flew down to the set to pen the scene, but Noyce and Paramount didn’t see eye to eye on its scope. The director wanted to stage an elaborate chase “through the bowels and rooftops of the town,” ending with a fight between Ford and a drug lord (Joaquim de Almeida) on the top of a church. With an eye on the meter, studio execs insisted on a smaller-scale helicopter rescue.

”The studio gave us an ultimatum that we had to finish by a certain time, and the only way we could do that was by cutting our suit to fit the cloth,” Noyce says. ”In retrospect, I’d say they made a big mistake. The ending of the film needed to be bigger than the ambush [midway through the film].”

Noyce wasn’t the only one who got short shrift. Dafoe had agreed to do Danger based on a promise that he would get to stretch his physical acting muscles in this sequence. Instead, he’s mostly left on the sidelines. ”In some ways, I could say, ‘Oh, I planned something a little different when they said a big action finish,’ but then another part of me says I didn’t picture anything in particular,” Dafoe offers in hindsight. ”Whether it fits the bill isn’t for me to say.”

Ultimately, Paramount got its way. Danger came in a mere 13 days late and $4 million over its $55.5 million budget. (Inflation index: Games cost only $42.5 million two years ago.)

Complications followed Noyce into the editing room. ”We made the film up to 10 minutes shorter, but it didn’t seem to make it better, just shorter,” says Noyce, whose movie wound up clocking in at 142 minutes. ”The studio constantly encouraged me to put material back.” So did test audiences. ”When we cut it shorter, more people found it longer than when it was long.” The longer the film got, says Noyce, the higher it scored in the ”moves just right” category.

In fact, after the first test screenings in June, two days of reshoots were done on the Paramount lot in L.A., including:

· A new scene, written by Stewart, who remained on the project after his trip to Mexico, that introduces Ryan and fleshes out his relationship with his mentor, played by James Earl Jones. ”I discovered that everybody else had a great entrance but Jack Ryan,” says Noyce. ”And that’s not good.”

· A new ending to the ambush sequence. Originally, Ryan carried the FBI director to safety only to see him slain by an assassin riding a motorcycle. ”The motorcyclist killing the FBI director and not Jack Ryan — who had already shown he had more than nine lives — would have tipped the whole thing into unbelievability,” says Noyce.

· A shot during the action climax of de Almeida’s drug lord perishing. ”We needed a close-up of him dying because it was a very satisfying moment for the audience,” Neufeld says. ”We had one screening where people started to clap, but it was over before they could.”

Noyce continued honing the film’s soundtrack and special effects until a few weeks before its release. Reviews have been mixed-to-positive, but more important, the film’s first-weekend gross was the highest yet for a Jack Ryan film.

If Danger equals or surpasses Games‘ take, Neufeld and partner Robert Rehme will almost certainly want to continue the series. That could be tricky: Paramount doesn’t own the rights to any of Clancy’s other Ryan novels, but Paramount’s rights to the character (obtained before the filming of Hunt) dictate that no one else can make a Ryan movie for four years after the release of the last film. If the Ryan movie series continues, what will the next installment be? The options:

· The Cardinal of the Kremlin. Clancy’s 1988 novel was once thought too Cold War-based to be relevant, yet Neufeld now feels it may be viable. “Suddenly, with Aldrich Ames [the CIA mole who sold secrets to the KGB], you say, wait a minute, they may not call it the Soviet Union anymore, but there’s still a lot of stuff going on.”

· The Sum of All Fears. Neufeld isn’t as enthusiastic about the cinematic prospects for Clancy’s 1991 tome. ”It involves blowing up the Super Bowl, and that’s been done before [in the film Black Sunday],” he says. ”And it’s too much with terrorists, Israel and the Arabs. I wouldn’t want to get involved with that.”

· Debt of Honor. Clancy’s next book, to be published this month, pits Ryan against a Japanese industrialist who wants to conquer America. Paramount is currently in negotiation with Clancy to make it the next film.

· A new Ryan screenplay not based on one of the novelist’s works. Anticipating that Clancy might refuse to sell Paramount another book, this option has been discussed. ”It was never my intention to do that,” Neufeld says. ”But if we have no choice…that’s the direction we’ll go.”

And there may be more Clancy movies on the horizon. Paramount’s control over the Ryan character turned one of Clancy’s non-Ryan books into a hot property. The author sold the rights to Without Remorse to Savoy Pictures last year for a reported $2.5 million. The novel concerns the exploits of John Kelly (a.k.a. Mr. Clark, the character played by Dafoe in Danger) in the Vietnam era. Keanu Reeves reportedly turned down a $7 million offer for the role, but Savoy hopes to get cameras rolling in time for a Christmas 1995 release.

Clancy told Variety he’ll have more creative control over this film (or series of films, if it’s a hit) than he has had over the Ryan movies. Neufeld, for one, doubts Clancy will get the power he seeks: ”You don’t get your creative input listened to simply because of a contract. It’s listened to and perhaps incorporated because people believe what you’re saying. That’s the collaborative process.”

It’s a process that the novelist hasn’t seemed to master yet.” did everything in one man’s power to make Tom Clancy happy,” says Neufeld. ”I went back time and time again after having felt battered and bloody. At this point, I question whether there is anything that will please Tom Clancy.” But Neufeld’s not willing to rule out a rapprochement. ”If Rabin and Arafat could shake hands,” he says, ”Clancy and Neufeld could.”