''Patriot Games'': Behind the scenes -- With author Tom Clancy sniping from the sidelines, Harrison Ford takes over the role the studio hopes will become the James Bond of the '90s
Here’s how they shot scene 106CC for Paramount’s big action-adventure release Patriot Games: Harrison Ford is sitting quietly behind a desk in the study of a comfortable Maryland country house — actually a set on stage 18 at Paramount Pictures — while the crew around him readies the shot. In this scene, CIA director Adm. Greer, played by James Earl Jones, has come to warn Ford’s Jack Ryan, the straight-arrow hero of the best-selling Tom Clancy techno-thrillers, of impending danger: An Irish terrorist, whose brother Ryan killed in an earlier sequence, has just escaped from prison. Director Phillip Noyce calls, ”Action!” but what unfolds is not very, well… active. Jones’ approach is subtle, as Greer downplays the threat to Ryan and his family but quietly suggests that the risk should spur him to return to his former job at the CIA. Ford allows Ryan’s alarm to show through only in the intensity of his gaze.
Greer: If he’s left the country, the chances of his coming here are so remote…
Ryan: Still, your first thought was to come and tell me.
Greer: Want to come down and look at what we’ve got?
Ryan: Are you asking me if I want to come back?
And here’s how they reshot the same scene for the trailer:
Instead of sitting opposite Ford, Jones now stands directly in front of Ryan’s desk. ”Because it’s for a trailer, it should be delivered with more urgency,” director Noyce advises. Jones takes the advice to heart and shifts into his best stentorian boom.
Greer (urgently): There has never been a terrorist attack on American soil, Jack. These men are professionals. Personal revenge rarely plays into it.
Ryan (alarmed): But I killed his brother!
The scene looks like a keeper, and Noyce yells, ”Cut.” But Ford is warming to this new, manic version. He is on a roll. ”But I killed his mother!” he goes on, edging into hysteria. ”But I killed his mother’s brother!” For the first time in an hour, a smile breaks out on his face.
On-set jokes aside, the $42.5 million Patriot Games is serious business. As shaped by Noyce and Ford, the movie is a sober-minded thriller, a thinking person’s action-adventure. Still, it has to survive in the overheated summer market, between the high-octane explosions of Lethal Weapon 3 and the comic-book exaggerations of Batman Returns. And if getting the movie noticed requires hyping its tone for the trailer, that’s just part of the process of launching a potential blockbuster.
As a sequel, of sorts, to 1990’s The Hunt for Red October, the first of Tom Clancy’s novels to be brought to the screen — and a $120 million box office winner — Patriot Games seemed like a movie that could be made almost on autopilot. Instead it encountered nearly constant turbulence, beginning even before the project got off the ground. After a showdown with Alec Baldwin, the dashing young Jack Ryan of the first movie, Paramount performed the risky maneuver of replacing him with the more battle-proven Ford. Another crisis emerged midway through shooting, when Clancy suddenly went ballistic, accusing the filmmakers of sabotaging his novel. Even at the 11th hour, Ford was back before the cameras filming a new, more violent ending that was patched in three weeks before the movie’s release in 2,344 theaters last Friday.
Harrison Ford has just finished a stroll around his 800-acre property outside Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he lives with his wife, screenwriter Melissa Mathison (E.T.), and their two children. The jagged Grand Tetons, still carrying their winter snows, loom in the distance. He has conferred with the landscapers sprucing up his front lawn and the workers building two guest cabins. He proudly points out the additions he built himself on the two-story, white clapboard house that he designed. Settling down with a mug of coffee in the detached office-workshop, the gentleman rancher is finally able to focus on his other life, in Hollywood — an hour and 45 minutes away by plane — as perhaps the most reliable leading man of his generation.
”I thought if I didn’t use my license to do action-adventure, then pretty soon it wouldn’t be viable,” he says about his last-minute decision to sign up for Patriot Games. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, Ford, even at 49, doesn’t look all that different from the strapping, small-town hot-rodder Bob Falfa in 1973’s American Graffiti, the role that first won him attention. But though he has starred in the two most successful movie trilogies of all time — the Star Wars saga and the Indiana Jones series — Ford’s last two films, Presumed Innocent and Regarding Henry, have been what he calls ”suit-and-tie movies,” and he was itching to throw himself back into the action arena.
”I don’t think the executives ever stopped thinking of me in terms of action-adventures,” he says. ”But I kept turning them down because of their overweening violence or because they lacked ambition. I wanted to deal with ideas within the context of action.”
In August 1991, when Paramount first broached the possibility of his starring in Patriot Games, it was by no means a sure sell. Several years earlier, when the studio was casting The Hunt for Red October, Ford was approached about playing Jack Ryan and summarily rejected the idea — if anything, he had said at the time, he’d be interested in playing the part of the Russian submarine commander, but then he backed off from that as well. (Sean Connery eventually made that role his own.) ”I said, ‘Submarine movies, uh-uh,”’ Ford recalls with a laugh. ”That’s how smart I was.” This time he was more receptive. ”This one was a character-driven story,” he says. ”It deals with a decent man’s reaction to violence and the threat of danger to his family. I thought that you could make it into the kind of picture that I wanted to do.”
Ford had another reason to consider the part: He had been trying to develop a period piece called Night Ride Down, about an 1890s railroad strike, but that Paramount project had just fallen through. Still, he didn’t have to be told that Patriot Games was quickly developing a history of its own.
On the heels of the successful 1990 debut of Red October, its producers, Mace Neufeld and Robert Rehme, acquired the screen rights to two more Clancy novels, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Though a sequel looked inevitable, the producers still had hurdles to jump. Alec Baldwin’s contract gave him the right to approve their choice of director, Phillip Noyce, who first won Hollywood’s attention in 1989 with the taut jeopardy-at-sea thriller Dead Calm.
No sooner was Baldwin’s approval secured than Brandon Tartikoff, the former head of NBC Entertainment, took over as chairman of Paramount Pictures, necessitating a new review of the project. Fortunately, Tartikoff not only knew Noyce, who had recently directed a pilot, Nightmare Cafe, for NBC, but he also was eager to turn the Jack Ryan novels into the kind of continuing series — like the Star Trek movies or the James Bond pictures — that studio executives call ”tent poles,” dependable money-makers capable of propping up the rest of a studio’s release schedule. To enhance that prospect, Tartikoff immediately bumped the movie’s budget from $29 million to $35 million. With Baldwin set to receive $4 million for Ryan’s return, final rewrites were moving ahead when the project hit another roadblock.
The movie’s anticipated September 1991 start date had been pushed back twice, first to October, then to November. Baldwin asked for a definite stop date — a guarantee that his work on the film would be completed by an agreed upon deadline — so that he could begin rehearsals for the Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire. There were reports that he began demanding as much as $700,000 in perks as well.
”Alec Baldwin had a contract with Paramount — the dollars and terms were all negotiated,” producer Neufeld insists. ”But he had not approved the screenplay even though the work was ongoing. Phillip and I urged him to commit. But we couldn’t give him a stop date. It was finally a question of let’s stop dancing and make up your mind. He was given several days to decide, and he passed.” The view from Baldwin’s camp is slightly different: ”His intent was to try to work it out and accommodate both schedules,” says a representative.
The pressure play was a stunning display of brinkmanship on the part of Paramount, but the studio had a trump card. Before negotiations with Baldwin ended, the studio slipped a script to Ford, who signaled his interest. With Baldwin out, Paramount quickly agreed to pay Ford a reported $9 million. Asked if he had any concerns about taking over a role originated by another actor, Ford is coolly professional. ”It really didn’t figure into it at all,” he says. ”It was never an issue.”