Star-Bulletin Features

TriStar-Columbia Pictures
Gary Oldman, left, hijacks the plane carrying the
president, played by Harrison Ford, in "Air Force One."

Air Force One

The selling of a movie;
the ordeals of its star

By Tim Ryan

"TIMES up. It's time to go."

Peeking from behind the door into the small, warm, sparsely furnished third-floor room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, was Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan and, in the new film "Air Force One," U.S. President James Marshall.

"You've said enough," said a slightly smiling, but quite serious Harrison Ford to the film's director, Wolfgang Petersen.

"But I was talking about you and saying only nice things," replied Petersen. The director was sitting at a round table with seven of the 77 reporters at this weekend's "Air Force One" press junket at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

Ford, currently filming "6 Days 7 Nights" on Kauai, had just finished several rounds of interviews with a few dozen other reporters and appeared anxious to get the next one started, and, probably, over. The actor who often portrays reluctant heroes was doing his best not to be a reluctant interviewee.

Remember the agent in the film "Jerry McGuire" who screams that the entertainment industry isn't "show friends but show business?" That's just what movie press junkets are about: selling a film to reviewers, entertainment writers and broadcasters who can spread the word and help bring in major ticket sales, at least for that first, all-important weekend opening.

Television, radio and print journalists traveled to Hawaii from as far south as Miami, as far north as Toronto. Most traveled at the studio's expense, staying three days at the Royal Hawaiian just for the chance to interview Ford, "Air Force One" co-star William Macy and other notables.

"Selected" reporters -- those representing the largest media outlets -- were granted one-on-one interviews. Less prestigious news media, including "local Hawaiian" reporters, gathered six or seven to a table to conduct interviews en masse.

"I thought (the film) was so much American jingoism," one foreign reporter said before Macy entered the room. "It wasn't like flag waving, it was like flags in every orifice.

"I mean, Wolfgang even told me the other day he got tears in his eyes after seeing the film. Oh, come on ..."

Another reporter joked that she thought she heard part of the theme of "Star Wars" in one scene.

"When Harrison gets here, don't ask anything about his family," another reporter warned. "There's nothing worse that a scowl from Harrison Ford from 2 feet away."

"I suppose we'll have to listen to (Ford) complain about how much he hates doing these (interviews)," another reporter said.

It was about the time director Petersen was praising Ford for his professionalism, attention to detail and credibility with audiences, that the actor stuck his head inside the room to cut Petersen short.

Ford entered, head slightly down, dressed in dark green Dockers, blue shirt open at the neck, and loafers without socks. The actor's $20-million-a-picture smile seemed to project as much warning as warmth. As soon as he sat down, Ford rearranged the seven tape recorders in front of him into an orderly semi-circle.

After each question, Ford looked the reporter straight in the eye, rarely blinking, taking a long time to respond, making sure he was understood. He took quick exception to the reluctant-hero label he's so often tagged with.

"This is a stamp that has been applied to me and ... it keeps getting applied over and over. In this film I don't recognize the reluctance of this character; he just does what he has to do. ... You can't play a hero. You may behave adequately or heroically or selflessly -- and then maybe that makes him a hero."

Ford's gift has been his ability to portray ordinary men who grapple with extraordinary circumstances while never losing sight of the irony of their situation.

"The 'Regarding Henrys' and 'Presumed Innocents' and 'Frantics' are all being swallowed up by me being (regarded) as the guy who always plays heroes. I resist that. (People) need to understand everything that I'm doing, then give it a more adequate description."

Is he enjoying his Hawaii stay, a reporter asks.

"I would have had a nice weekend if I hadn't had to do this," Ford responds quickly, then smiles. "Now, that's reluctance."

Ford leaves the room, never looking back.

A costly affair

The value that movie studios put on press coverage is evident in the amount of money they'll spend to bring reporters to an event like this weekend's "Air Force One" junket:

Tristar rented more than 100 rooms at the Royal Hawaiian for the media, stars, studio executives, etc.

The second-floor Kamehameha Suite, $2,800 a day, was used both days as a hospitality room, serving beverages, fruit and pastry to the media. The Presidential and Governor suites, $2,500 and $2,300, respectively, were used as holding areas for interviewees.

The studio covered all travel expenses, in the air and on the ground (a "Junket Press Reimbursement Form" was enclosed in the press packet). Many reporters were flown first to Los Angeles to see the film. Others saw a preview of the film Saturday.

The group attended a luau Saturday night on the hotel's Ocean Lawn costing about $10,000, a source said.

Some reporters received expensive leather carry-on luggage, T-shirt and cap, all emblazoned with the film's title.

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