Not a lot of actors are actually “discovered.” Although there are stories of young stars happening upon movie producers on the street, the reality is very different. Most actors make it big through hard work. That means a lot of failed auditions, and a lot of getting back up on the horse after rejection. Most of the time stardom doesn’t come easy. Even one great role might not lead to others, and the real stars are the ones who keep going, even when success isn’t a given. That’s what happened to Harrison Ford.
He was working as a carpenter when he was cast in his breakout role as Han Solo in Star Wars.
Harrison Ford was working as a carpenter when he was cast in ‘Star Wars’
Ford had already been working as an actor before landing the role of Han Solo. He had a part in American Graffiti, another George Lucas film, shortly before Lucas started making Star Wars.
But he didn’t actually make money, or even really break into the industry after American Graffiti. A lot of actors land one great role in a hit movie and are then surprised when the calls aren’t pouring in for more work, but that’s just how the industry is.
It takes more than one great role to make a career. In Ford’s case, he had to go back to his day job after the movie. He worked as a carpenter. At the time he may have lamented the fact that he had to go from a movie set to manual labor, but it ended up being for the best.
George Lucas didn’t want to cast any actors he’d already worked with in ‘Star Wars’
Ford’s work on American Graffiti wasn’t getting him any additional roles. When Lucas started casting for Star Wars, he said he didn’t want any actors he’d worked with before. Lucas was wary of old blood, and put the word out that none of the American Graffiti actors would be cast in Star Wars.
Ford wasn’t able to leverage his connection with Lucas for a part on Star Wars, so it seems like he resigned himself to his day job, part of which involved doing some work outside Coppola’s office.
Lucas walked past where Ford was working on his way to start the Star Wars auditions, and essentially ‘re-discovered’ Ford. He remembered working with him and asked him to come in for an audition, breaking his rule about fresh faces for Star Wars. The audition would land Ford the role of Han Solo, and make his career.
Shelley Duvall remembers Harrison Ford as a part of her group of “starving actors”
Ford wasn’t the only actor who had to go back to a day job after a successful movie. Shelley Duvall, star of The Shining, among others, remembered Ford from her own Hollywood days. Duvall told the Hollywood Reporter that there was a whole group of “starving actors” in Hollywood at the time. “There was a whole group of starving actors that had parties. Each person would bring a dish of food.”
Despite landing big parts, Duvall and her contemporaries weren’t yet famous enough to make real money off of their craft. Some of their gang became famous, including Ford, and Duvall herself. Interestingly, one of the things Duvall remembers most about Ford has nothing to do with his role as Han Solo. She remembers Ford for building a waterfall. No, this isn’t a reference to a TLC song. Ford actually built a waterfall for a studio executive.
According to Duvall, “Like, there was this carpenter guy who got a big job building a waterfall for the home of a studio executive. Every time the executive would have a party, everybody saw the waterfall.”