Harrison Ford Got This 1980s Role Because of Jack Nicholson

Harrison Ford and Jack Nicholson became iconic actors — and Ford wouldn’t have played one of his 1980s roles if Nicholson hadn’t abandoned the film. Here’s a look into what the film’s director expected Nicholson to bring to the film –and what he thought of Ford’s acting in the movie.

Jack Nicholson | The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

A provocative Jack Nicholson drama that never got made

During the early 1980s, Nicholson was riding high. After all, he’d been in a string of classics in a row, including The Shining, Terms of Endearment, and Reds. In a 1983 interview with Roger Ebert, he discussed another film he wanted to make: an adaptation of Paul Theroux’s novel The Mosquito Coast.

The Mosquito Coast is about a man named Allie Fox who moves his family from the United States to the wilderness of South America, only for his actions to become increasingly strange. The role made sense for Nicholson, as he often played dangerous, offbeat people.

Jack Nicholson smiling
Jack Nicholson | Roy Jones/Getty Images

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“Well, I’ll probably be making The Mosquito Coast with Peter Weir as the director,” Nicholson said. “I love the scene where the father gets his family into the rain forest and convinces them that a lightning storm is the nuclear holocaust and they can kiss their credit cards goodbye.” In an interview included in the book Peter Weir Interviews, Weir discussed what he wanted Nicholson to do with the role of Allie Fox in the film.

Peter Weir’s thoughts on Jack Nicholson

“It was set up with Jacks Nicholson and I thought — this was dangerous thinking — he will bring a whole quality to this character, because I don’t truly like this man, or know him,” Weir said. “Now that’s not saying you have to like everybody you do, or your central character. In fact, I thought it was a reason to do it. I thought “It’s a good idea to do something against the traditional way of approaching a film. Maybe this is what I should be doing, get a little distance from it.”

A trailer for The Mosquito Coast

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Why Harrison Ford got the role and what Peter Weir thought of him

However, Nicholson ultimately bowed out of the role. In an interview with Uproxx, screenwriter Paul Schrader said the issue was over money. After that, Ford got the role Weir envisioned Nicholson playing.

Ford wasn’t really known for playing strange characters, so he was a less obvious choice to play Fox. This raises an interesting question: What did Weir think of Ford’s portrayal of Fox?

Peter Weir | Vera Anderson/WireImage

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In Peter Weir Interviews, Weir praised Ford for his energy and of giving his all to his performance. In addition, Weir said The Mosquito Coast turned out exactly as he wanted. He wanted the film to portray Fox as a Shakespearean character like Macbeth or Othello and he felt it did so. The Mosquito Coast may have worked as a Nicholson vehicle, but it’s still a classic 1980s movie with Ford in the lead role.