Harrison Ford holds back tears at Cannes premiere of ‘Indiana Jones’

CANNES, FRANCE — Just the sight of Harrison Ford was all it took to turn a roomful of journalists into weepy, cheering fans. As Ford’s name was announced at the Friday morning news conference for the premiere of his fifth and final outing as Indiana Jones, reporters in attendance burst into a sustained round of applause. When he appeared to be holding back tears while answering questions — which was often! — an audible “Awwww!” rippled through the room.

“Thank you for existing!” a Brazilian journalist shouted at the end of his question to Ford.

The beloved movie icon was visibly emotional all throughout Thursday night’s premiere of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” and the press events of the following day. He choked up when he was presented with a surprise honorary Palme d’Or just before the screening started, just after a reel of his life in movies had played. He straight up cried as the crowd showered him with a standing ovation. He struggled with emotion to get out words when the moderator of the presser said how moving it was to see him onstage at the premiere and asked how it felt.

“Indescribable,” said Ford, laughing and shaking his head. “It felt … I can’t even tell you. It’s just extraordinary to see a kind of relic of your life as it passes by. The warmth of this place, and the sense of community, the welcome is unimaginable. And it makes me feel good.”

When accepting his honorary Palme, Ford had not only thanked his wife, Calista Flockhart, his “Destiny” director James Mangold and castmates Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Mads Mikkelsen, but also directly addressed the audience. “You’ve given my life purpose and meaning and I’m grateful for that,” he told the crowd.

At 80, Ford seemed nearly as spry as ever — with fairly obvious CGI help — in the film, which features him in a bracing horseback chase scene through a parade and the New York City subway, petal-to-the-metal-ing rickshaws through the phenomenally narrow streets of Tangier in Morocco and dodging flying spears from ancient Romans, as well as bullets from Nazis. Critics were mixed on the new Indy edition, which introduces Waller-Bridge as the artifact-seeking daughter of Indy’s British associate Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), who seems to be seeking out an ancient Greek time traveling device for mercenary reasons, but whose real motivation is, of course, finishing her father’s legacy. Variety called it a “rather joyless piece of nostalgic hokum.” The Hollywood Reporter said it looks “glaringly fake.” The audience at my 8:30 a.m. Friday screening, who’d fought their way through an organizational debacle that left many ticket-holders outside in the rain while filling the theater with non ticket-holders, seemed to have a perfectly enjoyable time. An American critic, commenting on his grouchy colleagues from the night before, remarked: “It’s perfectly fun! It’s like they forgot that it’s not supposed to be Kubrick!”

And Ford didn’t seem to care about the reviews at all. The actor was beaming at the post-premiere party for the movie, which had plentiful tables of elaborate finger food and walls painted to look like vistas in Morocco. He stayed late in a protected VIP area, clapping backs, shaking hands and giving every well-wisher a few minutes of his time, which included Disney president Bob Iger, Karlie Kloss and Gemma Chan from “Crazy Rich Asians,” while Waller-Bridge had animated conversations on a nearby banquette, punctuating her points with the lit cigarette in her hand.

Ford’s good mood, mixed with a lot of choking up, continued to the news conference, particularly in an exchange with Australian journalist Helen Barlow, who declared to the actor, “I think you’re still very hot.” She then asked him about a scene he does with his shirt off, displaying still-got-it eight-pack abs. How does he stay fit, and can he ride a horse?

Ford: “Yeah, I can ride a horse, if they let me. Thank you. I forgot everything up to ‘Can you ride a horse.’”

Mangold helped out, asking what he does to stay in shape.

Ford broke into a cheeky Indiana Jones grin, leaned into his microphone and whispered, “Look, I have been blessed with this body.” Ford waited a beat till the laughter had died down before delivering his kicker.

“Thanks for noticing.”

The film will have its worldwide opening on June 30, but this two-screening run in Cannes really felt like a Harrison Ford appreciation tour. Just as Ford was thanking his fans, so many more of them were there to thank him. “Indiana Jones” isn’t in competition at the festival; it’s there for pure entertainment, a gift to moviegoers who likely grew up on Ford’s films and were willing to brave crowds and long hours in high heels to say they were there, that they got to see Ford’s final turn as Indy a month and a half before the rest of the world.

At the news conference, one by one, the actors and Mangold seemed to be pouring out their appreciation to Ford and the franchise. “I saw ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ when I was 17 years old in an Upstate New York mall on opening day and it’s one of the reasons I’m a movie director,” said Mangold. Shaunette Renée Wilson (“Black Panther”) who plays a ’70s CIA agent, talked about the films being her introduction to American culture, as a Guyanese immigrant. Boyd Holbrook, who plays a Nazi henchman, explained that the films had inspired so many people to want to make movies. “But before I wanted to be an actor,” he said, “I wanted to be Indiana Jones.”

Mostly, though, the news conference was Ford being touchingly reflective and grateful. He talked about why he’d rejected so many versions of the script before this one. It was because he wanted a completion of the five films that seemed worthy of the franchise. “I wanted to see this man who depended so much on his youth and vigor of youth — I wanted to see the weight of life on him. I wanted to see him require reinvention and support and I wanted him to have a relationship that was not a normal kind of flirty movie relationship,” said Ford.

When the script and the cast came together with Mangold directing, that’s when it felt like destiny, he said. “Everything is coming together to support me in my old age,” he said. “And I love the work. So I just want to work and I want to tell stories.” Then he choked up again talking about how much of themselves everyone had poured into the film. (Awww, said the journalists around me.)

He looked back on how he almost hadn’t been cast as Indy in the first place, and how his success doesn’t really have to do with talent so much as luck — because so many talented actors never get their shot. “My luck has been to work with incredibly talented people, to find my way in to this crowd of geniuses and not get my a– kicked out when I didn’t do as well as I wanted to,” he said.

He talked about whether he’s keeping the hat from the movie. (No, it’s being auctioned for charity. He has one from past films, but it’s really the experiences he treasures.)

He laughed off a journalist’s suggestion that he might have one more Indiana Jones film in him. “Is it not evident?” he said, to a roar from the crowd. “I need to sit down and rest a little bit. But I love work. And I love this character and I love what it brought into my life.”

And when a reporter asked him how he felt seeing a younger version of himself in some of the movie, he marveled at the technology, but didn’t get nostalgic. The Indy who fights the Nazis in World War II is crafted from actual footage of Ford that Lucasfilm has archived over the years. And while it was a marvel to see, Ford is okay still being 80.

“I’m very happy with it, but I don’t look back and say, ‘I wish I was that guy again.’ Because I don’t,” he said, just before leaving the news conference and encountering some 300 fans who’d gathered in the hallway awaiting his departure. Ford stuck around for as many minutes as he could, signing autographs and taking selfies.

“You know what? I’m real happy with age,” he said, concluding. “I love being older.”

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