IT took a dozen years for Harrison Ford to become an overnight sensation. He didn't give up, and he didn't beat his head against the wall either. He became more strategic.
His big break came in 1977 as Han Solo in Star Wars, a role he's widely rumored to reprise in a movie slated for release in 2015.
But before he got that job, the young married father had so many minor guest shots on television, "I was convinced I would wear my face out before I got a chance to break into better roles," Ford explains in his matter-of-fact way. "So carpentry gave me another way to put food on the table for my family."
Now 70, Ford is one of the most recognizable and bankable film stars in the world. His four Indiana Jones movies alone have brought in nearly $1.9 billion and the Star Wars trilogy almost $2.4 billion in inflation-adjusted domestic box office receipts. And that doesn't include DVD sales or substantial worldwide sales.
Ford still commands top dollar for his box-office turns, which has afforded him a luxury lifestyle complete with action-adventure hobbies. He indulges in his love of flying with a wide range of aircraft, from a jet to a helicopter, and he also enjoys riding motorcycles.
I ask Ford what he thinks has contributed most to his success. His answer is startling in its simplicity.
"There are a lot of different paths through the jungle, but I've always thought the simplest thing you can do is make yourself useful. Be easy to work with, be a hard worker and help people get the job done. And do it with as much passion and quality as you can," Ford says. "[Be] willing to ask, How can I make this work, how can I be useful?"
And, he adds, it helps to be lucky.
It is said that luck favors the prepared, but Ford doesn't believe it. Luck has come to him in the most unexpected ways, particularly with his first studio contract.
When Ford first came to Hollywood in late 1964, he didn't even know the names of the movie studios. Soon after his arrival, he arranged an interview with a Columbia Studios casting director. The interview was not a smashing success.
After it ended with a noncommittal brush-off, Ford says, he stopped at the men's room before heading down the elevator and leaving the building. That pit stop was fortuitous. As he left the bathroom, the director's assistant came running down the hallway after him. He told Ford to come back to the office because the director wanted to talk to him.
"I was preparing for my craft, but I was lucky even before I was prepared," Ford says. "I don't think that assistant would have run that much farther to get me. But he found me, and I left Columbia Pictures that day with a seven-year contract. I think, more than anything else, I've been lucky."
In his self-deprecating way, Ford doesn't seem to acknowledge the bigger truth: that luck may open a door, but it's up to the person to walk through it and then do something once he's on the other side. Ford does acknowledge that he didn't do enough to sell himself when offered that first studio contract.
AN ACTION-ADVENTURE HERO'S TIMELINE 1942 Born on July 13 in Chicago 1964-65 Moves to California with then-wife Mary; signed a seven-year contract with Columbia Pictures 1966 Film debut, uncredited, in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round 1968 Takes on carpentry work: built Sergio Mendes' $100,000 recording studio and the elaborate entrance to Francis Ford Coppola's offices at Goldwyn Studios 1968 Works on crew for The Doors documentary 1973 Gets first big film role in George Lucas's American Graffiti 1977 Breakthrough role as Han Solo in Lucas's Star Wars, which...