Harrison Ford reflects on replacing Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones, first impression of 'Raiders' and his 'Dial of Destiny' farewell

Legendary actor says he never imagined playing iconic archaeologist for 40-plus years.

(Everett Collection)
(Everett Collection)

What if Tom Selleck hadn’t turned down the role of swashbuckling, Nazi-slugging archeologist Indiana Jones in 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Such is one of Hollywood’s great sliding-door moments. Selleck was the first choice for the adventure film helmed by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Selleck wanted the part. Unfortunately, he had to give it up because he was contractually obligated to a new drama that CBS just picked up for series, Magnum, P.I. — a show that would eventually catapult him to stardom.

Harrison Ford had no idea at the time.

The actor had recently completed The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Star Wars boss Lucas, who conceived the character of Jones in 1973, asked his Han Solo to read the Raiders script.

“I didn’t know that it was a script that someone else had read and was unable to take the job of Indiana Jones because of a contract, Tom Selleck,” Ford, 80, tells us in a new interview. (Selleck would eventually get his shot as a big-screen action hero in 1983’s High Road to China, one of the many Indy-inspired films that flooded theaters following the blockbuster success of Raiders.)

Ford says he was “enthusiastic” about the Lawrence Kasdan-penned screenplay and excited to work with director Spielberg — but he also couldn’t have imagined that he’d be donning Indy’s famed fedora and cracking that signature whip for four decades. After Raiders became an instant classic in ’81, there have been four sequels: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), and this week’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which marks Ford’s swan song in the series.

“As far as I knew, it was a one-off,” Ford says now about Raiders. “I mean, I didn’t really have my head around anything but that job at work right there. I never thought of continuing on to make a four films over 42 years now. But the opportunity came because the films were so satisfying for an audience, and they were made with such skill and ambition, and so I was delighted to be along for the ride.”

Set primarily in 1969, Dial of Destiny finds Indy on the brink of retiring from his day job as a college professor when he’s lured back into action by his goddaughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). She’s in a race against an ex-Nazi scientist (Mads Mikkelsen’s Jürgen Voller) to recover the mythical Archimedes Dial, a device thought to be capable of time travel.

INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY, (aka INDIANA JONES 5), from left: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, 2023. © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
Harrison Ford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. (Photo: Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection) (©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection)

“One thing I asked for in each of them was to further embrace a complication of the character,” Ford says of his evolution as Indy. “I wanted to know more about Indiana Jones. I wanted the things that he did to be generated out of his character, out of his nature, out of his experience. I didn’t want it just to be pinned on like a merit badge.

“I wanted these films to inspire people, to make them laugh, to make them cry. And so for me it’s been just an unbelievable experience to have this opportunity. And the last one, I wanted to be about character. I wanted it to be about what it's like to be an older archeologist.”

Dial of Destiny is written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp and James Mangold, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind Walk the Line, Logan and Ford v. Ferrari. Like seemingly every other major director who came of age with 1980s movies, Mangold was deeply influenced by Raiders, particularly for its boldness.

“There’s so many risks in that movie,” he says of the original film. “It’s such a wild anachronism. It’s screwball, it’s kind of comedic. It’s about an archeologist who carries a whip, who is brilliant, but also scared of snakes, who can take on action, but kind of gets freaked out in social environments. It’s such a bunch of contradictions that no one would go, ‘That smells like a hit, George.’ It’s such an amalgam of wonderfully eccentric things that, in the alchemy of [Ford] in the role and [Spielberg] directing and Larry Kasdan writing and George producing and guiding, something happened, which was bigger than the sum of the parts.

“And that thing is something that can instruct all of us who make movies now. And for me, there was the opportunity to be part of this world and try to understand that alchemy. But it’s also an inspiration for the projects I do beyond the world of this franchise, which is that you can take these swings. They don’t have to always make sense by the standard rules of the day of what a hero is or what a protagonist does.”

One thing’s for sure about the Indiana Jones franchise. There are few 80-year-old action stars out there that can still do what Harrison Ford — or “the bionic man,” as franchise producer and Lucasfilm President Kathryn Kennedy called him — does in Dial of Destiny.

NDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY, (aka INDIANA JONES 5), Mads Mikkelsen (center), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (red blouse), Harrison Ford (right, back to camera), 2023. © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
Mads Mikkelsen (left), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (center), Harrison Ford (right, back to camera) star in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. (Photo: Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection) (©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection)

“Harrison said to me quite early on, he was like, ‘You are just doing all the [action] that I used to do ’cause I can’t do them anymore,’” Waller-Bridge recalls. “But then every time I was doing anything, Harrison was always there, on the wall next to me or in the boat [or] jumping out the plane. Like he did all the same stuff as me.

She adds laughing, “I was like, ‘This is not a passing of the baton. This is a war over it.’ He does not let go. It was amazing.”

Recalls Shaunette Renée Wilson, who plays a government agent caught in the middle of Jones’s battle with Voller: “He’d just be jumping on a horse and galloping away. … My mind was just like, ‘What is happening?’ It was like the Indiana Jones [of old].”

“Yeah, try to get off the floor with hands cuffed and not touch the ground,” adds Boyd Holbrook, who plays Klaber, Voller’s lead henchman. “Harrison’s got the body of a 40-year-old, it’s just bizarre. Unfortunate for me. Good for him.”

“Obviously his age has been mentioned a lot,” says Mikkelsen. “But I think we underplay the talent we’re dealing with. He’s just a tremendously talented person and you don’t think about [his age] one second when you’re working with him. He’s just a very talented man.”

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny opens Friday, June 30.

Watch the trailer: