Harrison Ford is also a star in the ant kingdom and the spider world.
The actor and environmentalist met the distinguished Harvard naturalist E.O. Wilson when they were both on the board of Conservation International. Wilson honored his new friend by naming a species of ant after him: Pheidole harrisonfordi.
There are also spiders skittering around this planet bearing the proud moniker “Calponia harrisonfordi.”
Recently, both men were in Silicon Valley to do a little fundraising for Wilson’s Biodiversity Foundation and to announce a new $10,000 prize: the annual PEN/E.O. Wilson Award for Literary Science Writing.
We spoke in a car on the way from the airport to Palo Alto, California.
Lundborg: Why did you join the board of Ed Wilson’s Biodiversity Foundation?
Ford: I do everything Ed tells me to do, basically.
Lundborg: I bet you’re the only actor to have both an ant and a spider species named after him.
Maybe a Mountain?
Ford: Let the record be clear that I’m not in it to have stuff named after me.
But, actually, I wouldn’t mind mountains, whole continents named in my honor.
Lundborg: Have you seen your namesake creatures?
Ford: I’ve seen pictures, as they say, but I have not run across one I recognized crawling on the ground.
Lundborg: How long have you been an environmental activist?
Ford: I’ve been a conservationist all my life, but I’ve been active for the past 15 years.
The stress on the natural world was already evident 20 years ago, so we need to focus on saving biodiversity, including the oceans, quickly and efficaciously.
Yet we’re one of three nations that haven’t signed the Biodiversity Convention. The other two are the Holy See and Andorra.
Lundborg: Why is the U.S. so backward?
Ford: We have not done the job we should have done as an environmental community to get the government to respond on the level of the civil-rights or women’s movements.
Lundborg: Why is that?
Too Many Cooks
Ford: Because each environmental organization has its own agenda, its own contributors and its own business to run.
We have to forget about that crap and begin to get the job done. We have to convince our leadership that we won’t stand for this any longer.
Lundborg: What are your goals for the Pen/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award?
Ford: We have to reform the literature of science by encouraging more and different ways of presenting information. Scientists need to communicate better.
Despite the visual support we have now, plus the Internet, language is still what reaches our soul.
Lundborg: Which science book have you loved the most?
Ford: “Consilience” was the one that made me recognize Ed’s incredible talent and humanity. There are very few people who manage to describe science with his grace, style and clarity.
Scientists are so rarely humanists at heart.
Lundborg: The new book celebrating the 30th Anniversary of “The Empire Strikes Back” points out that you created a lot of the good lines that were used in the final cut. How did that come about?
Ford: Film is usually collaborative. I don’t believe we should ever settle for less -- we should be massaging the beast up until the last possible moment.
Lundborg: But you’ve never been tempted to write?
Ford: I have no talent for writing, though I have some skill at rewriting, an entirely different discipline.
Lundborg: From “Star Wars” to your latest movie, “Morning Glory,” which comes out Nov. 10, you’ve been in the film business a long time. So where is the greatest pleasure for you these days?
Ford: I like being on a set. I like developing a character, and working with screenwriters, directors and producers on a script. I like the actual in-the-trenches process.
It’s my craft. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve spent 47 years working on.
Lundborg: Are you surprised by your career?
Ford: I was surprised by my career a long time ago, but no longer. Now it interests me.
(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. The interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)