Harrison Ford Didn't Want Gary Oldman Pulling Punches During Air Force One

It's sometime in the late '90s, and this writer's family has just gotten their first DVD player. A new era in home entertainment has dawned, and to sell these newfangled upgrades to the VCR, our local big box store offered a promo: buy this DVD gizmo, and pick any two DVDs from this small assortment for free. After intense deliberations and a wild card vote to buy a new game for our Nintendo 64 system instead, the family landed on its choices: Jan de Bont's whirlwind disaster movie "Twister" and Wolfgang Petersen's terrorism-in-the-skies thriller "Air Force One."

The latter, a riveting story of communist radicals hijacking the presidential plane with the first family aboard, featured a fist-fighting commander-in-chief played by Harrison Ford. The story is set in the wake of the Cold War, and Ford's pugilist President James Marshall is straight out of a Reagan-era action film. He's a combat veteran and refuses to negotiate with terrorists — a principle that Gary Oldman's Egor Korshunov intends to test.

After Korshunov and his team sneak aboard the high-security plane by posing as journalists, shots are fired. The terrorists' demands: the release of a political prisoner (played by "Das Boot" lead Jürgen Prochnow). The presidential plane comes with an escape pod, but Marshall opts to stay aboard and spends some time picking off terrorists from the cargo hold before he's captured. Faced with Korshunov, his defiance catches him a few punches and a lot of manhandling at gunpoint.

Ford knew that he was doing a Wolfgang Petersen action-thriller special (the German filmmaker's prior efforts are '90s staples of the genre, "In the Line of Fire" and "Outbreak"), and as such stayed as authentic as possible throughout filming — including during the fight sequences.

'It's all choreographed, all plotted out'

In the comprehensive book "The Films of Harrison Ford," authors Lee Pfeiffer, Michael Lewis, and Michael D. Lewis look back on "Air Force One" as containing some of the most physically demanding fight scenes of the actor's long career — including a brawl with an actual wrestler.

Ford was 54 whilst filming "Air Force One," performing amid concerns that he was getting too old to be throwing haymakers. But this is the same actor who played Indiana Jones, Han Solo, and Jack Ryan; he knew that nothing sells an action hero like a believable fight, and nothing sells a fight like a real hit. 

Pfeiffer, Lewis, and Lewis describe a moment during the shooting of a fight sequence when Ford insisted that, to add "veracity to the experience," Oldman should really punch him in the face (Ford would also tour the real Air Force One as prep for the project). Understandably, Oldman wasn't cool with assaulting his co-star but eventually agreed for the sake of realism. The book quotes Ford's thought process:

"I didn't even think about the physicality of it. It's all choreographed, all plotted out. The fun of it for me is it's like an athletic endeavor. You choreograph it, you set your mind on what it is; you don't want to hurt somebody, you want to be very sure of your moves. It's a pleasure to perform those things for me, like playing tennis or ballet dancing."

By the film's end, Ford's president would dispatch several terrorists (and one mole) and "Get off my plane!" would emerge as the film's most oft-quoted line, sealing Marshall's place as one of the coolest movie presidents of all time and further cementing Ford's elevated position in the pantheon of spectacular leading men.