Taking On A 'Cary Grant-Type' Role For Working Girl Was A Gamble For Harrison Ford

One of Harrison Ford's most endearing qualities as a movie star is his easygoing, improvisatory genius. Everyone who's worked with him praises his instincts to fix a scene that's missing a certain, ineffable something. Occasionally, these adjustments arise out of necessity (e.g. the debilitating fever that turned a prolonged fight with a swordsman in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" into a one-and-done gunshot), but generally, he's just always thinking about how to make a good scene great, or a great scene unforgettable.

These reflexes are comedic in nature. Ford's rugged heroes possess a roll-with-the-punches durability that allows them to smirk in the face of danger. It's a gift Ford shares with greats like Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart. You want to see these guys get up to their necks in peril just to see how they work their way out of it. But unlike Grant and Bogart, Ford rose to stardom without getting to play a classic romantic lead. There was no "To Have and Have Not" or "His Girl Friday" for him, which was disappointing for an actor who clearly had the chops to nail such a part. So when Ford absorbed a couple of critical/commercial dramatic misfires in the mid-1980s (with "The Mosquito Coast" and "Frantic"), he opted for a lighthearted change of pace before donning Indiana Jones' fedora again.

But while it made perfect sense to play the male lead in a Mike Nichols' "Working Girl," more than a few eyebrows were raised when people realized Ford's character was a riff on the girlfriend character in a dude-dominated movie. It was an odd choice for one of the biggest movie stars in the world, but his magnetism and effortless comedic timing served the film remarkably well.

Harrison Ford, straight-man extraordinaire

Harrison Ford had briefly sought the boyfriend part in Mike Nichols' 1983 drama "Silkwood" (opposite lead Meryl Streep), so ego wasn't an issue here. Even then, according to Lee Pfeiffer's "The Films of Harrison Ford," the star wasn't confident he could channel his inner Cary Grant. "I've seen myself and deduced that when I go for laughs I come across as kind of wooden," he said.

As written, Ford didn't have to go for laughs. He's the straight man to Melanie Griffith's Staten Island dreamer, Sigourney Weaver's hilariously domineering associate, and, in one terrific scene, Joan Cusack's unfailingly supportive best friend. When Griffith's character gets accidentally plastered at a networking drinks event, Ford does the chivalrous thing and gets her safely to bed. He's a nice guy, and, evidently, a rising star in the dog-eat-dog mergers and acquisitions world on Wall Street. He's not particularly interesting, and Ford doesn't leverage his star power to make him anything more than a supporting player in an uplifting corporate comedy.

It's borderline thankless stuff, but Ford's innate gravitas subtly raises the stakes. We don't need to know anything about his character to buy him as a major player in the business world. He's Harrison freakin' Ford, and there to prop up his female co-stars. Given that all three of them received Oscar nominations, he delivered above and beyond.