John Wayne: Why Jon Favreau Said Harrison Ford is Modern Day Version of the Duke

by John Jamison
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Don’t let the headline fool you. There will only ever be one Duke. But that doesn’t mean other actors can’t fit the prototype that John Wayne molded for them. In this case, we look to another accomplished player in the Hollywood scene, none other than actor Harrison Ford.

If you asked “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau, he’d tell you that Harrison Ford is about as close as the movie industry currently has to John Wayne. And it’s an interesting observation. One doesn’t immediately think of Ford as a Western star because he isn’t. But that’s not the point that Favreau was trying to make.

Granted, Harrison Ford cut his teeth on some shows and movies that would make John Wayne proud. He was in a Western called “A Time for Killing” all the way back in 1967. He appeared in a few episodes of “The Virginian” in the same year. And in the early 1970s, he took part in that icon of all Western TV series by joining “Gunsmoke” for a few episodes.

While Ford is experienced in the genre and looked primed for a career path like that of John Wayne’s, Westerns are not what made him famous. Funnily enough, it was the first Star Wars offering, “A New Hope,” that put him on the trajectory we recognize today. But believe it or not, the Sci-Fi and Western genres are extremely similar in form. So Han Solo wasn’t a huge leap for Harrison Ford.

And that brings us to the point that Jon Favreau made when he was talking about his appropriately themed 2011 movie, “Cowboys & Aliens.” It’s the best of both worlds, right?

John Wayne and Harrison Ford Play Likable Characters, Even When They’re Flawed

That’s the crux of Favreau’s argument. John Wayne was the type of guy who could play an outright despicable character and still get sympathy from the audience. He didn’t do it very often, mind you. But Jon Favreau cited Duke’s role in “The Searchers.”

In the 1957 film, John Wayne plays a character named Ethan Edwards who suffers mightily at the hands of Native Americans. The movie follows him as he pursues his hatred and seeks retribution for the pain they’ve caused. He is hard to root for. By the end of the movie, however, Ethan has realized that his kidnapped niece is now essentially a Native American herself. His outlook changes, and his character has grown.

That’s the kind of format that Jon Favreau loved playing with when he made “Cowboys & Aliens.” And that John Wayne character is how he saw Harrison Ford’s in his own movie.

“If you’re a student of the Western, Harrison Ford I think is our analog to John Wayne. They both had tremendous bodies of work, good will [and] always came off more likable than they would seem on paper,” Favreau told WBUR in 2011.

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