Harrison Ford: The Hat Makes the ‘Cowboy’

“Costume is character.”

So said “Cowboys & Aliens” star Harrison Ford during a recent video interview with director Jon Favreau. And who can really argue with a man who’s brought so many cinematic icons to life? After all, what would Han Solo be without his trusty blaster and that black vest, or Indiana Jones without that bullwhip or his trademark fedora?

So when it came to picking a hat for the screen legend’s character in “Cowboys,” the film’s seven producers (including Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg) had opinions on the matter.

See photos from ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ >>

“Spielberg had quite a lot to say about it,” recalled producer and screenwriter Alex Kurtzman to the Los Angeles Times about the decision. “We were all very cautious about it because, obviously, we were putting Harrison Ford in a hat, which is only one of the most iconic images of the past 30 years. We needed to make sure that — no pun intended — we tipped a hat to iconography of Harrison Ford and also presented the audience with a very different version. We spent a lot of time thinking about that hat. You would be surprised.”

Harrison Ford had a number of requirements for the hat. The first one was that it shouldn’t look like one of Ford’s previous silver-screen chapeaus.

“The last thing I wanted was for it to look like Indiana Jones’ hat,” he said to Favreau. “A different hat. You don’t need seven producers to tell you that.”

The other requirement was that it matched the character. Ford plays Woodrow Dolarhyde, a wealthy, powerful, and ruthless land baron.

“This is a guy who’s the richest man in town, the most powerful guy in town, he’s got access to the best tailor,” Ford told me during an interview (see below). “He can buy an expensive hat. He’s a big man. And he wants a big hat.”

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He is the sort of character who, in a straight Western, would be the bad guy. Yet once the aliens attack, kidnapping his only son, Dolarhyde starts to reveal character traits beyond greed and villainy. By the end, he’s even kind of heroic. And that shift needed to be represented in his headgear.

“[The hat] ain’t white. It’s not black. It’s gray,” Ford told me. “And that’s the nature of this character. Shades of gray.” (The hat looks more taupe to me, but I wasn’t going to quibble.)

With all that in mind, Ford and costume designer Mary Zophres (who worked on “True Grit”) went off and, with much discussion, ended up with a hat. As Favreau recalled to Entertainment Weekly, “The hat chooses the actor. It’s like in Harry Potter. The hat found him.”

Ford’s next movie is “Black Hats,” a Western about the later life of Wyatt Earp, when he worked as a private detective and Hollywood consultant. You can be sure there will be more discussion about headwear for that movie.

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July 2011

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