The story behind The Fugitive


Producer Arnold Kopelson, an ex-lawyer, had been chasing the rights to sixties TV series The Fugitive for almost 15 years when he finally secured them in 1987. It took another five before the film was made – it went through six separate rejected screenplay drafts, during which time projected director/star team Walter Hill (48 Hours) and William Baldwin pulled out. But the seventh script pulled in Harrison Ford.

Location filming took Ford back to his Chicago birthplace – it was the first time he had made a movie there – and crowds turned up throughout the four-month production (also, Mayor Richard Daley was quick to rustle up a photo opportunity with the star). For 51-year-old Ford it was a physically demanding shoot. One of the film’s most famous set pieces involved his on-the-run character, Dr Richard Kimble, diving off what was the 200-foot Cheoah Dam in North Carolina – obviously Ford didn’t actually do the jump, but for an actor with vertigo just being that high up gave him the jitters. Extreme cold, lots of standing in water and a torn knee ligament added to his discomfort. The limp we see in the film is real.

Known as a perfectionist, Ford worked alongside vascular surgeons at Chicago University to research his character (at one stage assisting a heart by-pass operation!) – although it is said that he never watched a single episode of the TV series in preparation. He took the part very seriously: according to biographer Garry Jenkins, he would reject any action scenes that he considered went “into the zone of Indiana Jones” – Ford did not wish the everyman heroics of Kimble to clash with his established comic-book idol.

Ford stoically refused medical help on his bad knee until shooting was over and wound up in hospital straight afterwards for a reconstructive operation. His next film, Clear and Present Danger, had to be postponed while he recovered on crutches. What a guy.