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Helping build a lasting career

Patricia McQueeney is Harrison Ford’s personal manager and agent. She reads every script and makes every deal. Ford is her only client.

An eloquent woman who speaks with the precise tones of her Connecticut upbringing, McQueeney is also quick to laugh, with an irreverent sense of humor.

In the first interview she’s ever given, McQueeney looks back over her 24 years with Ford, who came to her in 1970 with something less than stardom written across his face.

What brought you and Harrison Ford together in the first place?

I was working at a company called Compass Management. Fred Roos (the producer and former casting agent) called me one day and said there was a young actor in town who worked primarily as a carpenter, but Fred thought he was enormously talented and would I see him and try to help him. He sent Harrison over to me and Harrison was not at all pleased to be there.

How did you know?

He sat on the couch in my office with his hands clasped between his knees and his head down looking up at me, lowering at me like he’s inclined to do if he’s not comfortable. And I sat there looking at him thinking: What in the world am I going to do with him? And I knew he was sitting there thinking: What has Fred Roos gotten me into?

Harrison has enormous dignity and a lot of pride. No ego. I’ve never seen ego in Harrison, but a lot of pride. He hated being in the position of an unknown actor, having to go with hat in hand asking for a job, or asking for help. I made it as easy as I could for him. I guess he decided he’d give it a shot.

How did he appear to you when he showed up in your office?

He was dressed as a carpenter — old jeans, old shirt. That’s the way he is. Not phony at all. He would never put on pretensions. The grunge look they talk about now has been around for 20 years.

What was it like, managing Harrison Ford’s early career?

One of the most interesting things that I found about Harrison in those early days is that he never deviated from his position that if he did not like a role that I brought to him, he would not take it.

He was very smart even then about all of his choices and would not tie himself up, in a series, say, or something that he wouldn’t be happy in. He never did a series.

Most agents would say that’s “difficult.”

I’m not saying it thrilled me. He had a young family and a mortgage and I would say, “Harrison, this is $ 30,000 they’re offering you,” which, in 1970, was a lot of money and he’d use a four-letter word and say, “I’ll go build a cabinet.”

What did you think of his carpentry work?

He’s a marvelous craftsmen. Self-taught. He got a job before he knew how to do anything. He sat on the roof of Sergio Mendes’ studio (a recording studio that Mendes hired Ford to build) with a book in his hand from the UCLA library and taught himself how to do it. I was very impressed with that. But of all the people that I represented (Queeney at the time represented a small group of talented young actors, including Frederic Forrest, Candy Clark, Teri Garr, Cindy Williams, Mackenzie Phillips, Charlie Martin Smith), he was always lagging behind.

Have you seen examples of that craftsman’s approach in his film work?

In “Witness,” he came up with the scene in the barn where he sings the song and dances with Kelly McGillis, where he taps his hands on the roof of the car. He’s responsible for a lot of great scenes. And he’ll not make suggestions that enhance his role, only suggestions that move the story forward.

A lot of interviews mention a “private rage.”

What I call enormous dignity and pride, a lot of people might interpret as anger. Harrison was a very unhappy man for a long time until he became a star.

Were you afraid that his independence would hurt his acting career?

It worried me to the degree that it made life more difficult for him. There were a number of times when I would send him on interviews to read for something and the casting person would call me up and say, “Why did you send that hostile guy, I thought he was going to punch me in the nose!”

Looking at some of the TV and film roles that he had at the time, did you see a budding movie star?

I can’t sit here now and tell you that I ever had the least idea that he would become a star of the magnitude that he did. I don’t even think I knew what that meant. My only goal was to get some film on him, and get him to the point where people would offer me parts for him and he wouldn’t have to come in and read.

One of the most important pieces of film that I had on him back then was “Heroes” (directed by Jeremy Kagan). Harrison did a very small part in it, a marvelous part. He plays a Vietnam vet with a worm farm. Very small, very showy, excellent piece of film. I sent it out like crazy, and got a lot of work for him.

When did things change?

“Star Wars” was the biggest break anybody ever had — and he’s the first one to tell you that. He came and sat on the same couch that I mentioned earlier with the same attitude with the hands between the knees and looked up at me, this time with a smile, and he said, “Patricia, this is an effing miracle.” And I said, “Yes, Harrison, it is.” Because we both knew what it was going to mean. But if he hadn’t been cast in that role — and that was a total fluke, as you know …

He was working on the doorway at American Zoetrope, Francis Coppola’s company.

On his hands and knees. He was the last person they would have hired.

The doorway never got done.

What — the door never got finished? I never asked.

At what point did you realize he wouldn’t be building any more cabinets?

Either after “Star Wars” or the film right after. He said, “I’m done with that.” He has his own personal workshop that he loves, an extravagant workshop, every tool that you can imagine.

To torture an analogy, in building his career, do you see yourself as perhaps the architect behind the carpenter?

No. He was always careful in the roles he selected, even when he was stone broke. Harrison very much has a mind of his own. I can never change his mind to do or not to do something. My value is in finding good material and funneling it to him fast. I can’t sway him one way or another. If he says, “I don’t feel it, I don’t respond emotionally,” I can jump up and down and beg and do a little dance, but it never does any good. It’s his decision.

People say to me, “You’ve done a great job with his career,” but I disabuse them of that notion immediately. This is his career. He’s done it and gets full credit.

Did he stop showing up in old jeans?

No, no. He still dresses that way!

Interviewed by Rex Weiner

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