Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser Go to Extraordinary Measures
- Christa A. Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2010 1 Jan
Considering the wide range of iconic characters (Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan) Harrison Ford has played over the course of his 40-year acting career, even Ford likes to switch things up—and keep people guessing—every once in a while.
And for Ford, signing up for Extraordinary Measures, both as an actor and executive producer, was a welcome opportunity to "try something new."
Inspired by true events that Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Geeta Anand wrote about in a Wall Street Journal article, and later in a book titled The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million—and Bucked the Medical Establishment—in a Quest to Save His Children, Ford was captivated by the courageousness of the Crowleys, a loving family facing a particularly grim future with two children diagnosed with Pompe, a degenerative disease that typically occurs once in about every 40,000-300,000 births.
"When we (Ford, along with business partners Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher) were looking for material to develop for movies that I could be in, we immediately thought this would be a good idea for a movie after reading the story in the Wall Street Journal and the follow-up," Ford shares. "It's something I wouldn't normally be involved in, but I loved what the story said about personal courage, initiative, parents' love and the power to overcome extraordinarily difficult circumstances. I knew if we could wrestle this into the shape of a movie, then we would be bringing a story to the screen that would enrich people's lives."
Living with Pompe
Before the Crowleys (John is portrayed by Brendan Fraser, his wife Aileen is played by Keri Russell) learn about the experimental medicine that an unconventional scientist, Dr. Robert Stonehill (Ford) has been working on, the prognosis for their young children wasn't exactly promising.
Not only is Pompe so rare that there isn't treatment, let alone a cure for it, but symptoms include severe lack of muscle tone, fatigue and weakness and an enlarged heart and liver. While a child with Pompe appears normal for the first few months of his/her life, development slowly declines as the disease progresses. In fact, most children die from cardiac or respiratory complications before reaching two years old.
If seeing their kids suffer at the hands of an incurable disease itself wasn't already complicated enough, the around-the-clock medicial attention for a child with Pompe, let alone two, is expensive. In the movie, the Crowleys were paying more than $40,000 a month for their children Megan's and Patrick's care, something they could barely afford even with John on the fast track in corporate America.
Bringing Science to Life
Once he discovers Dr. Stonehill's work on a drug that could save his children, however, John immediately walks away from the perks of a promising career to help them get the treatment they need.
With his wife by his side, John eventually persuades Dr. Stonehill, a tough but brilliant loner with little resembling a caring bedside manner, to champion the Crowleys' cause. Of course, the journey ahead is hardly an easy one. Not only do the Crowleys have to raise some serious cash to keep the effort moving forward, but Dr. Stonehill's drug isn't anywhere even close to being ready for market.
To get in touch with his inner scientist, a challenge that Ford enjoyed, he spent considerable time with scientists at the University of Nebraska. While he wanted to give the audience some credit, Ford says they were constantly trying to figure out how to make the science part of the story palatable for the audience.
"Ultimately, Dr. Stonehill is a composite of people who played different parts in the Crowleys' story. But for me, he's also a composite of things I've observed in my research. He represents aspects of a scientist and also aspects of an iconoclast," Ford explains. "And his relationship with John Crowley was an interesting one for me as an actor. Their relationship is sometimes contentious, not at all smooth, but there are also moments of co-joined purpose. It's a compelling dynamic."
Learning from the Crowleys
For Brendan Fraser, a father of three boys ages 7, 5 and 3, having the opportunity to portray a brave father like John Crowley was a "privilege."
"I felt a gravitational pull to the material, so there was an element of acting that wasn't really necessary," Fraser says. "The kids I worked with in the movie—Meredith Droeger as Megan and Diego Valazquez as Patrick—were wonderful. And I can't say enough about the real Megan and Patrick either. Early on when I couldn't get release date information from the studio for whatever reason, I got an e-mail from Megan that said ‘Dear Movie Dad: Guess what? There is a website out, and the movie is opening on January 22, 2010. Love, Megan the Awesome.' It was so funny that I found out when the movie was opening from 12-year-old Megan Crowley."
To get to know his new onscreen kids, Fraser, along with his onscreen wife Russell, remembers a fun-filled day at a local bowling alley.
"I've worked with a lot of kids before in movies and have observed others working with them. And I notice there's a method that goes on where the adult actors are trying to get the kids to interact with them in a real way," Fraser says. "It's like the adult is trying to get the kid to fall in love with them, but it's usually the other way around. So our rehearsal with the kids consisted of being left at a bowling alley with the kids and a stack of singles. Keri and I got to play ‘Mom and Dad' to these kids, and we had a blast."
Aside from all the fun, Fraser wanted to make sure he gave John Crowley his all acting-wise.
"John Crowley is very much alive and exists. He's not an abstraction," Fraser says. "I wanted to know what drives him, how he seeks to have his family survive and succeed. I didn't want to be mocking or sentimental or insincere. John is easily one of the most principled individuals I've ever met. There's no way to measure the satisfaction and honor I felt to have the opportunity to embody the spirit of a man like this. To give you an idea of what kind of guy he is, for all the achievements he's had, he's the first one to see that Aileen is the one who deserves all the medals."
No Politics, Just Hope
Considering how volatile the issue of health care is in the political sphere these days, it probably would've been tempting for everyone involved with Extraordinary Measures to use the screenplay as a personal sounding board for their beliefs on the subject.
But Ford says it was important to him that the film didn't have an agenda—political or otherwise. "We were all against creating a polemic bully pulpit, to proclaim our point of view about these things," Ford shares. "More than anything, I think we wanted to present the reality of the situation—and let the audience decide for themselves. I think that's why we didn't take an easy swipe at the pharmaceutical industry. I think we portrayed it the way it really is. We wanted to concentrate on the kids, the relationships, the hope and not get into that level of detail with the rest of it."
Opening in theaters on Friday, January 22, 2010, Extraordinary Measures is rated PG for thematic material, language and a mild suggestive moment between the married Crowleys. Click here for more information.
Photos courtesy of CBS Films.