Harrison Ford was not the first choice Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had in mind for Indiana Jones. However, when he was cast, Ford dedicated himself to the project so much that not even multiple injuries could stop him from playing the adventurous archaeologist. While shooting Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Ford injured his disc but continued to film his scenes. Seeing him in pain, Lucas had to shut down production and sent him to a hospital for recovery.
Lucas initially intended to cast a relatively unknown for the lead role, and Ford was already popular with his Star Wars role as Han Solo. However, Ford considered it a fun project and took on the role, when the initial choice Tom Selleck left to film Magnum, P.I.
Harrison Ford Risked Disability For Indiana Jones
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas took a risk with their second Indiana Jones film, making it too violent and gory. Harrison Ford had to film several more action sequences in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom than in the first film. He followed an intense training regimen under Jake Steinfeld for his part. Despite his best efforts, Ford suffered a challenging injury that was nearly disastrous for the film.
He endured a severe spinal disc herniation, and there were two accounts of how it may have happened. Ford told The New York Times at the time that “it was the elephants that did me in,” suggesting that it was the many elephant rides in the film that caused his herniated disc. However, in the book, Mythmaker: The Life and Work of George Lucas, it was mentioned that the injury occurred while performing a somersault in one of the stunt scenes in the film.
Instead of seeking help immediately, Ford chose to continue filming with his herniated disc. The crew brought in a hospital bed for him, where he would rest between takes. Lucas shared that Ford tried his best to not interrupt the filming, even though he could barely stand up due to the pain. The Lucasfilm founder shared in Mythmaker: The Life and Work of George Lucas:
“[Ford] could barely stand up, yet he was there every day so shooting would not stop. He was in incomprehensible pain, but he was still trying to make it happen.”
Concerned for his health, Lucas decided to shut down production. Ford was flown to a hospital where he underwent surgery and took six weeks to recover. Lucas used a stand-in for Ford and shot several sequences without him during this period.
Harrison Ford Injured Himself Multiple Times In His Indiana Jones Role
Harrison Ford suffered numerous minor and major injuries during his 39 years as Indiana Jones. In his first film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ford bruised his ribs when he was dragged behind a running truck. However, his more serious injury on the film was a torn ACL in one of his knees, which he revealed in a Reddit AMA. Ford shared that he was run over by the landing gear of an airplane in the scene where he fights the big German mechanic. Ford shared in the AMA:
“On the first Indiana Jones movie, I tore an ACL in one of my knees, can’t remember which knee, the scene in which I was fighting the big German mechanic on an airplane called a flying wing, I was run over by the landing gear and injured my knee, but I can’t remember which one it was. Lots of bumps and injuries along the way.”
In the AMA, he also shared the story behind shooting down the Cairo swordsman in the first film. He revealed that he was suffering from dysentery while filming in Tunisia and could not bring himself to fight the swordsman. He made the last-minute change to the scene after discussing it with Spielberg. In fact, the entire stuntmen crew was suffering from dysentery, forcing producer Frank Marshall to step in for one of the scenes.
In his most recent Indiana Jones film, Dial of Destiny, Ford injured his shoulder, resulting in a halt in production. All films in the Indiana Jones franchise are now available for streaming on Disney+.