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Love of Westerns inspires Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo

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Alden Ehrenreich plays the title character in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” (Courtesy Lucasfilm Ltd.)

It’s fitting that Alden Ehrenreich played a cowboy actor in Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Hail, Caesar!” given that his role as Han Solo is so steeped in Westerns.

“I sat down with George Lucas, and he was talking about Han Solo, and he said that he just basically wanted John Wayne. That was the model,” said Ehrenreich during a recent visit to The City.

Ehrenreich, who plays the younger version of Harrison Ford’s iconic character in the new “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” says, “This movie has a lot of ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ in it. There’s this wry humor: We’re stuck, we’re cornered, but we’ll crack a joke.”

Ehrenreich, 28, grew up loving Westerns, including John Ford and John Wayne movies, but especially “Butch Cassidy.” He says, “That was the movie that I most felt ‘I wanna be one of these guys,’” he says.

As a youngster, he played with “Star Wars” action figures, which he calls “a pretty substantial beginning phase of imagining making movies.”

As he talks, he fiddles with a Han Solo figure based on himself — a gift from a well-wisher. “It’s weird,” he grins.

In taking on the role, Ehrenreich began by extensively studying the character in the early films.

“I tried to absorb everything I could and spend enough time so that it became unconscious. Because if I was still trying to consciously do those things while we shot, it would turn into more of an impression,” he says. At the same time, he tried to create a new character, one who hadn’t yet had the life experiences that would lead to Ford’s Solo.

He met with Ford, too, simply to get his blessing.

“He was relaxed and dignified, very much a gentleman, and treated me like his guest. He was very warm and supportive of me and the whole project. So it felt a lot better going into it knowing he was in our corner,” Ehrenreich says.

During shooting, he got into the right frame of mind with help from costar Joonas Suotamo, who plays Chewbacca.

“When you’re acting with Chewie you just feel like you’re in a Star Wars movie!” he says. “Joonas is so funny, and he’s got all the mannerisms. He spent time with (original Chewbacca) Peter Mayhew. He did ‘Chewie camp’ and learned how to walk and move. Also, it sounds funny to say this, but he knows how to think in that role.”

During production, there was scrutiny over the letting-go of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“21 Jump Street” films), who were replaced by Ron Howard.

Ehrenreich doesn’t know how the movie would have been different, but mentions that the finished product retains the comedy, and that working with Howard was a thrill.

Addressing controversy over an acting coach allegedly hired to help him, Ehrenreich says the person had worked with Lord and Miller, was on-set and available to all.

“Part of the fun of these movies is the anticipation leading up to it, and all these things get blown up,” he says, smiling.

Thinking back to his childhood, remembering the toys and made-up stories, he says he hopes this movie is as inspiring to a new generation as previous Star Wars movies were to him.

“What’s fun for me,” he says as he poses his action figure, “is imagining all the kids watching the movie and then playing with the toys!”

Solo: A Star Wars Story
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover
Written by: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Directed by: Ron Howard
Rated PG-13
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

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