Indiana Jones always finds what he's looking for in isolated, faraway places. The same could be said of Harrison Ford.
The leading man of "Star Wars," "The Fugitive," "Witness" and "Air Force One" -- and of course "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," coming May 22 -- is happiest in the private 800-acre woodlands around his Wyoming home or soaring over the American landscape in one of his many private aircraft.
But he also sees the pleasure in a simple California day hike. Today, he's tackling the trailways of Temescal Canyon, a public park tucked into the oceanside mountains of the Pacific Palisades just outside Santa Monica.
In a grassy area at the start of the trailhead, the 65-year-old actor hops down with ease after posing for photographs atop a massive tree trunk. He's eager to get into the steep hike, though he jokes: "There'd better be a bar and restaurant at the end."
No such luck. The trail is a loop that winds up into rolling mountains, lush at this time of year because of recent rains. Passing around a hairpin turn on the trail, Ford mentions he hasn't seen "Crystal Skull" in its finished form, just the dailies during shooting. But he's sure he'll see it before it premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on May 18.
Many of the plotlines of "Crystal Skull" are still secret, but Ford says the movie will try to give new perspectives on his globe-trotting, fist-fighting archaeologist. Jones happens to be among Ford's favorite characters, and he has put his own curmudgeonly rogue qualities into him.
"He's a guy who is pretty clear from the beginning," Ford says. "He has not changed so much between films. But we've learned more about him, through various plot devices, such as the introduction of his father. And we'll learn something more about him in this film. I think it's required. If you're going to bring back a character, you'll have to supply the audience with something more and different.
"The adventure is very, very important. But it's interesting to discover a facet of the character that perhaps you hadn't explored before."
One of those things is age, which is apt, considering some wonder whether the actor is getting too up in years to play the action hero.
"I think it's an interesting element to take advantage of," Ford says. "Clearly, it's another challenge that he faces."
Ford's challenge of the moment is scaling a rocky slope beneath low branches. As he navigates the terrain, it's easy to imagine a bit of Indiana Jones swagger seeping into Ford's mild manner. But he says it doesn't work that way.
"My actual true life has dynamics to it that are as interesting to me as Indiana Jones' life," he says. "It's not so enmeshed in fantasy."
Keep acting, keep smiling
It has been almost 20 years since he last played Jones in 1989's "The Last Crusade" and nearly 27 years since he first played the character in 1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark." But getting back was "really easy," he says. "It's as though you put on that hat, the leather jacket, the bag, the whip, the gun — or even the schoolteacher's suit — and it comes back to you."
As he ascends the hills, assorted day-hikers come stomping down from the trail ahead, crashing through the surrounding brush. Stunned smiles appear when they realize whom they've just come face to face with, and Ford grins and says hello to each one, breaking stride only to let them pass.
One man asks if he's having a good hike or a great hike.