During the Cold War, Hollywood echoed America's constant suspicion of the U.S.S.R. by endowing just about every movie villain with a Russian accent. So it's no wonder Soviet navy veterans were wary when Harrison Ford approached them to discuss the true tale behind his submarine thriller K-19: The Widowmaker. Indeed, they had their doubts about an American icon playing a Red hero.

"In Moscow, I think [the Russians] were confused about what our intentions were," says Ford, who plays rigid Capt. Alexei Vostrikov in the film (opening tomorrow). "But we held pretty strictly to the Russian point of view. [We] didn't comment on the political system or the nature of Russians in the way that I think most people would have expected in an American film."

Ford — who was 19 in 1961, when the movie's events transpired without public knowledge — vividly recalls the World War III paranoia of those days. "I felt in peril," he says. "Chicago, where I grew up, was ringed with missile silos and anti-aircraft guns. People were building bomb shelters in their backyards. But I never really bought into the notion of 'the demon' of communism."

As a seasoned pro, Ford didn't let his personal politics interfere with the task at hand: making a good, old-fashioned suspense flick. "I thought about trying to understand what it was like for people in that time under that system," the actor explains, adding that he resisted confusing "my American experience and my understanding of our mission [as filmmakers] — to tell the story."