Interview with Woody Harrelson

Interview with Woody Harrelson

Browse through a bio sheet on rising superstar Woody Harrelson and you’ll swear you’re reading something straight out of a supermarket tabloid. Woodrow Tracy Harrelson was born to a poor family in Midland, Texas and began having his share of problems from the very beginning. His mother, despite her deeply religious faith, divorced Charles Voyde Harrelson when Woody was only three and uprooted her four sons from their native home to Lebanon, Ohio. While growing up there, Woody was diagnosed with multiple learning disabilities, including dyslexia and hyperactivity. He was also declared psychologically disturbed and placed in a special school for children with behavioral problems. Later on, Woody’s father got in trouble with the law, and this perhaps provided the hidden motive for Mrs. Harrelson’s eagerness to put as many states between her and her ex-husband as possible. Charles Voyde Harrelson is currently serving a life sentence for the contract killing of a federal judge.

Woody wasn’t just a nickname for Woodrow, but one that he earned for his womanizing ways. He was reputed to have had a heavy drinking career and was known to get into brawls during his years at Hanover College in Indiana, where his attendance was, ironically enough, made possible through a church-sponsored scholarship. After graduating with a B.A. in theater arts and English, the aspiring thespian moved to New York. Following an unsuccessful soap opera audition, he reportedly turned belligerent and was dropped by his agent. But in 1985, at the age of 24, Woody’s life changed dramatically.

While understudying for two roles in Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues on Broadway, he was tapped for his television debut as the often brainless, but always lovable, Woody Boyd on the classic comedy, Cheers. During the show’s eight-year run, Woody received the coveted Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for the 1988-1989 season. A string of films followed—some violent, some thought-provoking, others comical, but almost always controversial. His performances in movies such as Indecent Proposal, Money Train, Natural Born Killers, Kingpin, The Cowboy Way, Sunchaser and The People vs. Larry Flynt are proof-positive that this Hollywood honcho is at home on a wide-open range of projects. But these days, Woody’s private life and personal causes have as much to do with keeping him in the headlines as any of his much publicized film projects.

Woody arrives at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills opting not for Armani dazzle, but rather, the unpretentious look: drawstring pants, high-top tennis shoes, a loosely fitting jeans shirt and freshly scrubbed face—no camera-ready make-up on this guy. His dark blond hair is close cropped and wispy. The grin on his narrow face is an open dare which says, ‘Come on. I’m ready to have some fun here!’ And those eyes—startling blue and full of mischief. (At this point, I throw a discreet look towards the other part of him known as “Woody,” but alas, his chosen outfit doesn’t permit a report on that topic.) He is relaxed, animated and admits that his mouth constantly gets him into trouble.

It’s obvious that Woody is living life the way he wants to.

The luxurious surroundings of the Four Seasons are a far cry from the actor’s current residence in the Costa Rican rainforest. His neighbors are few and far between. It’s where Woody and the mother of his two young daughters, girlfriend Laura Louie, call a thatched-roof hut their home. No phones, no electricity and no bathrooms. Only outhouses with no doors. It’s absolutely isolated in nature’s beauty and light-years away from Hollywood’s glitz and glamour— just the way Woody likes it.

While some stars waste their days fighting about the size of their trailers, power struggles, prestige and money issues don’t fit into Woody’s chosen world. “I’ll never go against my instincts again,” he says. “When I’m down there it’s so great, because life is just so simple. I get up and I have a fruit smoothie. I go surfing, then come back and play with my kids. We sit around and talk, have a lunch from the garden that everybody helps work in. Life doesn’t have to be that complicated, you know?”

When in town promoting his films and staying at posh hotels, he admits modern conveniences take some getting used to. “This shit freaks me out,” he confesses. “It took me a while before I could get used to things like walls and air-conditioning. I guess, at least for now, I have to be in both worlds, but, hopefully, I’ll be spending less time in L.A. and more time in Central America.”

Though the pull of his adopted home grows ever-stronger, the chance to play Larry Flynt, founder of the legendary porn rag, Hustler, who made history taking on the United States Supreme Court and winning, was a challenge Woody couldn’t pass up. “Initially, I had some trepidation about playing him,” he reports. “I asked myself, Why are they making a film about this sleazoid? ” But a meeting with the real Flynt changed his attitude and gave him a greater insight into the publisher’s character. “It was important to me that I like him. I found him really charming, interesting and smart. He has that kind of down-home Kentucky wisdom. I felt [misgivings] in the sense that here’s a guy who’s spent his life—made his money— exploiting women. And that’s a judgment, but I had to kind of step outside of that judgment and try to look at the big picture. He did champion a cause that’s very important to me, and I would assume to all who believe in the First Amendment. How I relate to him is he’s poor white trash, a rags-to-riches kind of guy who used to be kind of a hedonist. I’ve experienced all those things in a way. I [almost] always play poor, white trash. I don’t mind it.”

Far from “minding it,” Woody apparently embraced the challenge. Throwing any thoughts of physical vanity out the window, he pulled a Robert DeNiro in preparing to play the less-than-physically stunning Flynt. “I was going to go ahead and put on weight, but it’s hard when you just like avocado and sprouts. I can drink beer, of course, but I wasn’t putting on the weight, so we went with a ‘fat pad’ and prosthetics in three different gradients.”

Working with Courtney Love—best known for being the lead singer for the controversial band Hole and as the widow of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain—was a positive adventure and Woody had nothing but praise for his co-star in her debut film effort. “I love strong women and Courtney is one strong woman. She’s got great ideas and talent. She’s almost incapable of a false moment.” Although this was Love’s first major acting experience, the veteran actor was impressed. “She taught me something very basic about acting that I’ll never forget. It’s not so much the words that are important—because I obsess about the words—it’s about the physicality of acting. That’s the real content.”

As far as any physical chemistry between the two of them, Woody says, “My relationship with her is like a sister who I love a lot, and love hanging out with—and would frequently love to strangle at the same time, (laughs) If it was really late one night and I was a little bit tipsy, I could see something happening,” he says, grinning. “A little Krystal champagne…that might do it”…

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