For over 30 years, Texan superstar Woody Harrelson has been one of the most consistent and versatile stars in the acting business. His breakthrough came on TV with ‘80s sitcom Cheers, but since then his career has been defined by a variety of movie roles. The Hunger Games, Natural Born Killers, White Men Can’t Jump, No Country For Old Men, Kingpin… few performers working today are more diverse or consistent.
This year is no exception, with 4 films scheduled for release, including this month’s blockbuster War For The Planet of The Apes. We sat down with Harrelson to discuss his new film, his career and why he has no intention of slowing down.
Amex Essentials: In War For The Planet of The Apes, you play The Colonel, the leader of a human army obsessed with destroying the apes. He seems like the bad guy of the piece…
Woody Harrelson: Well, that’s a very relative term! I would say that The Colonel had some experiences in life where he felt like the planet didn’t have enough space for The Apes and The Humans. I could see how that would be looked at as ‘bad’ (laughs). It was a great experience – I think Matt Reeves, the director, is just extraordinary. He did the second one as well. I haven’t seen it yet, but everyone I’ve been talking to who has said it’s really great, I loved working on it.
It’s one of 4 films you have out this year, and a contrast to independent dramas like the recently released Wilson. How does working on huge studio movies compare to low budget?
Well, these huge studio movies, there’s a lot of money they throw into it. Their distribution is assured, whereas when you do an indie movie you don’t know who the distributor is going to be. You’re doing it out of passion and love. You don’t have the same kind of, shall we say, bank account for smaller movies, so you’re a lot more precious about how many takes you do, how much you accomplish in the course of a day. But I like that. I’m not saying if you do a big movie it’s just about making some money, but by and large you see a little more passion in the indies. You also see stories that aren’t going to be told by big studios.
You’ve also released Lost In London, the first film to be filmed and broadcast live to cinemas in real time. What were the pressures of such an experimental approach?
There were so many technical challenges. The sound was the biggest issue, the one I was most concerned about. Then there was the live feed. In one of the last rehearsals, the night before, we lost the live feed for 15 minutes and then again for 45 minutes, which is death if it happens 24 hours later! Then there’s the whole choreography of it – there were all kinds of things that were still coming together right at the end with the choreography. The script was changing a lot, too – in the last 24 hours I took out 5 pages! (laughs) It was just a lot of weird stuff happening, it was probably the most pressure I’ve ever felt.
The film gently pokes fun at your career, with several people recognising you for Cheers and other roles. Have you noticed younger viewers referencing your newer work, like True Detective or The Hunger Games?
Yeah, that happens a lot now. Luckily with movies like The Hunger Games, Zombieland, Now You See Me 1 and 2, I feel like I’ve been introduced to a younger audience, which is cool. Plus I love doing those movies. I think we might do a Zombieland 2, we might do that next year. Still, a lot of people bring up Cheers, which I don’t mind – Cheers was maybe the greatest experience of my life!
Do you want to direct more films?
I guess one never knows. It’d be like smashing myself in the head with a hammer, saying ‘wow that hurt’ and then doing it again, because it was so stressful!
Finally, is there anything you can tell us about your involvement on the forthcoming Han Solo movie, or are you sworn to secrecy?!
Yeah they keep us a little tight-lipped on that, so I can’t say anything. But I do think it’s going to be very, very good!
Article by James Luxford
Header Photo: LBJ Library
Second Photo: SRP Austin Photography
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