Woody Harrelson gets extremely candid in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, talking about everything from his “anonymous and poor” days before his big break on “Cheers” to the recent firing of the Han Solo movie directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and everything in-between.
The 55-year-old Texas native, who next stars as the main villain in “War For The Planet Of The Apes”, tells THR his life story, in his own words.
From his upbringing (“I was a pretty happy guy, but I also had a lot of rage”) to early brushes with the law (“I’ve been busted a few times”) Harrelson reveals all, including his low expectations for his “Cheers” audition in 1985.
“I was really carefree because I knew I was going back to New York, and they’d pretty much decided on this one guy, but they were just doing a few more auditions…” he explains, recalling the casting agent then escorted him to meet “the boys” who, unbeknownst to the young Harrelson, were the showrunners and writers. “I’m going down the hallway, through a door, into where everybody is, and I just happened to be blowing my nose, and then everybody laughed before I said a word. And as [director] Jimmy Burrows said, ‘You had the part right then.'”
Even now, more than 30 years after Harrelson walked into the bar where everybody knows your name, he still has fond memories of the series.
“It was phenomenal all the way through. Just the best people,” he says. “And everybody watched, not like a lot of times when you’ll do a movie and you’ll be like, ‘Will anybody see it?’ I couldn’t have imagined leaving because, really, that show made me. I mean, I was anonymous and poor before that show.”
When Harrelson was ready to make his jump to the big screen, it was Michael J. Fox whom he credits for helping him break away from television and get his start in the movies.
“I did three movies while I was doing ‘Cheers‘. One was ‘Doc Hollywood’, and I credit Michael J. Fox because he wanted me for that part, and that was my first break in the movies,” he explains.
Harrelson certainly hasn’t had any trouble landing parts in movies in nearly three decades. In fact, he’s so in demand, he turned down his role as Katniss’ advisor Haymitch Abernathy in “The Hunger Games” twice before relenting after pressure from the film’s director.
“I didn’t have any idea it would be that big, but I didn’t think it was a good part. I was wrong. It was a terrific part, and it was a terrific thing, but thank God [director] Gary Ross called me,” he says, noting a pattern. “I turned [the Han Solo movie] down twice, too.”
While Harrelson isn’t at liberty to talk about the finer details of the “Star Wars” spin-off, he can talk about the secrecy surrounding the project as Ron Howard picks up the directing reins from the ousted Lord and Miller.
“Definitely [‘Star Wars’] has more secrecy than anything ever. You get an e-reader; you don’t get a script. They give it to you, and you give it back after you read it. But I was like, ‘I’ve got to be with my family, I got to go home,'” he says, mentioning the cast had some epic parties while shooting in Italy.
While he calls the film’s original directing duo “really good guys,” Harrelson says the film is in the right hands with their replacement, Ron Howard.
“He’s a wonderful guy,” he says of Howard. “And we did shoot one day with him — we had to shoot because Thandie had to leave. We start again July 12. I think I read some stuff where people were worried about the fate of this movie. I wouldn’t worry. The Force is still very much with it.”
While Harrelson has enjoyed his time in the spotlight, he’s grateful to have his wife, Laura, and his family by his side through it all, including his decision to cut back on drinking and give up smoking pot.
“I frequently think of my situation. Just having this family who has been so loving and so kind to me — like, more than I deserve, maybe. And in some ways I think that has mellowed me. Maybe ‘mellowed’ isn’t the right word, but it has softened those areas that were too hard,” he tries to explain.
“I guess there has been a change in me. If I’m honest, I have to say that something has shifted, some kind of basic core disturbance,” he says, elaborating. “It’s like some post that you’re trying to get out of the ground, and it’s just so wedged there, you have to push it every which direction, and you can finally lift it out.”