Woody Harrelson has been part of a trio of interesting productions recently. The fine actor is in the current blockbuster movie The Hunger Games. It’s a small role but he reports that he wanted to work with director Gary Ross, and after reading the book he got caught up in the message of the story, about questioning authority. Harrelson also has a supporting politically-infused role in the new HBO movie Game Change, about Sarah Palin bursting onto the scene when she became John McCain’s running mate. And at the beginning of the year, Harrelson was the star of the gritty and acclaimed movie Rampart, playing a dirty cop who abused his authority.
The three very diverse projects show that Harrelson has come a long way from playing the lovable, naïve bartender on the long-running sitcom Cheers, which earned him an Emmy. His career as a respected performer is even further away from his first calling, that of a minister. When he was a teenager, Woody says religion fascinated him, so he entered a Presbyterian college in Indiana to study theology. But within a couple of years he had a change of heart.
Because his Cheers role overshadowed other performances, audiences forget that he received Oscar nominations for The Messenger and The People vs. Larry Flynt, both of which also brought him Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award nominations, in addition to an Independent Spirit Award win for Best Supporting Actor in The Messenger. And Woody gave a great performance in No Country for Old Men, which got him the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. His performance in Rampart, which premiered to critical acclaim at the Toronto Film Festival, also got him an Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead.
For Rampart he had to get buff and lost 30 pounds to play his cop role. Harrelson says he did it by becoming “a gym rat, working out constantly, twice a day, and minimizing my calorie intake. It was a strenuous routine, and I don’t recommend it for everyone.”
Regarding Game Change, in which he plays a pivotal role in the McCain campaign, handling vice presidential wannabe Sarah Palin, Harrelson says he enjoyed doing the political film because he got the chance to hang out with Steve Schmidt, the Republican campaign manager he portrayed. “I guess we probably think a little bit differently politically, but I thought he was a really charming, interesting, passionate guy. He does care and I came away really liking him.”
But Woody also says with a big smile, “I’m not really a Republican or a Democrat, probably more an anarchist.” He insists he’s very non-political. In fact he describes himself as “a happy hippie from Hawaii,” where he lives with his family, wife Laurie and three daughters.
Although he comes to the mainland for acting jobs, Woody, at 51, says he prefers living a leisurely Hawaiian style life in Maui where he likes to play soccer and tennis, and go kite-surfing. Of all of the activities, soccer seems to be his favorite, because Woody loves to recall the story about playing in Soccer Aid 2010 for UNICEF in Manchester, where he scored the winning goal, beating England. “It was the greatest thrill,” he says with pride.
On the personal side, he is a vegetarian and an environmental activist who likes to support those issues. And he admits to being a supporter for the legalization of marijuana. “Although I am not an activist for that cause. But I am a peace activist.”
And he is quick to point out that he was conferred an honorary degree from York University for his contributions in the fields of environmental education, sustainability, and activism. That makes him proud.
Harrelson reports he has few regrets in his personal life or career, except he would love to do some movies that children would enjoy.