Friday, September 23, 2005

Woody Harrelson: North Country Man (Q&A)

What up, yo? Been a trifle busy keeping my powder dry, though I have a shite's sight of stuff written down in little pads all over the place, I haven't found the time to blahblahblah. Anyway, I got on the junket for Niki Caro's (Whale Rider) upcoming film North Country which stars Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson. I'm going to use the Theron stuff and review the film when the flick comes out next month, so I'll put some of Woody's interview here -- he's got a flick coming out with Julianne Moore that's coming out sooner. Here's what went down at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons last Sunday:

Q:This is a very different character based on the roles you've played in the past. What made you take it on?

A: Well, let's was a great script by Michael Sietzman, that's one thing. There was Niki (Caro), Charlize, Sissy (Spacek) and Frances (McDormand); those were among the reasons why I thought it was a really good idea. [laughs] ...sometimes, at first, I can't see the forest for the trees and I was not inclined to do it. And, fortunately, Niki talked with me and enticed me.. I thought it was a terrific script, I just couldn't see what I could bring to this, you know, to make it special.

Q: You mean because it wasn't a romantic role?

A: No, I've hardly done that, although, I do feel like a romantic person...You know, there were, like, things that were written after -- like the whole "yellow/ red thing" -- that wasn't in there. Some things helped shift it -- made it look a little more exciting...I always have to think that Niki knows what the hell she' doing... like the way that you can't really tell what happens between the two characters...

Q: What about The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio where it's just more about you and Julianne Moore's character, basically?

A: That was another movie where I was like "I do not want to play that guy." I had no desire to and Jane Anderson (the director) actually flew out to Hawaii and hung out, you know, and we went up to these great falls and talked and talked and then I was like "yeah, I think it'd be a good idea to do this." (laughs) In getting into the head space of Kelly Ryan was -- it was intense, you know? Because he was an alcoholic, abusive father and husband -- not physically, so much but ...he'd just go into these tirades and I don't know that I was really excited about getting into that head space but having done it, I'm really glad I did. It was a great experience. You hate this guy so much and you wonder why does she stay with him? None of it really makes sense and I thought Jane really addressed it in the sense that she tread the line really well, you know -- you could see how Julianne Moore's character would want to stay with him.

Q: Your filmography has just piled up over the last couple of years. Are scripts just starting to click with you or are you just finding yourself in a lot of these North Country-type roles?

A: Well, you know I took 5 years off and I do have to make up for lost's not like I'm just [starting from scratch]...when you say "piling up" -- even though I've done five films that haven't been released -- I think that each one of them is special...I feel, knock-wood, like everything's going in the right direction and, ultimately, I do want to direct. I wrote a screenplay that I really like -- my main thing is where I got started in this whole game. I wanted to be able to put forth my vision of what is genuinely, deeply funny and so, hopefully, I'm going to do that. That's where I'm headed in my mind.

Q: Was going on that sabbatical good for you?

A: It was the best thing I ever did without question because around '97, I forget when it was exactly, I'd done all of these movies and there were many disappointments, you know, and like when you do a movie you really are -- even as an actor who maybe sometimes influences the blocking (of the filmed sequences) or the script -- in some ways you're still, basically, a pawn or maybe a bishop in somebody's vision. You hope you work with Milos Foreman and it's just a great vision and then the movie comes out and you're like "Ugh, I put my heart into this and I'm so sad about how it turned out." And that, coupled with the backlash against the Larry Flynt thing...there were just a couple of disappointments...[these were] also coupled with the fact that I was really needing to just hang out with my family. I was kind of burned out on the whole thing. I was tired of doing movie after movie, working 14 hour days, not hanging with my family and then I was like "hold it, I'm just going to enjoy this life that I have taken the time to create." In my mind, I kind of retired. (laughs) I hung out with my family in Costa Rica, living just the greatest life imaginable -- not a lot of cares -- and also, I did one thing that I was determined to do and I did do each of the 5 of 6 years that I was gone which was to do a play; to act in or direct a play.

Q: What's going on in A Prairie Home Companion?What's that film about?

A: Yeah, that's based on Garrison Keillor's radio/ stage show -- he's the main character in the film...there's Kevin Kline and Tommy Lee Jones and John C. Reilly and Lily Tomlin. It's a wonderful cast because everyone wants to work with Robert Altman.

Q: Has it wrapped?

A: Oh yeah.

Q: What role are you playing in the film?

A: John C. Reilly and I play the singing cowboys. (laughs) It was so fun and I think it came out great.

Q: Did you do any yodeling as Keillor's characters Dusty and Lefty often do on the radio show?

A: I did a little bit of yodeling but John C. does that better, you know [starts to yodel like a cowboy]...

Q: How was it working with Garrison?

A: He was good, he really is an interesting guy. He's so interesting because I've never met a person who was so -- I don't really want to say "averse to" but he just will not look [directly] into your eyes. You know, you're like talking to him and he's like [ pantomiming avoiding eye contact while talking].

Q: You ever bring that up with him?

A: I don't think he's ever been in an actor's situation with all these different people around who are pretty forthright. So, the whole thing came up and, yeah, he said that's the way he was raised [in Minnesota] and his parents, I don't think, would look someone directly in the eye and, so, he actually became very forthcoming about this thing of his. And by the end of it, I've got to say, he was really melting into this wonderful little kid. Playing with the other kids [the rest of the cast] and looking them in the eyes, etc...(laughs) There was definitely a shift, I thought, that took place.

Q: So what was your "comeback" movie, After the Sunset?

A: Which was huge! (laughs)

Q: You have a favorite film of someone else's or a character and if so, why do you love it?

A: Probably Paul Newman's Cool Hand Luke...that's another movie where the guy is against the system and he just will not give up. I do like those movies like that like Norma Rae too. But I also really loved Harold and Maude. I think it's one of the most beautiful love stories ever -- just the relationship between those two and the poetry and the dialogue. To me, it's just one of the all-time great movies.

Q: You have a favorite part in it?

A: That scene where they're out there and ...I can't recall it precisely, something like "to me they will always be glorious pervs" -- I just remember the last part of it, I remember her saying that. I don't know. I think that's a real gem.

Q: Is it different for you to come back and make movies now?

A: I don't feel like I have to be the lead. I don't feel like I have to be this or that, all I feel like I need to be is [in] something that's going to be special. A really special project...I thought Niki did a great job with North Country, in one of the last scenes between me and Charlize, there's the thing where she's walking out with the kid and [ to print the rest would be a spoiler] ...this was in the version before, the one before the final version which I think is interesting, you know? To tread that line...

Q: So after the 5 years and now that you're back, do you not feel like you're burned out anymore? Are you at peace with yourself -- made peace with Hollywood?

A: Oh yeah. "Made peace with Hollywood," though...(laughs) Hollywood has a lot of components to it but I've certainly gotten to a point where I was thinking that I didn't like the studios but now I look at Warner Brothers and I think "that's a great studio." I mean these guys are doing movies that matter and I like Jeff Robinoff and [trails off because he can't remember any more names]...well, I like 'em. (laughs)

*North Country opens nationally on October 21st, 2005


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