Dialogue: ‘The Hunger Games’ Star Woody Harrelson, on How Not to Play Drunk and His Inspiration for Haymitch (Exclusive)

Dialogue: ‘The Hunger Games’ Star Woody Harrelson, on How Not to Play Drunk and His Inspiration for Haymitch (Exclusive)

Feb 28, 2012

There’s this little phenomenon sweeping the nation right now called The Hunger Games. You know, that book trilogy that’s being turned into a few movies, the first of which comes out March 23. See, it’s about a bunch of kids in a post-apocalyptic society who enter an annual event called, well, the Hunger Games, where they’re forced to kill each other to survive with only one winner left standing. Directed by Gary Ross, it stars Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role of Katniss, a teen girl who volunteers for the games in place of her younger sister.

We had the chance to sit down for a few minutes with one of the film’s other stars, Woody Harrelson, who plays mentor to Katniss and the other boy from her district who’s also in the Games. As the salty Haymitch, a onetime Games survivor, he’s a generally unkempt and mostly drunk individual who throws shade at Katniss while at the same time offering her valuable advice and assistance. Here, he talks about his inspiration for the role, and how he almost turned it down altogether.

Movies.com: Did you know anything about the books before you were brought in?

Woody Harrelson: Well, I got sent the script but I didn’t really know about the books. I was just psyched to work with Garry Ross, but then I thought, “I don’t know. There doesn’t seem like there’s that much to do.” So I hesitated and thought about it and then I kept hearing, “these are really good books.” I ended up deciding not to do it and Garry called me and said, “Woody, I don’t have a second choice on this. You have to do it.” So, I said, “Well, OK.” In the meantime I started reading the books.  

Movies.com: Do you think your character is a survivor or do you think he’s just someone who happened to survive?

Harrelson: I think he’s a real survivor…he has good survival instincts.

Movies.com: If you were placed in the same situation do you think you would survive?

Harrelson: I mean, I might not make it to the end but I certainly won’t go down without a serious fight. 

Movies.com: What would be your go-to technique?

Harrelson: I would find water, that would be the first thing. And then if anyone came for me I would run like hell.

Movies.com: This sounds like the duck-and-cover technique.

Harrelson: That’s right. The duck and cover. My thing is even if I’m playing at a little poker tournament, I don’t need to win every hand or win a lot of chips, I just need other people to be going out. That’s my strategy, just try to make it down to the last few and then see what happens.

Movies.com: Were you involved in the way your character was going to be presented?

Harrelson: Oh, yeah. Here’s how it happened for me. I met my brother down on Topanga Canyon, we both have motorcycles, and then I followed him up to his house. I had not seen him in a few months and [when] he takes off his helmet he’s got this stubble and [long] hair. I looked at him and said, “Haymitch.” He didn’t even know what I was talking about. [Laughs] I just saw it right away.  I totally went after his look for [my character]. There were a lot of discussions. I wanted to dress better than an alcoholic would.

Movies.com: Speaking of alcoholism, Haymitch is drunk for the majority of the book. How much fun is it to play someone who is always under the influence?

Harrelson: It’s a lot of fun. I enjoyed it because I was a little nervous about it. I have tried to play a drunk before and watched it back and thought it was terrible. When you’re actually drunk you’re not thinking about the way you move or anything else nor would you want to be even thinking about that. I didn’t have a clear understanding of how to play a drunk but I’ve seen great examples of it. Johnny Depp plays one great in Pirates of the Caribbean. I think it came off good. I don’t know. I may not have pulled it off because I haven’t seen it. 

Movies.com: You haven’t seen the movie?

Harrelson: I just saw a little piece of a scene the other day that I had to do some looping on and that was cool. It was only a minute long. 

Movies.com: Did you place all your trust in Gary Ross?

Harrelson: I think Gary is a truly great director. I have a feeling, even though I haven’t seen it, that it’s going to be extraordinary.

Movies.com: You got into some trouble when you admitted on MTV that you signed up for four movies. Does that mean that there will be four? Is the last book going to be split into two?

Harrelson: When did I admit that? Is this one of those trapping mechanisms? I have no idea whether they are even doing two. If the first one isn’t a success they won’t be doing a second one. First of all, I don’t remember what you said. I claim not to remember and secondly, I don’t know. You know, they put us under strict orders.

Movies.com: You get to play Jennifer Lawrence’s mentor. Tell us about that experience.

Harrelson: It really is great working with her. It’s a very playful experience to work with her. I think she’s a tremendous actress and she really always does go right to the truth and the heart of a scene. I can’t imagine a better Katniss. I can’t think of any actress who could have done it like this.

Now go read our exclusive interview with director Gary Ross.




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