The actor tells us his plans to return to comedy, why dark laughter is better than light, and demonstrates his newfound magic skills -- well, sort of.
Woody Harrelson has been one of our favorite actors since the ‘90s. After he joined the cast of Cheers, replacing the dearly departed character of Coach, he did some intense dramatic work in Natural Born Killers and The People vs. Larry Flynt, although the bowling comedy Kingpin may be his masterpiece.
Harrelson has been doing well lately too. He was nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Messenger and won an Independent Spirit Award for it. He also played a corrupt cop in Rampart and the McCain/Palin campaign manager in Game Change. And then, of course, there's that little movie Hunger Games. In Seven Psychopaths (in theaters October 12), directed by Martin McDonagh, Harrelson plays Charlie, a killer with a soft spot for his dog, Bonnie. When some bumbling dognappers (Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken) take Bonnie, Charlie comes after them, and a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) uses it as inspiration.
We got to chat with Harrelson Sunday morning the weekend Seven Psychopaths premiered at TIFF's Midnight Madness. Despite the whirlwind schedule and little sleep, Harrelson was genuinely excited to have a conversation.
Movies.com: Do you feel like you’re in an especially fruitful creative time after The Messenger, Rampart and Game Change?
Woody Harrelson: Yeah, I really feel in a good space just in terms of the projects and characters that I’ve gotten to play. It’s nice to be able to work with Oren Moverman. He’s just a phenomenal director and writer. I think Martin is a true genius. I really always wanted to work with him. I always wanted to do a play with him as well.
Movies.com: What did you think of Charlie when you read the Seven Psychopaths script?
Harrelson: Oh, I liked the character. I thought there were some juicy scenes in there.
Movies.com: Like the scene in the hospital that starts out comedic and becomes really deadly?
Harrelson: Yeah, that was a little more intense just because it’s not a scene for laughs. That’s one of the things I love about Martin. This is a richly comic script and all these comic moments, but then he’ll take these moments where he lets the tension grow. That was one of them.
Movies.com: Did you think about Mickey Knox when you played another psychopathic killer?
Harrelson: [Laughs] Not really. Maybe I should have just to make sure there wasn’t too much overlap but I guess I just thought of Charlie Costanza as a whole different type of person. He’s not killing for the joy of it. That would be a different type of psychopath. He dispatches people as necessary, you know.
Movies.com: What was your relationship like with your costar Bonnie?
Harrelson: Well, you know, Bonnie and I never really have much screen time together because she’s been dognapped. I think the last shootout scene is where I finally [see her.] But from all accounts, great dog.
Movies.com: Were there any scenes that were tough to get through without breaking?
Harrelson: Oh yeah, there’s a lot of stuff that, especially Sam, just cracks me up. He’s got an incredible wit and he’s trying stuff throughout. Most everybody stuck to the script but Sam did kind of freewheel it sometimes. I think he is comedically at the top of his game. I thought some of the stuff he did in this movie was just inspired. All of them, it was great to work with all these people. What a freakin’ blessing. What a great job.
Movies.com: Have you ever experienced a midnight audience like you had here in Toronto?
Harrelson: Oh my god, it was fantastic. It was a great response. I think that Toronto audiences are probably the best audience in the world. If your’e going to show something to them, they’re really smart and savvy. They’ve seen a lot and if they really enjoy it, they show their appreciation. I love it here. This is my favorite festival.
Movies.com: There were some Haymitch fans waiting for you. Did you expect to see Hunger Games fans here?
Harrelson: Oh, I didn’t see them.
Movies.com: They were calling, “Haymitch!” when you arrived.
Harrelson: Oh really? Oh man, I think there were just so many people out there I didn’t hear.
Movies.com: What are you looking forward to about shooting Catching Fire with Francis Lawrence?
Harrelson: Well, I ran into Jen[nifer Lawrence] last night. There’s such cool people that are working on this and that worked on the last one. It’s a wild thing to switch your conductor but I think that he’ll be great. He’s really hyper prepared and he’s a fantastic director. Having hung with him a couple times I like his temperament. I hear he’s very mellow on set. You never know if you’re going to get a screamer but he’s not that. I think it’ll be really good.
Movies.com: Is Haymitch Abernathy the best name for a character you’ve ever played?
Harrelson: Maybe so. I love it.
Movies.com: What do think about making the third book as two movies?
Harrelson: Well, I think it could work. It really depends on how the scripts come in. I hate to comment on it before I know what it’s going to be. Obviously it’s possible that you can do it but how it’s going to turn out, I don’t know. I’m hopeful.
Movies.com: What else are we going to see you in after Seven Psychopaths?
Harrelson: Well, I did this movie Now You See Me, it’s a magician heist movie. Then I did this wild film called Out of the Furnace with Christian Bale and Casey Affleck, whose brother I ran into yesterday. Scott Cooper directing. From all accounts, I’ve heard that turned out amazing but it’s very intense. I mean, I really want to get back to focusing more on trying to make people laugh, which is why I actually did this play that’s in New York right now called Bullet for Adolph. Cowrote it and directed it. It’s just a chance to try to make people laugh.
Movies.com: Was your last comedy going all the way back to Semi-Pro?
Harrelson: No, I did Friends with Benefits. Yeah, there’s been a real dearth of comedies in my career lately. I’ve gotta get back to my roots. It’s what I care about. I think making people laugh, there’s nothing better. I love this film because as you saw the other night, it really has a great effect on people.
Movies.com: So a dark laugh is as good as a lighthearted laugh?
Harrelson: Better. That’s what I love about Martin. There’s a lot of jokes that really challenge the audience to laugh because you could just as easily gasp. I love the fact that Martin has this ability to have just the right amount of darkness and light juxtaposed in such a way that he creates this marvelous tension which at the same time is going to augment the comedy. As opposed to detracting from it.
Movies.com: In Now You See Me, you play a magician?
Harrelson: Yeah, I’m actually a mentalist.
Movies.com: Did you learn how to do that?
Harrelson: Yeah, you want to try an experiment?
Harrelson: Okay, just thinking of odd numbers, only odd numbers but up to 50, any odd number and if it’s two digits, then the first and last digit are odd. So in other words, it’s 19 or 31 or something. Do you have a number in mind?
Movies.com: Yes, I do.
Movies.com: No, that wasn’t it.
Movies.com: No, but there was a 3 in it.
Harrelson: Oh, 39.
Movies.com: No, I went lower.
Harrelson: Oh, 33. Did I ask you that? Okay, well, I’m totally off. Tell me what it was.
Movies.com: It was 13.
Harrelson: Oh, 13!
Movies.com: We’ll try it again when Now You See Me comes out.
Movies.com: Thank you, Woody.
Harrelson: My pleasure, man.