Woody Harrelson is having a moment. Or, perhaps more accurately, Harrelson has been having a moment for the past three decades. Still, 2017 is shaping up to be a huge year for the veteran, who’s got the ambitious War for the Planet of the Apes on the summer horizon, two solid indie flicks (that’d be Wilson and Lost in London), and upcoming collaborations with Martin McDonagh, Rob Reiner and Destin Cretton. (And then there’s the matter of a little project known as the Young Han Solo movie that’s currently in the midst of production.)
This week, I had a chance to sit down to Woody Harrelson about his recent role in the Daniel Clowes adaptation Wilson, which stars Harrelson as the titular Wilson, a lonely, neurotic and often hilariously honest middle-aged man who embarks on a new stage of self-discovery after reconnecting with his long-lost lover (the delightful Laura Dern) and his estranged daughter.
During the conversation, we talked about the difficulties and advantages of having a graphic novel as source material, his surprising past with Dern, the difference in energy between a large project and a smaller-scale indie effort, his deep connection with Andy Serkis, and his early impressions of Phil Lord and Chris Miller and that Young Han Solo movie. Check out the full interview below.
COLLIDER: I feel like in many ways, this must be kind of a different animal in that you have this great script, but it also has this graphic novel component. Is there a difference in already having a film kind of visualized for you when you go to work on it?
WOODY HARRELSON: Yeah, yeah. Because it really is very helpful to have all of the, you know, to be able to look and say, “Okay, this is how he dresses, you got the glasses, you got the way he holds his hands.” There were a lot of clues in it that you don’t normally get, you know, normally you use your imagination or whatever, you get some clues in the script, of course, but yeah, it was really helpful, and I really like the graphic novel. There’s stuff in there, there’s a couple things in there I really wanted to use that they couldn’t get in the movie, but it’s definitely, he’s a unique guy, you know, I never read a character like this before.
Wilson is such an interesting character because my very, very first impression of him is as a curmudgeon, but he loves people, and he’s very warm. What is it kind of like to be able to play this, you know, he’s like a classic type, but he’s tweaked and he’s a little deeper, maybe.
HARRELSON: Well, I really liked playing him. I started to really – I mean, I think the thing about him is he’s not really a curmudgeon, he’s very gregarious. And he’s a people person. But he has this strange inability to censor himself, and he’ll say these things that are sometimes quite caustic or end up creating some kind of violent reaction, you know. But, you know, I admire that. I admire people who just speak the truth. Sometimes, actually, my mom’s a lot like that, she’ll say shit and I’ll just be like, “That is so mean.” But it’s just her, you know. It’s not her being mean, it’s just her speaking the truth without a censor. Well, the truth as she knows it. And I do see that, I suppose maybe he’d be a better person if he were able to censor himself, but then he wouldn’t be as interesting.
I just finished talking to Laura, and you guys have this really kind of wonderful chemistry, and I think you and Judy have a great chemistry together as well, but Laura was telling me that you guys did a play together.
HARRELSON: Yeah, a long time ago.
Like nearly 20 years ago, so there’s this sort of art imitating life sort of thing. What was it like to get to reunite and do something super off the wall and kind of cool and crazy?
HARRELSON: It was great. I’m so impressed with her, because you know, there’s some people that come to the shoot with like, okay, so this is my mark and I say my line, you know what I mean? But she’s not like that, she comes with a whole freakin’ catalog of ideas and concepts and ways to make it better. This part was pretty good on the page. Pretty good. If you look in the graphic novel, pretty good. She came and she made that part great. She made it great. And by the way, that scene where we’re in the prison, she comes to visit me, that wasn’t in there. Her idea was, we have to have some completion for these two. I was like, “Yeah, I think you’re right, we do need completion.” We started talking about it, then I think we came up with an idea for a scene and we sprung it on those guys, Craig and Daniel and stuff, and those guys luckily were like, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” And it just came out of her being like, I mean, that’s amazing.
Yeah, that is amazing. It’s also amazing that there’s a project that is that kind of collaborative. That like indie sensibility kind of helps magic happen sometimes. How is that experience different from some of these bigger scale projects, like War for the Planet of the Apes or something?
HARRELSON: Oh, yeah. I mean, look, Planet of the Apes, this Han Solo movie I’m doing now, those don’t need any help. They’ll be juggernauts. And by the way, I could deliver a shit performance and they’re still gonna be juggernauts. So these other ones, like Wilson, it’s like a little spark and you want to get the flame going and you want it to succeed, so it’s much more — I feel much more connected to it. And not just connected to it, but I feel like I care about it succeeding. Whereas the other ones, I care about them, but they’re gonna do okay no matter what I do.
I heard that you and Andy Serkis connected really intensely while making Apes, is that true?
HARRELSON: I love that guy. I truly love him. He’s an amazing guy. Yeah, I think that when we really synced up was when he came over to my place, the place I rented in Vancouver, and we had like two bottles of wine, and what a night. What a night. And by the way, I don’t remember a damn thing we talked about, but I can tell you it would’ve been like the greatest conversation if we could’ve written it down or something, because it was incredible. He’s such a bright, amazing guy.
My time is up, but I want to say congrats on you and Laura both being in the Star Wars club all of a sudden, that’s kind of great.
HARRELSON: Oh yeah, that’s cool.
You’re not gonna be able to like, rub shoulders in the universe, but it’s kind of fun anyway. I know you can’t tell me much, but how has it been to work with Lord and Miller on something so huge.
HARRELSON: They’re great. You know, any movie’s only as good as the director or in this case directors, and so I have a suspicion, because if you look at the whole, all the movies, the backlog of every one of these movies, there’s a lot of great stuff, but one might not be not as good with the writing in this or the acting in that or the directing in that, this has great actors, great directors, great script, and I really feel like we’re gonna make the best one.
Wow! Put that on the poster.
Wilson opens in limited release on March 24th.