Woody Harrelson’s real life is weirder than fiction
NEW YORK — The sky was grey and drizzly outside the 54th-floor duplex in the Time Warner Center where Woody Harrelson was staying. But Harrelson was bright as a rainbow: Yellow Tshirt, cobalt cap, purple cauliflower in his green salad and flecks of red rimming his baby blues, perhaps a side-effect of jet lag after having just arrived from London. It was fitting, then, that his latest character — the quixotic Rex Walls in “The Glass Castle,” opening Friday — is a man he described as having “a lot of colours.” Adapted from Jeannette Walls’ bestselling 2005 memoir, the film recounts life on the lam with her father, an alcoholic nomad who hauled his wife and four children (Brie Larson plays the author as an adult) from state to state, outrunning debt collectors, law enforcement and his own haunted memories.
“He could be the greatest guy, and then he’d go on a bender and do some really rash things that were almost unpardonable,” said Harrelson, 56, whose own childhood was famously complicated.
(His father was convicted of murdering a federal judge and died in prison.)
“The lightness and the dark, he was just fighting it,” he added, stretching his yoga body and grinning sunnily.
These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q: No child really escapes his parents unscathed, but did you draw on your own experiences to play Rex?
A: I definitely relate to Rex in a lot of ways. I admire that zest for life. He doesn’t feel like kids need regular schooling. He thinks that they can be schooled by experience, and I’ve often been a fan of that philosophy. I don’t think I learned much sitting in a chair getting lectured for 12 years, you know what I mean?
Q: You have three daughters. What was your child-rearing philosophy?
A: For a long time, they’d come with me wherever I went. Then they got into a really good school, and that was the end of travelling everywhere with Daddy. It was kind of unfair to them and me. But on the other hand, I could have been working less.
Q: At one point, you moved your family to Costa Rica.
A: That was in the mid to late ’90s, until I ran into Willie Nelson, and he’s like, “Hey, come on out to Maui.” The next thing you know, I’m moving to Maui.
Q: Woody and Willie. I can only imagine.
A: You would love him. He’s maybe the greatest guy alive. When he’s there, I see him pretty much every day. He came out to do “Lost in London,” which was really nice.
Q: That’s your live movie from January?
A: It was a wild concept. I had this horrifying, terrible night that started with my wife and I heading out to this club with a prince. We got in a taxi, and the next thing you know I’m getting into an argument with the taxi driver over some stupid stuff. An ashtray, actually. And then I leave the taxi, not on good terms, and he calls the cops. So I’m running from the cops. Q: And this really happened? A: It really happened. And then I ended up in jail, so you can imagine I wanted to forget it, but I kept thinking about it. There’s something in this story — a guy who has it all but didn’t really see it until he’s threatened with losing it, and then this shot of redemption. In that sense, it’s kind of like one of my favourite movies with Jimmy Stewart, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I wish I were half the actor he is. I decided to make it my directing debut, and then I thought, geez, I can shoot this in real time.
Q: In “War for the Planet of the Apes,” you play a colonel with a God complex. Some have cited a resemblance to the president.
A: Well, we shot this long before there was any notion that this guy was going to be president. Nobody could have imagined it back then. I wasn’t thinking of myself as a presidential deity. Can you imagine if God was like that? Just like a crass, vulgar, self-centred, narcissistic — I mean, my God.
Q: You wear a major prosthetic in Rob Reiner’s coming “LBJ.” Did that help you buy into your own performance?
A: I went to the tippy-top of the prosthetics pyramid and got the best people. (The prosthetics) couldn’t be cheap or look fake, and Rob’s just like, “Whatever you need.” The prosthetics go from (below the neck) all the way up to the ears, nose, everything. It wasn’t what moved me into the role, but it will help you not to think it is (expletive).
Woody Harrelson stars in the new film "The Glass Castle," detailing a man’s life on the lam outrunning debt collectors, police and his own memories. KATHRYN SHATTUCK