Woody Har­rel­son’s real life is weirder than fic­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E -

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).

TONY CENICOLA, NEW YORK TIMES

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

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