Woody Harrelson: “I Wish My Indies Were Blockbusters!”


After a smash series, two Oscar nominations, Game Change, and a part in the Hunger Games franchise, Woody Harrelson naturally has turned to writing and directing. The result is Bullet for Adolf, a comedy set in 1983 Houston, which he co-wrote with Frankie Hyman and which officially opens on August 8 at New World Stages. As Woody aims his Bullet, I pulled up a seat at the bar and chatted with the endlessly bemused renaissance man.

Hi, Woody. Congratulations on the show.

Congratulate me if it’s any good.

Was theater your first love? My first job, when I was 23, was an understudy for Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues. And it has always been a passion for me.

And you’re straight! Shocking, I know.

So something called Cheers sidelined you for a while? I got a little sidelined. I was gonna come back from L.A. because the guy I was understudying had gotten fired for horsing around onstage with Matthew Broderick, who then didn’t get fired. I was excited because it was my dream to be on Broadway, but right then, a friend of mine living in L.A. told me, “There’s a show that has a part you ought to try out for, and the guy’s name is Woody.” So that did shift things.

Any regrets about that? Not at all. Everyone on that show was so much fun. Doing Cheers was like going to work at a playground.

Like Zombieland? Different.

So you started to write this play as semiautobiographical, and it gradually became even more semi? There’s a lot of stuff in it that actually took place, but there’s a substantial degree of fabrication because we didn’t have a plot that summer. The plot involves the theft of a World War II artifact. It’s not quite a whodunit; it’s just meant to make you laugh. It went really well in Toronto, and now after a month here, I wish I had more than another week to work on it

You never struck me as a worrier. It’s in my bloodline. I try not to show the worry, but I do worry. My mom was a world-class worrier, and her mom, and her mom, Polly, too. My mom had all boys and passed it on to us.

When you see the play, do you feel like you’re watching yourself? A slightly better version.

With more hair? I actually did have hair at 22, but thanks for that question. I forgot for a second that I was bald. [Laughs.]

Do you think people in the business regard you as a friendly renegade? That sounds like a good way to look at it. I hadn’t thought of those words, but maybe.

You veer between blockbuster films and indies. Is that a fun way to run a career? It has been pretty fun so far. Some movies I would like more people to have seen, but it’s hard to control that. Doing an indie doesn’t mean you don’t want people to see it. You wish it was a blockbuster!

You did make it to Broadway in The Rainmaker in 1999. Would you come back? If I find the right vehicle. It feels fully engaged and invested to be doing this here [Bullet for Adolf] because it’s been such a passion project. The thought that people are gonna be seeing this in a week fills me with equal parts anxiety and excitement.

There’s that worrying again. What type of play would you like to star in next? A comedy. The last play I did was Night of the Iguana, where the audience walks out feeling punched in the gut. I’d much rather do something where people are laughing all evening.

Natural Born Killers the Musical? You might be onto something there. But that’s what we’re trying with Bullet—make people laugh. I had to tell myself: “Sorry, you can’t play it. You’re too old.” [Laughs.]

You seem to get cast a lot as people who are unraveling. I do?

Not all the time. Never mind. Back to wacky comedies: Was it fun playing the gay in Friends With Benefits and saying stuff like “trolling for cock”? I loved that part. I thought it was some of the funniest stuff. One scene got cut out that I thought was probably the funniest scene, but the director, Will Gluck, felt it went too far. We’d better not bring it up here.

I’ll check out the DVD extras. I was inclined to make him a little more feminine, but Will didn’t want me to do that. And I agree with him. It’s better not to play some stereotypical version of the character.

Well, let me be stereotypical and ask you what you’ve seen on Broadway lately. One Man, Two Guvnors. I thought that guy was great. Harvey, which was phenomenal. And I liked Book of Mormon so much I had a suppressed desire to tell those guys that it would be nice if the average person could afford the ticket.

Did you see the Judy Garland show, End of the Rainbow? No, not yet.

So you are straight!