Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In praise of Woody Harrelson

Who would have thought?

When CHEERS ended its run in 1993, if you had asked me which cast member was going to become a big movie star I would not have said Woody Harrelson. Not that he wasn’t extremely talented, charming, and a pleasure to work with – it’s just that I thought of him as more of a character actor.

All of the actors from CHEERS have gone on to have nice careers… as well they all should. They’re either starring in TV series, doing theater, guesting on top sitcoms, or doing Radio Shack commercials.

And Woody has become a bonafide movie star. He’s been nominated twice for Academy Awards. This is the same guy I made eat a whole Hostess Snowball in one bite. (My writing partner and I wondered if it could be done so we wrote it into a script for Woody and sure enough he did it.)

When you see his performances you know his success is not because he’s a member of the “Fucking Lucky Club.” The Oscar nods were well deserved. What was surprising to me was the enormous range he has. Everyone knows he can play the sweet-natured goofball. But watch him in SEVEN POUNDS. He is one scary motherfucker. Check him out in GAME CHANGE. He’s as savvy and wily as any Kevin Spacey you could find.

And now in TRUE DETECTIVES on HBO I think he’s doing his best work ever. He brings such depth to what could so easily be just a cliché role. And it’s a tough role. Matthew McConaughey has the much showier part. (He too is off-the-charts spectacular in this.) And yet Woody never tries to compete with him. As such, he brings a strength to the role and a balance to the dynamic that, for my money, makes the whole series work. By underplaying and not taking a sharp right turn into Al Pacino Land, Woody shows the confidence and skill of a truly accomplished actor. And I’m not just writing this because I feel guilty we made him eat an entire Hostess Snowball. I don’t. I do feel a little bad he had to do several takes, but hey, that’s why they get paid the big money.

If you’re going to be a fan of one Woody this year, pick the one who doesn’t play the same character in every film, has been married to the same woman for 27 years, and whose kids will speak to him.


Hamid said...

Woody is brilliant. When I saw his performance in Natural Born Killers, it was hard to believe that this was the same actor who played the lovable Woody Boyd. I also like that he does a variety of films and doesn't look down on doing popcorn movies like Zombieland. In contrast, Shia LaBeouf has been going round lately telling everyone he's done with Hollywood and will only make art films from now on. Of course, he made sure he'd made a ton of dough doing three Transformers movies and an Indiana Jones sequel first before making that profound declaration and trying to copy Joaquin Phoenix's eccentricities with the laughable bag-on-his-head stunt.

By the way, Happy Birthday to your wife, Ken!

gottacook said...

Back when he was known only for Cheers, I saw Woody Harrelson once in person but didn't talk to him, it would have been unseemly - it was outside the theater just after a performance of The Heidi Chronicles during its original New York run. I still have the program, and besides Christine Lahti (the star at the time) the cast also featured Tony Shalhoub and "David Pierce" (he didn't have to adopt "Hyde," so I understand, until joining the TV actors' union, which already had a member named David Pierce).

Jeffro said...

Speaking of Zombieland, I loved the inside joke that his character Tallahassee was always on the hunt for Twinkies and could only find Sno-Balls, which he hated. I wonder why?

And Woody is great at comedy beyond what he did in Cheers. He was incredible in Kingpin, which I think is still the best Farrelly Brothers movie; much better than Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eduardo Jencarelli said...

And despite the challenges of directing multi-camera sitcoms, I can't possibly imagine those will ever be as challenging as the uncut 6 minute tracking shot that Fukunaga directed.

Curt Burdick said...

Curt Burdick said...And don't forget Woody's endearingly funny role in DOC HOLLYWOOD, and his hilarious comment about 'Ted Danson' at the end.

Steve C. said...

Terrific Actor and who would've thunk it

Brule Eagan said...

That's funny, Ken, I was saying the same thing to the guy I work with this morning. Woody Harrelson does everything well. His performances never fail to blow me away.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Taking nothing away from the excellence of Woody Harrelson, I nonetheless feel I must point out that Woody Allen may play the same part in every movie he acts in - but he also writes and directs the movies, he's been married to one woman for nearly 17 years, and he has two adopted daughters and one adopted son who *do* speak to him (plus of course a debatable number who don't). I'm not particularly interested in defending Woody Allen, but I have a thing for *facts*.


blinky said...

True Detective is off the charts amazing in every category: acting, writing, directing, editing, music, oil refineries, toupees....

Hamid said...

I didn't realise until I googled that the Radio Shack reference was about John Ratzenberger. A great comedy actor, no doubt. But when I saw him appear in a political ad alongside Pat Boone, who's compared gay people to terrorists, and Victoria Jackson, who's called the gay characters on Glee sickening, I realised that I can still always enjoy watching the character of Cliff as long as I don't think about the actor behind him.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken,
Happy belated birthdays to you both.

Reading the previous comments- yeah Kingpin is till one of my faves, still holds up after nearly 20 yrs. Woody was great in "The Messenger"- as was Ben Foster. He's great in "True Detective" as well. Really enjoy the show, we'll see where it goes. -LL

Bullfighter said...

Off topic but thanks for the 99 cent "The Me Generation by Me". Enjoyed it very, very much, brought back a lot of memories.

Arno Thollijee said...

Screw Harrelson AND Allen, if I'm going to be a fan of one Woody this year, it's not even a choice:


Anonymous said...

Ken, are you talking about Woody being a scary motherfucker in Seven Psychopaths? Wasnt he just a blind person that answered phones in Seven Pounds?

-Ernest O

Dale said...

How about Natural born killers?
That was like the former child star doing a nude scene to show they've grown up. Impossible to pigeon hole Woody after that.
Excellent actor.

Mark said...

Woody IS a character actor - a damn good character actor, he just gets better and better. He is also good in SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS. But right now he and Matthew McCongahey are doing sterling work on TRUE DETECTIVE.

Mecha-Shiva said...

You also made me eat an entire snowball in one bite, because I found that particularly hilarious when I saw that episode as a kid. It was easy to fit in my mouth, but very, very difficult to chew once it was in there.

Probably some kind of dangerous choking hazard. Not recommended.

mike in seattle said...

@Wendy Grossman

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I must be the only one but True Detective puts me to fucking sleep. Well produced show. But not the least bit compelling. Whoop-dee-doo they did a 6 minute take. Orson Welles did that 50 years ago.

Johnny Walker said...

"If you’re going to be a fan of one Woody this year, pick the one who doesn’t play the same character in every film, has been married to the same woman for 27 years, and whose kids will speak to him."


hueysheridan said...

Ken, on a Woody-related topic - did you ever meet Timothy Treadwell, the subject of the "Grizzly Man" documentary Werner Herzog made a few year back?

Supposedly he almost got the Woody Boyd part (or the "coach replacement" role - assuming the name "Woody" came from Harrelson).

How things could have turned out differently. While I have no doubt, especially given all the evidence you cite here, that Harrelson would have had a succesful career regardless, you have to wonder if Treadwell would still be alive today had what must have been the biggest opportunity of his life worked out.

JT Anthony said...

To WG:
I have a thing for arguing relevant issues, which I'm going to violate myself by responding to your comments. Everything Ken wrote was, in fact, true (or at least what is known to be common knowledge).
Despite Woody Allen's enormous accomplishments and success, Ken is asking us to recognize Woody H. as a fine actor. You come across as if Ken is being disingenuous, or not representing Woody A. in a fair light. I don't think he was trying to compare them in the different categories you mention as "facts."
Ken is making a point about Woody H's acting skill and surprising range.
I'm sure Woody Allen is better than Woody Harrelson at many other things too, but who cares? Woody Harrelson is his sentimental favorite.

MikeN said...

Shouldn't this make you question your abilities as a writer?
You had Woody, nominated for 2 Oscars and he was cast as a comic relief named Woody. On Wings you had future multiple Emmy winner and future Oscar nominee, and you centered the show around Tim Daly and Steven Weber. And then you complain about Hawaii 5-0 not focusing on Caan.

Liggie said...

1) Harrelson reminds me of Jimmy Stewart, in that they never bothered to change their vocal characteristics from their regular voices but still managed to embody their different characters. You don't have to have a Streep-esque command of accents to embrace a character or be a terrific actor.

2) I read the Cheers character was named "Woody" at conception, and the casting of an actor with the same name was a coincidence.

3) Re: the allegations on the "other" Woody: here's a potential FQ. If they are true (and to cover our bases, proven legally or otherwise), should that ruin any artistic regard of his films and destroy any chance of him working in film again? Many people I know are outraged that Hollywood still holds him and his films in high regard despite his reputation for child/sexual abuse (the Soon Yi thing was bad enough in many eyes). And these are people who aren't abuse or rape survivors; the ones who are, I can't blame them for hating Woody regardless of proof. Sid Caesar may have been a drunken boor, but that's preferable to being a child abuser. So, should Woody and his films' reputation reputations suffer the same fate of Joe Paterno's ruined legacy?

Janet said...

I went to imdb to find out who he'd been married to for all the time. I wanted the backstory of how they met.

But then, it said he's been married twice - the first marriage for 1 year, the most recent one for a little over 5 years.

Are you sure he's been married to the same woman for 27 years? (I originally just trusted you on the fact since you knew him so well. Only in trying to find out more did I accidentally find out the number may not be right....)

Hamid said...


According to Wikipedia, Woody's been with his wife since 1987, it's just that they got married only 5 years ago. So they've been together for 27 years, though not actually married for that length of time.

Janet said...

Thanks, Hamid! That clears it up. I should've done a little deeper digging. :-)

Mike said...

Liggie, considering Roman Polanski still gets standing ovations from Hollywood, I suspect Allen will be revered.

Liggie said...

Mike, the Polanski case has always confused me. In the eyes of the law, he's a convicted sex criminal who skipped the country before punishment and is on the lam abroad ... so why are his films still allowed to be shown here? Interesting legal question.

Mike said...

Well he hasn't been convicted. Basic answer is his movies are good so that excuses all else.

Other answer is Hollywood doesn't consider it a crime. Haven't you heard of Lolita? Whoopi Goldberg says it 'wasn't rape-rape'
It happened at Jack Nicholson's house.

Just the Facts Ms. Grossman said...

Fact: Being in a relationship with someone for 17 years is not the same as being married for 5 of those years.

Fact: If you choose to use the "committed relationship" scenario to justify Woody A.'s longevity in with Soon Li, then you have to accept the fact that he was in a committed relationship with Soon Li's MOTHER, and therefore in a de facto STEP FATHER role. They lived together in the same house and as her Mother's boyfriend had a responsibiity to not molest a child.

My marriage came from a "yours, mine and ours" situation and we did live in the same house before marriage with his two kids and my two kids. The idea that either of us would prey upon the others children is absolutely rephrehensible. These children have always looked at us as a cohesive, ADULT unit, with their best interests at heart. We're the parents, even before a step became attached because of a marriage license. It's our roles as adults with children. ANYone's children.

I am sickened that Woody A. is revered and applauded, still, in Hollywood because of his genius.

Since when did supposed brilliance give anyone the right to act morally reprehensible?

I wonder how any of the non famous folks would feel if this happened in their families? How would the local authorities and the courts act?

Everyday people are punished for a lot less everyday. Sigh.

No amount of talent excuses how absolutely disgusting Woody A . is.

And people wonder what is wrong with society.