Looking through Woody Harrelson’s filmography, what stands out is he does a lot of movies. (So many that we just spoke to Harrelson, along with his War for the Planet of the Apes co-stars, a couple of weeks ago.) And it’s not just that he’s prolific – a lot of actors are – but that he also has a knack for being in a lot of good movies. For a guy who refers to himself as a “lazy bum,” he sure does work a lot.
This week, Harrelson plays Rex Walls, the eccentric father of Jeannette Walls in the film adaptation of her bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle. It’s directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, whose prior work includes Short Term 12, and works as a character study of a loving but troubled man, the vagabond life he provided for his family, and how that affected his relationship with Jeannette (played as an adult by Brie Larson), who broke away from her family to move to New York and become a renowned columnist.
Ahead, Harrelson called us from London where he’s shooting the still untitled Han Solo film and we do our best to convince Harrelson he’s not a “lazy bum.” Also, when Harrelson’s first movie, Wildcats, is brought up, Harrelson surprises himself by reciting his rap from the end credits. (He honestly seemed bewildered that he could still do that, but the fact I heard it with my own ears is something I think I will cherish.)
A couple weeks ago Harrelson assured us “the Force is with them,” after the directing change, but is Harrelson a fan of Star Wars in general? It’s not like people have really ever associated Harrelson and Star Wars together before. So, yes, we asked him about that, too.
You play Rex in an interesting way. He could be a scoundrel, but he always has a humanity to him that makes you realize why Jeannette loves him.
Yeah, I think that’s a fair appraisal of him. I mean, definitely a complex guy. He’s not all good. [Laughs.]
In the earlier scenes, it looks almost fun at times. And then as time goes on, you kind of realize how awful this is becoming.
Well, it feels like the more he drinks, the worse things get. But the cool thing is, I watched it last night with like 110 friends here in London, and they had an incredible, great response to it and people were moved by it. But I’d forgotten how funny it is, you know? I thought there was a lot of laughs that I’d forgotten about and that was cool.
I was going through your filmography, and this is one of the first times you’ve played a role that’s mostly about being a dad. Maybe Wilson a little bit, but that was different…
Well, I also did in Rampart, when I worked with Brie before…
True, but there’s a lot of cop stuff in that movie.
Yeah, that’s true. And also it’s a rare thing that you get a movie that’s so focused on dad and daughter relationships, which is cool.
You don’t do a lot of movies like this. Why this one?
You know, I had great director, a great script, other actors, fantastic. So he really liked to try things and mix it up and that always helps. But I don’t know, I mean you read the book, it’s just so wonderfully written and so powerful and I think all of us were just hoping to make a movie that was true to the book.
You gave a monologue about health care that’s very timely.
Yeah! Yeah, I do kind of agree with that. There’s a lot of things that he said all those years ago that I felt were really right on target.
What else did you agree with?
Well, for example, the way he feels about education: that it’s better to be experiential than just sitting in a classroom. It’s better to go out in nature and talk about what you see and explain – you know, educate the children by what they’re seeing and touching and experiencing.
I will say, the way you portray him, even the stuff I didn’t agree with you were still convincing…
[Laughs.] Oh, well that’s great.
We recently spoke for War For the Planet of the Apes — you’re having a busy year. You’ve always been prolific, but you’re in a lot of movies this year.
Well, it’s interesting, because that’s not me at all. I’m actually a lazy bum, so this thing of having to constantly be on my toes and working and sober, it’s just very difficult for me.
Oh, is it?
I’m a good worker – hard worker – but I’m a world-class slacker. I’m really like upper echelon of slackers.
It’s hard for me to agree that you’re a slacker when you have six movies that came out this year. That’s not slacking. That’s the opposite of slacking.
Well, thanks. Maybe I’ll turn over a new leaf.
I’m very much looking forward to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I’m from Missouri originally so I can’t wait…
Oh, really? Man, you’re going to love it. That is such a good movie. Martin McDonagh, I think he’s a great director. He did great with Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges – but this one, he’s jumped up to Coen brothers status. It is so well done.
Well, anyway, I shouldn’t be the one to tout it, but I don’t think it has so much to do with me at all. I do think there’s some great acting in it – Frances [McDormand] and Sam [Rockwell] – but I do think as a director he’s really come into his own.
Do you have to seek out good stuff or do they just show up for you? Because there are a lot of actors who do a lot of movies, but you seem to only do pretty good ones.
I mean, definitely I’ve been lucky this year to have such a… You know, the movies just turned out great. All of them. I love how this one turned out. I love Three Billboards, LBJ, Apes. I mean, they all just seem to have turned out really well. And a lot of that’s just luck and working with great directors.
You mention LBJ. How do you get into that guy’s head? That’s a complicated figure.
Well, yeah, that’s a very complicated guy. I mean, it really helped a lot meeting with some of his friends. And there are hours and hours and hours of phone calls that I listened to and those are really, really helpful. And I used to listen to them even while I was on set. In between setups I’d listen to him, or while I was sitting in the makeup chair, which I got a lot of time in the makeup chair because of the prosthetics. But, yeah, he was a fascinating dude.
The last time you hosted SNL, that apple song you sang, I still have that stuck in my head.
Oh, that’s great. Thank you. I like that, too! That song is so funny.
Speaking of you singing, Wildcats was on the other day. I forgot you rap at the end of that.
Oh, yeah, I forgot about that, too.
I don’t think of you as a rapper, but there you are in the end credits, rapping.
Oh, yeah, it’s something like [starts rapping]: “I was leader of the team for about a week / my specialty was the quarterback sneak / I was sacked and attacked / my bags were packed…”
Oh my gosh. How do you remember that?
I don’t know, it just popped into my head. Because that was a long time ago. That had to be 30 years.
According to the internet it’s your first movie.
Yeah, that was. That’s right.
I am legitimately shocked you could do that. I cannot believe you remember the words to that.
Yeah, I can’t either! I’m really surprised! I didn’t even remember we did that!
You went from, “I don’t remember we did that,” to reciting it perfectly.
[Laughs.] Yeah. Well, that’s bizarre. I don’t know what little space in the brain that’s inhabiting, but I think I could let that go and leave some room for something else.
When we spoke a couple weeks ago you assured us, “The Force is with us,” concerning the director change on the Han Solo movie. I have been wondering, do you like Star Wars? In the over 30 years you’ve been a famous person, I’ve never thought of you as someone who likes Star Wars.
No, I really like it. Actually, I think it’s terrific, but I’m not like a rabid fan like you see a lot of real big fans of this franchise. But I’m psyched to be a part of it. And really, I love the people I’m working with, so it’s very cool.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.