Cheat Sheet: Woody Harrelson
Woodrow Tracy Harrelson
Date of Birth:
July 23rd 1961
Place of birth:
Midland, TX, USA
Acting, charm, general likeability, distinctive Southern accent, Raw foodism
The People Vs. Larry Flynt, White Men Can’t Jump, Natural Born Killers, Zombieland, Rampart
What you probably already know:
The Texas-born actor, who’s not let go of his satisfyingly Southern accent for any film he’s been in, made his acting break-through by playing bar-tender Woody Boyd in the hit US TV series, Cheers. Moving into film, he got off to a shaky start in 1989 when he featured in Wildcats. In this crap, 80s, Goldie-Hawn-vehicle, he played a bone-headed American footballer, and had little chance to shine next to the dumb blonde of the moment.
It was thanks to Wildcats, however, that Harrelson befriended co-star Wesley Snipes, with whom he went on to feature in his film break-through, White Men Can’t Jump, in 1992; a sports comedy in which Woody undermined the film’s acceptably racist title by proving that white men can indeed jump and play basketball. At the same time as debunking racial myths, Woody also proved he that he was an engaging enough screen presence to lead feature films.
After White Men Can’t Jump, Woody went on to star as serial killer Mickey Knox in the cultishly cool Natural Born Killers and the shambolically shit Indecent Proposal before putting in an Oscar-nominated performance in The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1996). Unlike many actors, Woody’s never gone through a barren spell of only crap films. What’s more, when he does feature in crap films, he’s clever enough to pick the ones that are destined to make big money anyway (The A-Team: $77.2m, 2012: $166.1m). Despite his general tendency to play likeable but superficial characters, his most recent film outing as beleaguered cop Dave Brown in Rampart is a career-best, proving that, at the tender age of 50, he’s still got plenty to offer as a serious dramatic actor.
What you might not know:
Woody’s father, Charles, was a contract killer who was arrested in 1979 for assassinating Judge John Wood, making him the only man to murder a judge in America in the 20th Century. He also boasted at times of having been part of the hit squad to have assassinated John Kennedy, though he denied this at other times. Despite being estranged from him, Woody has always maintained that his father was innocent.
Moving away from my unhealthy fascination with morbid celebrity facts, let’s throw in a piece of cheaply amusing lighter trivia. To make ends meet in his early years, Woody worked as a wood-cutter in Texas (no jokes about his name now, ho-ho).
Woody’s a long-time advocate of marijuana smoking and legalisation, and serves on NORML’s advisory board. He has been arrested for planting hemp seeds, which he did with the intention of challenging State laws which fail to distinguish between hemp and marijuana. For the record kids, hemp is a variety of cannabis with a very low content of THC (the stuff which gets you stoned) and is used in plenty of industrial products such as textiles and paper.
As if the fact that he’s a pot-head isn’t evidence enough proof of his environmentalism, Woody is also an environmental and peace activist. He’s been involved in protests against deforestation and the Iraq war, and is a dedicated vegan and ‘raw foodist’ (so presumably he only eats raw food). Admirably, he practices his preachings by living in a small solar-powered community on the island of Maui rather than a Hollywood mansion. In summary, Woody’s as much of a cool guy off the screen as he is on the screen.
Woody Harrelson quote:
On fame: “Most people take it pretty badly and just go crazy – I was no exception. But I feel like I’ve come out of it with my spirit still intact.”
What to say at a dinner party:
“Harrelson’s restrained, intense style of acting has always infused his characters with an enigmatic quality. His performances in think-pieces like Zombieland and White Men Can’t Jump reveal a certain internal torment that seems to channel from his own troubled upbringing.”
What not to say at a dinner party:
“So, what line of work is your father involved in?”
Despite Woody’s interests in hippie causes and tendency towards run-ins with the law, he’s always been a reassuringly stable screen presence. While he’s played to (highly likeable) type for most of his career, his turn in Rampart shows that he’s still growing as an actor, and that his best performing years may yet be ahead of him.