Woody Harrelson on 'Rampart,' 'The Hunger Games' and Replacing Coach on 'Cheers'
Woody Harrelson was introduced to the world in one of the most awkward ways possible: replacing a beloved, recently deceased actor on a popular television series. Nicholas Colosanto, who played the somewhat dimwitted bartender Coach on "Cheers," passed away during the third season. At the beginning of the fourth season, Woody Harrelson joined the cast -- a cast that still very much missed Colosanto -- as Woody Boyd, a younger but also dimwitted bartender. So, put it this way: Yes, Harrelson has been in the news this week because of his publicity tour for "Rampart," but that's really nothing compared to what Harrelson went through that week.
In "Rampart," (opening in limited release this Friday) Harrelson plays Dave Brown, a Los Angeles police officer under investigation for a number of incidents that did not go exactly to procedure. Set in 1999, after the titular scandal ripped through the LAPD anti-gang unit, Harrelson plays a man dangerously close to the brink of self-destruction. Harrelson spoke to Moviefone about playing a suicidal cop, what convinced him to accept a part in "The Hunger Games" and his experiences on the set of "Cheers" after replacing Colosanto.
So, thanks for your time today.
Aw, no sweat. I didn't know that I had any choice.
I don't think you do.
You were recently quoted as saying you weren't initially happy with the edits in "Rampart." Now you are happy with the final cut. Was there any scene still missing that you wish were in the film?
Nah. I mean, I thought there were some really good scenes that got cut, but I really liked the way it all turned out. What did I say in The Hollywood Reporter?
That it was a four hour epic and 36 scenes were cut.
Yeah, but I never expected it to be a four hour epic. I'm saying it would have been a four hour movie had he left in everything. So, I don't think that would have worked…
No, but was there a scene that you wish were still in the film?
Yeah, I mean, I've tried to repress those. Whatever I thought was good -- just let it go. I've repressed it.
Dave seems like a smart guy, but is perhaps just arrogant about his authority. Is this how good cops go bad?
Well, it's hard to say. I don't now what happens with most cops. I just kind of know what happened with this guy. And I don't know if it was so much greed. You know, there's a lot of stuff he's done that never got caught on film. And that really started things. Started his demise.
Would you get along with Dave?
[Laughs] I don't think so.
I don't see why he'd want to talk to me. He's one of those guys who's very driven toward either a woman or his family or someone he works with. I don't think he'd want to go out of his way to befriend a guy like me.
Well, he does pick a place with a fun lounge singer.
Did you like the singer?
Yeah, I did! I mean, I didn't really talk to the guy very much. But I did meet him. But, mostly, he was doing his thing and I was doing my thing. He has an interesting way of performing a song. I'm trying to think… "Downtown," wasn't that what he was singing?
It was. I liked the scene in which you're paying around with a gun and aiming it at your head in a "Is he going to kill himself"-kind of way. As a viewer, I'm thinking, "Well, why not at this point?"
Yeah, that was an interesting scene. It's funny that you brought that one up because it wasn't in the script. We were in that room and [director] Oren [Moverman] gave me the gun and said, "Try something here." The concept was, "Here's the gun, let's see what you're going to do." So that just kind of spontaneously happened and was shot in-between other things that we had on the schedule.
I'm going to make the assumption that you've never held a loaded gun to your head before. Where do you aim it? Because the last thing I want to do is shoot myself in the head and wind up surviving.
Yeah, yeah. That would be a thing that he would try to consider to be the best spot.
Maybe he should just put down the gun and see a movie.
Well, you know, I have heard that they have done some sort of study on people that have jumped off of the Golden Gate Bridge. And there is a certain number of survivors -- not a lot, obviously -- but, without exception, they've gleaned the fact that minute someone jumps, they wish they hadn't. Every time, they're like, "What the fuck was I thinking?" You know, "It's bad… but is it that bad?" Like, "I wish I could get back on that bridge."
I just looked up your filmography to see what you had come out in 1999. Dave should have gone to see "EdTV." Do you think Dave would have liked "EdTV"?
[Laughs] That would have cheered him up. That's a funny movie.
So, you have "The Hunger Games" coming up. When you were first approached to play Haymitch, were you at all hesitant? Because, on the surface, before you get to learn about Haymitch, it doesn't seem like your type of thing. He is a complex character.
No, I was interested because I knew Gary Ross was doing it. I didn't know about the books until after they offered it. And I took a while to respond. But then I started reading one of the books and, the first book, I really liked. But, I thought about it and I just didn't think -- I didn't think there was enough to do. Do you know what I mean? It's not a huge part or anything. I'm happy to do smaller parts -- I don't have a problem with that -- but it just didn't seem like there was enough to do. I turned it down, but then Gary called me and said, "Dude, you've got to do this. I don't have a second choice. You've got to play Haymitch." And I was like, "Well, when you put it that way… let's do this damn thing." And I'm so glad that I did, because, you know, it's really was one of the best experiences and just a great group.
When you started on "Cheers," you replaced Nicholas Colasanto who had just passed away. How difficult is it replacing an actor who was beloved as he was on set? Is there any animosity?
Well, you know, I wasn't really familiar with "Cheers." So I didn't have this relationship with Nicholas Colasanto, which would have made it really stranger for me. I had watched "Cheers" exactly twice before doing my first scene. And, I gotta say, it sounds like a hard thing -- and it is hard on the page -- but, in reality, that group of people was so great and so gracious and so wonderful to me, that they made it kind of easy.
And, at first, Woody and Coach had similar traits.
And I think it was probably more awkward for those guys. You know? But they really didn't show it. I think Shelly Long did one time, she said something like, "I can't believe it. I miss Coach." Not in a mean way to me, but that was probably the most real awareness I had to whatever they were going through. But, other than that, I gotta say, it was just an extraordinary experience. Everybody was so cool and supportive.
Mike Ryan is the senior writer for Moviefone. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com, GQ.com, New York Magazine and Movieline. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter