In which the star of Semi-Pro and No Country for Old Men explains why he's wearing Jennifer Aniston's socks.
Few actors embody versatility like Woody Harrelson. Sure, there are others who've successfully tackled both comedy and drama -- Bill Murray, Jim Carrey and Billy Bob Thornton, to name a few -- but how many of them can boast of having worked with both the Coen Brothers and the Farrelly Brothers? It takes a diverse skillset indeed to transition from the joke-a-minute slapstick of the Farrellys' Kingpin to the Coens' relentlessly bleak No Country for Old Men.
And so it seems enirely appropriate that a week after No Country's Oscar® triumph, Harrelson's pendulum once again swings in the opposite direction, to the offbeat comedy Semi-Pro, a Will Ferrell vehicle about an ABA team struggling to stay afloat during the waning days of the league.
Harrelson's involvement with the project (in which he wears a hairstyle earily similar to that of his No Country counterpart Javier Bardem) sprang purely from his admiration for its star. "I really wanted to work -- I should say 'play' -- with Will," he says. To do so, he accepted the often thankless job of the Straight Man, a task made more challenging by Ferrell's legendary fondness for improv. "He really keeps you on your toes," marvels Harrelson. "The thing I love about him is he'll never rest after a take...he'll do something completely different. He's always working, and he's not afraid to push the boundaries of what may or may not be acceptable."
Of course, pushing boundaries has never been a problem for Harrelson. An outspoken hemp advocate, Harrelson famously donned an Armani-designed tuxedo made from the environmentally-friendly fiber for the 1997 Golden Globes. The more casual ensemble he's wearing today also happens to be hemp-based, save for a pair of cashmere socks he received from an unlikely source. "I was at this party in Malibu at Courteney Cox's house, and it was so funny because I was freezing," recounts Harrelson. "I was barefoot. Now I won't say how I came to be barefoot, but Jennifer Aniston was so nice. She was like, 'You're freezing! You must be so cold.' She's very maternal that way. And I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm a bit cold.' So she takes her boots off and then takes her socks and gives them to me."
"So these are my 'Jen' socks," he declares. "And they've become kind of my lucky socks."
The socks seem to be working, as Harrelson is currently in the midst of a nice little hot streak. Following Semi-Pro into theaters in March is The Grand, screenwriter Zak Penn's (Fantastic Four, X-Men: The Last Stand) "mockumentary" about an eclectic group of characters competing in a fictional poker tournament. As in Christopher Guest's ensemble comedies, most of the action is improvised, including the card game. "The final tournament we all played for real," says Harrelson. "Nobody knew who was gonna win. We all had our chips and wanted to win."
"It's one hell of good poker movie," he boasts.
Harrelson's currently in rehearsals for the drama Seven Pounds, directed by Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness) and starring Will Smith as a suicidal IRS agent who takes an interest in various people, one of which happens to be Harrelson, who plays a blind pianist. As you might guess, it's a bit more somber than Semi-Pro. "It really is a completely different world," Harrelson says of role. "It's exciting to use your imagination and try to figure out what it would be like."
As far as future projects are concerned, Harrelson is currently mulling over a role in The A-Team, John Singleton's big screen update of the classic '80s TV series. Perhaps not surprisingly, Singleton is courting him for the part of H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock, the schizophrenic pilot played by Dwight Schultz in the original.
"I like John Singleton and the script's pretty good -- it's actually funny," says Harrelson. "It doesn't take itself too seriously. It's got quite a bit of good humor and quite a bit of excitement -- one of those fast-paced, edge-of-your seat kinds of rides." Still, he's not quite ready to commit, however. "I'm just really kinda going slow about making decisions and doing the next thing," he says. "I think I had a little period in my life where I'd say yes too easily to something or I'd get involved in something where I was like, 'Oh jeez, what am I doing?'"
I'll soon be wondering the same thing. As our interview draws to a close, Harrelson graciously offers me a bite of his lunch, all of which is prepared according to his "living food philosophy": raw, unprocessed and uncooked. "Anything cooked over 118 degrees for over a minute destroys all the enzymes and most of the nutritional value of the food," he explans. "The enzymes are the life force of the food, so it's really almost more important than any other aspect."
I bite into a substance I'm told is some sort of ravioli, but could more aptly be described as the most disgusting food I've ever tasted in my life. Not wanting to leave with a bad taste in my mouth, I wash it down with some diet coke, smile meekly and politely show myself the door.
I won't be ditching my microwave anytime soon.
Semi-Pro opens Friday, February 29th. The Grand opens March 21st.
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