Woody Harrelson is no stranger to eccentric characters; he’s played serial killers, pornographers, vigilante superheroes, and stoic zombie hunters. In The Hunger Games, he’s Haymitch Abernathy, an alcoholic former Hunger Games winner who mentors two young participants in the fine art of gladiatorial survival. In an interview with RT, the Oscar-nominated actor shared his favorite movies, and discussed his aversion to movie franchises and hi-jinks on the set of Hunger Games.
Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg, 1967; 100% Tomatometer)
Then The Graduate. It’s just one of the greatest comedies of all time. The way Dustin Hoffman is… You know, I guess that was his first big break and he just blew me away when I first saw that. Extraordinary performance, and you know, Mike Nichols. Just amazing, the way it’s shot; it’s just absolutely beautiful. And also, an incredible, quirky kind of love story.
And I’d put One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on the list. I think it’s one of the great performances of Jack Nicholson. And also, kind of being up against the system, and trying to fight the system, the power structures that exist around him, and his fight for integrity and to bring some positivity to the other… I guess you’d call them inmates, in a sense, in the loony bin. I mean, to me, it’s just some of the best acting and some of the most inspiring — you know, with Milos Forman at the helm — one of the most inspiring stories.
Next, Harelson talks about hijinks on the set and his aversion to movie franchises.
You’ve been in movies that traverse apocalyptic wastelands — you know, Natural Born Killers and Zombieland — but you’ve also been in sports movies, like White Men Can’t Jump and Kingpin. Are you happy that finally they made a movie that brings both of those genres together?
Woody Harrelson: [laughs] Oh, yeah, I’m psyched about it. I get a sense that it’s going to be a great film. I haven’t seen it yet, but everything I saw when we were shooting, as well as what I’ve heard from people who have seen it, I think it’ll be pretty amazing.
You’ve never really been a franchise-movie guy before. What about The Hunger Games appealed to you?
Yeah, I mean, even the word “franchise” makes me shudder a little bit, but this isn’t necessarily a franchise because the first one has to do well before they’re going to make a second one. But, you know, I read the books. I thought the books were just amazing and captivating, and to work with Gary Ross was also really alluring, because I think he’s a tremendous director. It kind of had everything. And a cool part, you know?
So you read the books. How much research do you do before taking on a role? For, say, Rampart, did you hang out with cops?
Oh, yeah. You know, I live in Hawaii, so I left, came into LA about a month, a month and a half before shooting just to do all that prep stuff. I tried to immerse myself in it, and hanging out with the cops was a really cool, helpful thing, and that probably helped me more than anything.
If you’re doing something like The Hunger Games, aside from reading the books, what do you do to research or prepare?
For The Hunger Games? Yeah, I read all the books, of course. I just tried to get a real sense of the character, and what wasn’t there in the book — I mean, that’s a pretty great tool — but what wasn’t there or what went outside of that, you kind of use your imagination for. But I guess a lot of the… You know, there were things that are going on between Gary and I, trying to figure out, “Well, you know, you played him really drunk in the last scene; why don’t you modify it a little bit here?” You know, always trying to get the right pitch for how inebriated Abernathy should be.
Did you bond with the other actors when you were making the film?
Oh, yeah. You know, I love these guys. Josh [Hutcherson] is… I’ve never seen a more cocksure 19-year-old in my life. He really is sure of himself and confident and smart and savvy and fun and cool, and not… You know, no matter how much press he gets, I can’t see him getting a big head about it. He’s really talented, and I do think the sky’s the limit, but I think he’s just going to remain one of the nicest guys I know. And Jen [Jennifer Lawrence] too, Jen was a lot of fun. They’re hysterical. It was just great hanging with these guys. They’d cut up all the time on set, and they’d always go into different characters, or pretending to be kittens playing with each other. Just wonderful fun.
The Hunger Games opens in theaters this week.