It likely doesn’t come as a surprise that Woody Harrelson is a weed fan. At The Woods, the cannabis dispensary he co-owns in West Hollywood, his dream has come true – a lush and welcoming space complete with a koi pond and macaws. “It’s just a little dream of what a great dispensary could be,” he said.
It is not a place young Woody Harrelson, raised by his mother in a deeply-religious Presbyterian household in rural Ohio, ever expected to be, let alone own. To hear him describe his mother, “She’d be sitting there, she’d have her coffee and cigarette and everything in the morning, you know. And she’d be like, ‘Son, if I ever hear that you’re smoking marijuana … it’ll just kill me!’“
Now 61 years old, Harrelson’s day job remains the same. He’s spent the last 38 years yo-yo-ing back and forth between TV and movies, comedy and drama. Versatility is his calling card.
“I’ve always been much more partial to the more indie spirit, you know, the movies that have this kind of deep heart,” he said. And “Champions,” his latest, “definitely has heart.”
Harrelson plays a prickly but charming basketball coach with NBA dreams, who finds himself coaching a team of players with intellectual disabilities called “The Friends.” Before the first day of shooting, director Bobby Farrelly (whom Harrelson first worked with 27 years ago on “Kingpin”) told him the first scene he’d shoot, when his character meets the team for the first time, would be almost entirely improv.
“To just throw things out and see how it goes? It just kind of freaked me,” Harrelson said. “I didn’t sleep. And then I went in there, I meet these guys, and they are just awesome. I just had the best – I love them. They’re just all incredible people and phenomenal senses of humor, which really comes through.”
To watch a trailer for “Champions” click on the video player below:
Harrelson’s sense of humor has been on display since he made his screen debut on the fourth season of “Cheers” in 1985. But it’s the laugh he got one day in his high school library that hooked him on show business: “The guys on the football team who had heard me do it before, they’re like, ‘Woody, do your Elvis.’ And I’m like, ‘Kidding me? This place is packed. I can’t do my Elvis.’ ‘Yeah, but just do it quietly.’ They convinced me. And so I’m like, I started off kind of soft: Well, a-bless my soul, what’s wrong with me? I’m itching like a man on a fuzzy tree.
“And before you know it, I’m in the middle of a circle, the entire library, including the librarian, has gathered around and they’re, like, clapping. And at the end of it, it was unbelievable. Like, everybody was applauding. And the feeling of that – like they say, that feeling that you get from that applause – that’s what makes you say, this is it.“
He’s been at “it” ever since. He studied theater in college. Though after getting his big break, he wasn’t sure there was life after “Cheers.” “I thought that was just going to be my career, because six years in I hadn’t done any other part. And back then it was much harder to jump off of television into movies. Now, it’s kind of an open door, both directions.”
He’s gone through that revolving door multiple times, from TV to movies and back again. Along the way, there have been a couple of whiffs.
Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz asked, “You turn stuff down a lot, right? Or you have?”
“Well, I should! No, I do, of course.”
“But ‘Jerry Maguire’?”
“Yeah. Yeah, that was – that a blunder,” he said. “And then, like, two days later, I hear Tom Cruise is doing it, and I’m like, Oh, I might have f****d that up!“
There haven’t been many mistakes. He has an Emmy for “Cheers,” three Oscar nominations, and a film he made last year, “Triangle of Sadness,” is nominated for best picture.
Watch a scene from “Triangle of Sadness,” in which a luxury yacht captain (Woody Harrelson) engages with his rich and demanding passengers:
When he’s not working, the father of three girls lives in Maui and Texas with his wife, Laura.
But wherever he is, he always seems to be in Woodyville.
Mankiewicz said, “You’re a vegan. You’re an environmentalist. You’re a cannabis advocate. But you seem to know, you don’t want to bully other people into your ways of thinking, even though you feel passionate about it.”
“Well, I never noticed that preaching works,” Harrelson said. “Like me trying to tell someone, ‘Don’t eat that cheese,’ has never, ever worked.”
What works for Woody changes. For a while a few years back, he even gave up weed! “I wanted to be emotionally available,” he explained, “to my family, to my friends. It was a good experiment.”
His longtime pal and fellow toker Willie Nelson brought that experiment to an end at one of their regular poker games: “Willie would always act like he didn’t know that I quit. I’m saying for, like, the fifth time that day, ‘I quit, you know?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, oh.’ I win a big hand. He hands it right to me, and I just grab it and I take a big toke, and he goes, ‘Welcome home, son!’
“I got to say, even when basically I came out of the closet on the herb thing, it was not a happy, frolicking, fun response.”
“Do you think it hurt your career for a bit?” asked Mankiewicz.
“Eh, yeah. I don’t think it helped!”
That was 25 or so years ago. In 2023, the world has finally caught up to Woody Harrelson. He said, “People are just anxious to put you in a little box in this industry, you know? I’m the year of the ox, you know, just slowly I trudge along. I’m not the fastest animal out there, but I keep going!”
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Story produced by Amol Mhatre and Aria Shavelson. Editor: Mike Levine.