Woody Harrelson wants to know if we can do our interview in Mexico. Problem is, we’re already in the Bahamas. I’ve flown here to meet up with Harrelson for a couple of days at the tail end of a press junket for his latest film, the jewel-heist comedy After the Sunset. But apparently his costar Salma Hayek has just invited him to return to Mexico with her.
Woody’s never been to Mexico. He’d like to see Mexico. And more to the point, he’d like to fly on a private jet to see Mexico with Salma Hayek. He wants to know if I’d be willing to tag along. Uhh, hell yeah.
Later that day, Harrelson and I are still in the Bahamas, stretched out on a pair of lounge chairs on the beach as the pink sun begins to drop below the turquoise horizon. He’s a bit bummed that the Mexican boondoggle didn’t pan out. But we would have had to take off before his junket duties were officially completed, and the studio told him it would’ve been irresponsible to go.
Harrelson chews over the word in his slow Texas drawl as if it’s something sour. He’s 43, but he’s got the look on his face of a kid who’s just been told that he has to wait an hour after lunch to go back into the pool. Still, we’ll make the best of it, he assures me. There are worse places to be stuck than the Bahamas.
The next morning, Harrelson shows up a bit late in a pair of khaki-colored hemp shorts and an olive green hemp shirt. The thinning blond hair on his head is swept up like tiny wisps of cotton candy and his blue eyes are hard to make out behind heavy eyelids. He looks like he just rolled out of bed or the back of Jeff Spicoli’s van.
He insists it’s the former. He was out late last night with his personal raw-food chef Wayne and Sunset director Brett Ratner, getting fleeced at the blackjack tables. Not that he seems pained by the beating. After all, he’d borrowed his $1,000 stake from Ratner. When I ask if he plans to pay him back, Harrelson laughs. ”I’ll have to remember to do that,” he says in a way that suggests he’s already forgotten.
After walking along the beach for 45 minutes in the 90-degree heat, we’re both dripping with sweat. I ask Woody where we’re headed. A sly grin spreads across his face. ”It’s a bit of a walk, dude. We’re not even a third of the way there yet!” He points to a speck on the horizon several coves away. It’s the house he rented while shooting Sunset — which, as strange as it may seem, is Harrelson’s first starring role in a studio film in five years.
And since few people saw Harrelson’s last big-studio star turn, the 1999 boxing comedy Play It to the Bone, with Antonio Banderas, and only a handful caught the two before that, EDtv and The Hi-Lo Country, it’s really been closer to seven or eight years since Harrelson’s been more than a blip on the radar. Back then the questions focused more on the then-hot actor’s Oscar nomination for The People vs. Larry Flynt — a film that was protested by both the right and the left — and the tinderbox he sparked on Politically Incorrect by advocating the legalization of marijuana. Now he has to deal with a different set of questions, like why he backed off.
”Well, it was a confluence of things,” he says, diving right into it. ”When I finally got to the point that I showed I could do a larger range of things, other factors crept in. Natural Born Killers should have been bigger, but that got so much backlash. I was devastated by the backlash against Larry Flynt because I thought that was maybe the best movie I ever was a part of. Even Money Train, Bob Dole came out against it because there was a copycat thing that happened [when a Brooklyn subway booth was doused in lighter fluid, it echoed a scene in the film]. So when those weren’t big hits, the studio offers slowed a bit. It just affected the way I thought about the business.”