Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Heart Woody Harrelson

Who would have thought the actor playing the bumpkin from Indiana on the legendary TV sitcom Cheers would have have such a lengthy and diverse career? That actor was Woody Harrelson and no one would have guessed his mostly one-note character of Woody Boyd would lead to an Oscar nomination (The People Vs. Larry Flynt), comedies, dramas and even environmentally friendly documentaries. But that's precisely what has happened with Harrelson.

One skill that Harrelson possesses that was evident on Cheers is his gift of comic timing. The use of pauses, line delivery, double takes and so on is something some actors can do and others can not. These little things are most visible in comedies where timing is important to mining laughs. Harrelson draws upon his earnestness and honesty when in dramas to give quality performances in those as well.

Harrelson's most obvious trait is his likability. Most of the people he plays have a plain spoken directness that make the characters likable (aside from Mickey Knox in Natural Born Killers--although even that was a pretty likable guy who just liked to kill people). Even though he's had a long career with roles in comedy, drama, support or leading, he's still kind of under appreciated or underrated as an actor.

Harrelson is also a bit of an activist for the environment and other subjects that have led to his arrest a few times for his beliefs. He's embraced a raw food diet as well and some of these interests feature in the 2003 documentary Go Further which follows Harrelson and friends on a bio-fueled bus, riding bikes, dissing meat and their journey to spread the message. While I don't agree with Harrelson in all his convictions (especially that crazy raw food thing!) I admire the passion he has for non-acting pursuits that might take him away from his "career."

Here are some Harrelson films I like that show the wide range of comedy and drama that he's done over the years. In some of the them he's the lead and in others he is a supporting character. White Men Can't Jump, The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Doc Hollywood, No Country for Old Men, Natural Born Killers, Prairy Home Companion, Kingpin, The Hi-Lo Country and Welcome to Sarajevo. If you haven't seen some of these or paid attention to the performances of Harrelson over the years--I think you might be pleasantly surprised by him as an actor and a screen presence.


Brandon said...

I just saw Battle In Seattle and he was pretty good in it. I've always liked him too, but I will say that there are some movies where he is almost distracting. I don't know why, but I have a hard time seeing him as anybody but Woody Harrelson. Like he's doing a cameo in many films.

Replicant said...

I was hoping BATTLE IN SEATTLE was a documentary...I think a lot of actors have that problem with changing the role outside their "persona."