Woody Harrelson discusses career from 'Cheers' to 'Hunger Games'

Studio 360

Actor Woody Harrelson reacts during the announcement of the nominations for the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards in the Beverly Hills, Calif., Dec. 15, 2011. (Photo by Gus Ruelas/Reuters.)

Who would have thought that the fresh-faced, dopey bartender on the TV show Cheers would turn into one of the most versatile, prolific actors of his time?

Woody Harrelson has played a stone-faced Marine, a porn king and a sociopathic criminal. But now he's taking his talents to Off-Broadway where he's taking on two new roles: playwright and director.

Harrelson's play, Bullet for Adolf is loosely based on Harrelson’s life: it’s set during a summer of hard partying, while working construction in Houston. During that summer, he met his friend Frankie Hyman, with whom he wrote the play.

The show is a throwback to the early 1980s, with big, broad laughs.

“The humor is often a challenging humor,” he said. “Like, we challenge you to laugh at this.”

Writing has come slowly to Harrelson.

“I have to fight my laziness. It's a real battle,” he said. “One of the best attributes a writer can have is to be hungry. I haven't really been hungry, I've had a cushy life.”

Not really that cushy, though. Harrelson paid his dues, pounding the pavement in search of an agent, understudying on Broadway, and persevering through bad advice.

“When I had just moved to New York, I met with a casting person or an agent, and the guy said, ‘You will never work if you don't get that space filled between your teeth,’” he recalled. 

Harrelson has become famous for his support for legalizing marijuana and embracing veganism.

“I do believe in healthy eating,” he said, “but I find that it’s very hard to preach to people. You stand between someone and their meat, it can get very uncomfortable.”

But he’s enjoyed playing characters unlike himself, including the Republican political strategist Steve Schmidt in the HBO movie Game Change.

“We are kind of diametrically opposed; there's certain issues we can't really discuss. But we did become friends,” he said. “And I'm really proud to have gotten to play him. I think he's a cut above the average political person I've met. You know, the average political person I've met is a cut below most paparazzi.”

Listen to Harrelson talk about how he very nearly passed on the role of Haymitch in The Hunger Games at Studio360.org.