Role Recall: Woody Harrelson on identifying with 'Cheers' character, learning to dunk, and what he really thinks of Jennifer Lawrence

·Editor-in-Chief, Yahoo Entertainment
·5 min read

Over the course of a wildly successful, widely diverse three-plus decades, Woody Harrelson has held down the tap on Cheers, proved white men can jump, and managed to survive The Hunger Games, winning an Emmy and receiving two Oscar nods along the way. The 56-year-old Texas native has two major films out this month — the Rob Reiner-helmed biopic LBJ, in which he’s virtually unrecognizable as the 36th president, and the Oscar-buzzing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, where he plays a local sheriff under siege from a mother who wants justice for her murdered daughter — and has recently wrapped filming on 2018’s surefire blockbuster Solo: A Star Wars Story. Yahoo Entertainment recently sat down with Harrelson for a guided tour of his greatest hits in the latest edition of our Role Recall series. Some highlights:

Cheers (1985-93)
Harrelson’s breakout role came in the classic NBC sitcom, where he joined the ensemble in 1985 as the kind yet dimwitted bartender Woody Boyd. “It was a friend of mine who told me there was this part you should go try out for,” Harrelson explains. “The part’s named Woody, he’s from Indiana, where we had gone to college, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’

“There was a lot about Woody Boyd that I resonated with. And though I didn’t think I was very innocent at the time, I probably was pretty innocent. It was the first time I really broke out of anonymity — and poverty.”

White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
Harrelson really couldn’t jump for the Ron Shelton comedy about two basketball hustlers, a fact that resulted in endless taunting (and wagering) from co-star Wesley Snipes. “That was one of the funnest times I ever had doing a movie. I remember having an actual contest with Wes where I was trying to dunk. We were betting, and I was losing. Then he went to his trailer … and this [crew member] told me, ‘Why don’t you ever stretch?’ This is my first introduction to yoga,” Harrelson recalls, “and I started stretching, and the next thing you know I could dunk the ball. This is on a nine-and-a-half-foot rim, by the way; I couldn’t do it on a 10-foot rim. … He came out of his trailer, and I pretended I couldn’t, and we upped the bet and upped the bet and then slammed it. I’ll never forget the look on Wes’s face: It was joyous.”

Indecent Proposal (1993)
This extremely popular, extremely un-PC film starred Robert Redford as a mogul who offers Harrelson’s character $1 million for a night with his wife, played by Demi Moore. “My mom was pretty psyched,” says Harrelson. “She didn’t come to visit me on set much, but since Robert Redford was in the movie, she came to the set for sure. She was like a little girl. It was fantastic.”

Natural Born Killers (1994)
Harrelson and Juliette Lewis played a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde in Oliver Stone’s graphically violent road-trip movie that polarized audiences upon its release. “I didn’t know it would be that controversial. It was very controversial,” says Harrelson. “People are like, ‘Do you like doing controversial movies?’ I’m like, ‘Hell, no. I like doing movies people would go see, not movies people are boycotting.'”

The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
Harrelson reteamed with Stone and earned his first Oscar nomination playing Hustler magnate Larry Flynt in this biopic. “I wouldn’t have been much into doing this movie if I hadn’t come to respect Larry. I don’t respect much the pornography part of what he does,” Harrelson quickly adds, “but what he is as a person, and the rebel that he is, and even what he did recently, offering $10 million for any information that leads to the impeachment of our so-called president … I’ve never met a more honest man.”

The Hunger Games (2012-15)
For the blockbuster four-film saga based on the bestselling book series, Harrelson played mentor to Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen. “I love Jen,” Harrelson says with a smile. “She’s absolutely hysterical. She’s her own person. I love who she is. I think she’s a tremendous actress, but even more so as a person, she’s one of my top favorite people in the world.”

True Detective (2014)
Harrelson and partner Matthew McConaughey both earned Emmy nominations for HBO’s esoteric mystery thriller. “Love working with Matthew; that’s the third thing we did together,” Harrelson says, ticking off their collaborations in EDtv and Surfer Dude. “He’s a hardcore committed guy. Man, what a performance.” But despite their good vibes on set and off, that doesn’t mean Harrelson wants to reprise their partnership for a follow-up season of True Detective. “I don’t see doing that, because it went really well the first time, and if you come back around to it, what else are you going to hear? ‘Not as good. Wasn’t as good. Boy, you guys were good before, but this time…’ I don’t want to hear that.”

Watch the complete Role Recall above.

Here’s Woody on why he almost didn’t appear in the upcoming Star Wars movie:

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