Woody Harrelson Charms URI Students at Film Screening

This feature story is written by student, Kaileigh McCarthy (JOR 321/instructor Liz Rau)

The actor Woody Harrelson had plenty to say about his new film, “Lost in London,” during a screening at the University of Rhode Island recently, but he was mum on his latest venture: a role in the new Star Wars movie.

Asked what kind of pressure he endured from producers to keep quiet, the three-time Oscar-nominated actor best known as the dim-witted barkeeper in the TV sitcom “Cheers,” joked to the crowd of about 100 at Edwards Auditorium, “I can’t tell you. There’s storm troopers outside.”

Harrelson’s Star Wars flick comes out May 25, but these days his focus is on publicizing his brainchild, a film based on what he calls “embarrassing” experiences in his life. The movie takes place in London with Harrelson playing the role of a husband who struggles with losing his wife when a newspaper article surfaces of him in an orgy with three women he met at a bar. The film culminates with Harrelson spending a night in jail.

After the viewing, Keith Brown, a professor of film/media at the Harrington School of Communication and Media, peppered Harrelson with questions, and audience members had plenty to ask too.
“Advice for students, because I know a lot of times students sort of focusing on the arts are told don’t do that, there’s no money in it,” said Brown. “Do you have any advice for those kids?”

“Don’t do what?” asked Harrelson.

“Don’t major in a field like that. Go be a doctor,” said Brown.

“Like English or theater? Yeah, I agree with that,” Harrelson replied, as the crowd burst into laughter.

One student asked about the Texan’s experience playing Woody in “Cheers,” and whether he had a favorite episode. His answer: The finale.

After the critically-acclaimed sitcom, Harrelson landed big roles in movies like “Natural Born Killers,” “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” and “No Country For Old Men,” where he played a contract killer hunting a contract killer—a role that hit close to home.

Born in Midland, Texas in 1961, Harrelson moved with his family to Lebanon, Ohio where he attended high school and spent much of his time working as a woodcarver at Kings Island amusement park. He attended Hanover College in Indiana to earn a bachelor’s degree in theater and English.

Although Harrelson’s warm humor and laid-back persona suggest a nurturing childhood, his experience was the opposite. His father was a convicted contract killer who received a life sentence for the murder of Federal Judge John H. Wood Jr. in 1979 in San Antonio. He died in the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in 2007.

That heartache did not stop Harrelson from pursuing his dreams.

URI student Harrison Dolan took the microphone and bluntly asked: “I make music. That’s kind of my goal. That’s where I want to go. When you were my age how did you have the patience to just wait it out and wait for the pieces to come together? How long did it take?”

“I don’t think it’s so much a matter of waiting,” said Harrelson. “I think you got to get pretty active with your writing and working and hope that people eventually like what you do.”