Star Power

Woody Harrelson Visits Ringling College of Art and Design

Harrelson talked about his new film, as well as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—for which he's nominated for an Oscar—and his dream collaboration.

By Megan McDonald February 1, 2018

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Woody Harrelson

Cheers. White Men Can't Jump. Indecent Proposal. The People vs. Larry Flynt. Game Change.  Zombieland. The Hunger Games. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

We all have our favorite Woody Harrelson movies and TV shows—which no doubt explains the crowd who showed up to hear him speak at Ringling College of Art and Design's soundstage facility on Monday night. Harrelson, whose film Three Billboards is nominated for a 2018 Academy Award, was here to discuss his film Lost in London. He came to the college as part of its 2017-18 Studio Lab season—presented in partnership with Semkhor Productions—and screened the entire movie for Ringling's filmmaking students, and clips of it for the audience at a public Q&A.

Since the inception of its film program, Ringling College has quickly become known in the entertainment industry as a place where actors, writers and directors can come to collaborate with students and produce professional-quality work. "It's cool," the laid-back Harrelson, who was dressed in a baseball cap and a hoodie, says of his experience at the college. "It's not just a pie-in-the-sky notion; [the students] are actually doing the work."

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Harrelson wrote, directed and stars in Lost in London, which is a based on a tumultuous night in his own life. He shot the 99-minute film in one long take, broadcasting it live into theaters at the same time. He shot in 14 locations with 26 actors (including Owen Wilson and Willie Nelson), 500 extras, 300 crew members and 26 sound people; there was a two-month rehearsal period. And while he's proud of the film, he's not shy about critiquing his work.

"If I did it again, I'd work harder as an actor," he says. "I was so focused on all the other stuff because there was so much to get ready. But honestly, I think I might have cast somebody else. It's too much to do all that."

As for whether he prefers writing, acting or directing, Harrelson says he finds them all fulfilling. "[Lost in London] started with the writing, and that never stopped until the very end. But I like directing—it's unbelievable, because I'm incredibly indecisive; like, I spend the longest time wondering whether I should wear the blue socks or the green socks. But with directing, I felt very decisive and confident. I'm definitely going to do it again."

This season, Harrelson is also nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. 

"I've worked with [director Martin McDonagh] twice—he's a true genius and a really great guy. I probably wouldn't have done this if it wasn't for him," Harrelson says. "And I thought this was a terrific script, but I don't think anyone would have guessed it would have turned out quite so amazing. Of all the movies I've done, the response that people have had to this is just incredible. It's such a powerful journey—you follow Frances [McDormand] and care about her; then Sam [Rockwell] does that magic act of you hate him, then you love him...the characters are so well formed."

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As for who he'd like to work with in the future, Harrelson says he'd love to work with Cate Blanchett—but that "of course, the greatest actor is retired now. I should have been more proactive, and then maybe I could have worked with Daniel Day-Lewis," he says. But in general, he explains, he takes projects as they come to him.

And when asked about his tips for aspiring screenwriters, Harrelson's advice was to go big or go home. "I think it's the same as acting—fortune favors the bold," he explains. "You might have something that's kind of working, but it's so much better if it's loaded with emotion. I think it's good to just kind of go for it."

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