STRIKING OUT IN PARADISE
Woody Harrelson Did What?
Cheers………>………Natural Born Killers
How does someone go from playing Woody Boyd in Cheers (Woody was called Woody!) to Mickey Knox, his character in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers?
I have no idea.
This essay has nothing to do with that. (Or maybe it has everything to do with that… we shall see.)
I met Woody on Rampart. This is how he and his Rampart co-star Robin Wright “destroyed” each other in a bowling alley one night after a particularly stressful day on the set.
NOTE: For a read to count, we have to scroll all the way to the end of the article and even to the stuff after the article. Just letting you know. :) 🙏🏽⬇︎❤️
Rewinding for a second: before working with Woody on Rampart, I had met him, for the first time, in Vegas.
Las Vegas, Baby!
Woody in Sin City? Hell yes!
Buckle up for a wild ride!
Insane in the membrane!
BOOM!! HERE WE GO!!
We met in Mandalay Bay! In the sedate waters of the kiddie pool…
…the one that veers off to the side of the wave pool. With our toddlers.
The wildest thing going on was when one of our kids got water in their eyes and cried for a towel. (It was my kid).
Our sons were splashing around in the knee-deep wading area when I spotted him and did what any fan would do.
Aren’t you Woody Harrelson?
Do I know you?
Just a fan.
Place is great, isn’t it?
I’m having more fun than he is, I said, pointing at my son, who was actually carrying his towel in the water.
Want a hit?
He held out his hand. I could barely see from where I was, 20 yards away, but we all know what he was offering me.
What happens in the kiddie pool stays in the kiddie pool.
Fast forward to Rampart, the Oren Moverman film based on the book about LAPD corruption by James Elroy. Through some relationships I was invited to work on the movie and now here we were, bowling.
A few of us hit the lanes, including Robin Wright (who mistook me for Spielberg half the night, I kid you not. It had to have been the hair because it certainly wasn’t my mansion full of Oscars.)
We had lanes for our group, I partnered with Woody in a head to head against Robin and her friend.
This was the man who played a pro bowler in Kingpin.
This was also the man who is such a terrible bowler that they had to use a stand-in for the actual bowling scenes (whereas Bill Murray on the other hand actually rolled those three strikes in the final match.)
When it was Woody’s turn to bowl, he went up, found his ball — not his-ball his-ball, it was one he found in the bowling alley and pulled off a rack — and approached his lane. He had improved a bit since Kingpin, but not much.
Robin laughs every time he bowls.
You have an awful release, she said. Your wrists are weak. It’s from being a vegan, she taunted him.
Aren’t you a vegan, too?
Don’t you jerk off? I mean it’s the same muscle.
Game on. These two were having fun tonight.
Woody smiles the entire time he’s up and likes to turn around before his ball hits the pins. How’d I do? he would ask. Everyone is watching him. Even other bowlers in the place, ones not with us, see him and tune in. He’s a star wherever he goes.
As we settled in, I asked him his advice about movies, tv projects, what attracts him to a script.
It’s not the script, it the story. The script is going to change. It’s the cliché thing to say, right, but that’s true. There are so many minds that will tangle with the script, but the story will still be there. That’s what I look for.
What kind of story attracts you? I asked.
The kind that’s set in paradise.
Robin heard us and said she’s not big on being away from home, but if she has to, it’s a better chance her saying yes if the place is on her bucket list, her production bucket list. A place she hasn’t shot yet.
Vacations for me are better if they are with purpose. Travel. Travel is better when you are plugged into a place. Like working. I can’t do a four day vacation anymore. I need to marinade in a place.
Woody went on: You want me to do a movie and it’s set in the Greek Isles and means I’ll be there for three months, I’m not too concerned with the story dynamics.
Those will work themselves out.
But if you re offering me a part where I gotta be in Pittsburgh or Fresno, you better have written a fucking masterpiece.
But you are both here doing Rampart in Central LA. Forgive me for saying, but that ain’t paradise.
They laughed and Woody took a thick gulp of a green drink he had brought with him. Woody only eats and drinks stuff that’s been prepared for him by his own chef.
Not for health reasons, it’s just simpler this way. I know what I’m having everyday no matter where I am. I’m not a big fan of menus. Of ordering. It’s a drain.
Robin teased again:
Everything’s a drain for you. Bowling, ordering off a menu. How do you have a rep for being a tough guy?
Not typecasting, that’s for sure, Woody said.
I only play psychos and weirdos, at home I’m a sweetheart.
At the bowling alley you’re a loser. What are we playing for? What did you say earlier? If you lose tonight, you would go behind the bar and serve everyone here in character from Cheers?
You’re up, he said.
Robin went to bowl and Woody turned to me.
She’s the best, isn’t she? What she doesn’t know is I paid the guy at the counter to override our scores so it comes out with me beating her by one pin.
He looked over toward the check-in counter and gave a one-eyed wink (as opposed to the less popular two-eyed wink) and a green-drink toast to his new best bud.
Robin rejoined us. She had nailed a strike. Woody congratulated her and smiled at me. His eyes shifted to the overhead screen where the scores were displayed.
His smirk betrayed him and Robin traced his glance up to the board.
Her frame was marked with a pair of gutter balls instead of the strike.
That’s not right! she said.
What do I get if I win? Woody asked her.
You’re not going to win.
It says I’m winning.
He was laughing as she was coming at him, playfully pounding on his chest.
I still have the handcuffs on me.
He was referencing the day’s scene where things had gotten violent to a whole other (still fake) level.
Maybe put them on yourself, it’ll improve your bowling.
I’ll make you a bet, Woody proposed. One frame. Whoever knocks down more pins wins. For every pin left standing, the loser has to stand on this plastic bench here and do one minute of the Chicken Dance.
She went first. She knocked over 9 pins and missed on her second ball.
Woody went up. He took his time, aimed, then looked back at her and without looking down the lane at all, threw out his arm and released the ball. It went into the gutter.
Robin made a show of clearing an area on the plastic bench.
Everyone around us was now aware of the bet.
Bawk bawk bawk. She was imitating a chicken. I think.
Woody retrieved his ball from the chute and put his hand over the air for a moment. Like a pro.
He approached the lane. All focus. In the zone.
He did a two-step stutter, extended his leg, arc’d his arm and released the ball smoothly on the floor of the lane. The ball went perfectly placed toward the head pin pocket on the right. This time Woody watched as all the pins fell.
A STRIKE! His first of the night.
He quietly turned, a wide smile dawning on his rosy cheeks. All mischief and glee.
Robin begged for double or nothing, to which Woody responded by holding out his hand to help her mount the plastic bench.
Ladies and Gentlemen, may we have your attention please. Miss Robin Wright is now going to do a one minute Chicken Dance for your entertainment! Step right up!
Robin slipped off her shoes and mounted the bench.
Woody provided musical accompaniment by mouth as Robin lifted her hands in the air, open and closed them four times like operating a puppet, tucked them and began flapping like a chicken, then wiggled her hips and shoulders and then started clapping in a pretty slick choreography.
Woody was roasting her the whole time:
That was pretty good, did you have to chicken dance for a part before?
You must go to a lot of weddings!
I’m gonna ask Oren to add this as a scene for your character tomorrow.
Then Woody got up on the bench next to Robin and pulled out all the stops. He became a chicken! His moves were as good as hers and together they were clucking remarkable. He amped it up higher and encouraged the entire place to join in. And everyone did! It was mad. It was a blast.
Everyone was laughing and nobody took themselves seriously, especially Robin, who knew in her heart she was the better bowler.
It occurred to me that this is how someone like Woody can go from playing a light comedy role on Cheers to embodying a dark Natural Born Killer. It’s all about being in the moment. He’s present, living fully.
He creates his own paradise wherever he is.
For the record, that’s the first time I’ve ever had to describe someone doing the chicken dance.