Mr. Harrelson, You seem to be in one film after the next at the moment. First Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, then Solo: A Star Wars Story. The Marvel film Venom is obviously lined up for the fall. A bit much, wouldn’t you say?
Tell me about it. I have been overworking. There should be a limit on how many movies an actor can do. Because at some point you are going to burn out and people are going to burn out on you.
That doesn’t seem to slow some actors down …
I’ve noticed, but I couldn’t do that. First, your kids deserve to have you around and you are going to be around less if you’re working all the time. And second, I am lazy by nature. I could lie in bed until 1 p.m. and then mosy down to the yard, maybe pick a mango before going next door to see my buddy, the country star Willie Nelson.
Do you really sometimes spend all morning in bed?
No, I get up at dawn when I haven’t just spent the whole night playing poker with Willie. I really don’t want to be doing so many films, but then I’m getting offers I’d be a fool to turn down. This year, I’m finally going to take a real break.
What form will that take?
I’ll do a friendship tour, in other words, visit lots of my good friends. Then I’d like to travel Europe with my family and most of all, spend some more time in Italy. I’d like to learn to speak Italian! I also want to start playing a couple of instruments, get a good piano teacher, a good guitar teacher. Plus, I feel I need to be active and doing something to counter the bullshit that is going on. I am totally against fracking – I want to see how I can help with that.
You used to be a real activist, refused to pay your taxes for a while and even climbed onto the Golden Gate Bridge as an act of protest …
I would like to do more but with shooting nonstop recently, I haven’t been able to. Also, everything I have done, it just cost me a lot and achieved nothing. It’s a really corrupt system. That’s why I have become a bit cynical.
Do you feel threatened?
I resist the feeling. No one who’s as lucky as I am has a right to be cynical. Luckily, I have my family, which makes me hopeful. What they do comes more from the heart than the head. And there’s a young generation growing up and they are coming from a very pure perspective. It’s not connected to economics. These kids give me hope that finally, a change will happen.
What else helps you to overcome your cynicism?
I like doing things that scare me a little every once in a while, it’s good for you.
What, for instance?
One time I was bus surfing with a friend. There’s an opening in the top of the bus to get back down, and he jumped down, and then I started jumping down, but then I kind of sat for a moment and I was looking down at him and he said, “Come on man, let’s go,” and as I jumped, I felt the woosh right next to my head of a bridge that would have clipped me. Another time, I was going around a race track and went off it – going 105 miles an hour. Everybody who saw it thought it was a fatality. Somehow it’s never my time.
You certainly don’t seem like the typical, smooth Hollywood star.
That depends on which ones you mean. There are a lot who would strangle their grandmother to be a big success, but I’ve also met a lot of phenomenally cool people in Hollywood. I never felt like I was part of the Hollywood set, though. I don’t have the desire to be the biggest star in the world, either. I’ve really always felt like an outsider. Even if I always had friends, I never belonged to a particular set – and anyway, now I live a few thousand miles away from Hollywood, on Hawaii.
What made you want to become an actor?
It had to do with Elvis Presley dying. I bought myself Elvis’ Golden Oldies and learned them all by heart. One day, I was in the high school library and some of my buddies from the football team were telling me to do my Elvis, and the next thing I know I’m singing it in front of a whole crowd. And they started clapping and singing, and when I jumped up on the table they went crazy. And then this girl walked up after the song, Robin Rogers, and said, “I want you to come down and look at the theater. Think about doing a play. I was like: Oh absolutely, I will do that. Because I thought Robin Rogers was quite a catch. That’s when I realized I couldn’t imagine a much better job except maybe rock ’n’ roll star.
I couldn’t imagine a much better job except maybe rock ’n’ roll star
You left the spotlight for a while in the late 1990s. Were you suffering from burnout?
Something like that. It felt to me like there was no end to the films. When you work 12 to 14-hour days, five, six days a week for month after month, year after year, at some point you stop enjoying it. I was also really disillusioned by all the hype around Larry Flynt.
But you were up for an Oscar for the role of porn king.
Yes, but weird things happened; there was a definite smear campaign that really harmed the movie. It was good to take time off after that, if longer than expected, five or six years. Then I came back and it was like starting at ground zero. Luckily my agent got me a couple of projects.
Did you worry about money during your time out?
That’s not something I worry about. I have only one movie that I did mostly for the paycheck. I don’t see success as something that makes you happy. Happiness makes you a success.
And what makes you happy?
I still have the zest of life, feel spontaneous and in the moment – like a boy even if I have matured some. When I feel weird, it’s good to get out and play some kind of sport. I also try to meditate, but don’t always succeed. There are too many distractions in my life, although they can also give me positive feelings – especially when my three daughters are the distraction.
Are you a role model for them?
Luckily not. I am a great example for my daughters for what not to do. But they are strong and tough, they see through falseness. At the same time, they are optimistic and open.