Lots of actors, when called upon to plump a fellow actor, do so perfunctorily, if at all. In Harrelson's case, the difference is palpable.
"Oh, his stony little nature!" says Juliette Lewis, his costar in Natural Born Killers. "He's disarming. He's funny as hell. But he also has this other side, this intensity and a stillness. He has everything. I think he's great."
"He'd get into fights, he'd get his car stolen. There wasn't a woman in town he hadn't, um, met," recalls Ted Danson. "At the same time, he'd write poetry and plays. He's just got this huge heart. You could never pigeonhole him. He's just a wonderful combination of, I don't know, I just love him. I love him from the bottom of my heart, almost irrationally so."
"There's only one Woody Harrelson," says 'Natural Born Killers' director Oliver Stone. "I can just see him at the age of 95, with a Nick Nolte voice, hanging out in Tucson, at a bus station with a blanket on him, squaw man. He's an original."
"He's what we in Brooklyn call a stand-up guy," says Rosie Perez, his costar in 'White Men Can't Jump.' "He's just so laid-back and fucking hilarious. But if you were to piss him off, get ready, because he would go there. He has a very strong sense of right and wrong. There's not one phony bone in his body."
All these people obviously care, and care deeply, about Harrelson. He's loved. He's loved a lot. And all just for who he is.
Later on, a mist begins to settle on the balcony. Harrelson grabs his lighter and pads inside, flops down on a couch, lights the same joint again, does the second half. A moment later, he's up again and standing by the glass door. Across the way, starlings, hundreds of them, maybe even thousands, have gathered into a murmuration and are sweeping across the sky as one. "Wow," he says, "that's incredible. Now watch. They're going to come back around. It's almost like they're doing a circle." But then they break the circle, flinging themselves up and across, fanning out, like brushstrokes on canvas. Harrelson is enthralled.
"They're going on a little joyride. I bet it really is that. Like just a fun thing for them." They reverse directions. "Oh, dude. Oh, my. Oh, you guys are showing off now. I guess I would too if I was you."
He stands there for a while longer, happy in the mystery, ascribing to the starlings what has often been ascribed to him, the way he approaches life as a kind of joyride, doing what he does just because he wants to, with others standing back and watching, thinking they would too if they were him. Wouldn't that be nice. But what's born in a bird is both born and bred in a man.
He sits back down, doesn't turn on the lights. It's almost dark in the room. He seems to be quite stoned, the cadence of his voice slowing almost to drops of molasses. Although he doesn't like to talk about his father, he will, for a while longer. "One cool thing that happened: He was, at the time, in Huntsville – no, I think it was Atlanta. They'd vote on what to watch, and they used to always vote for this other show that was on at the same time 'Cheers' was on. My father never told anybody I was on it. Somehow, someone got wind of it, told everybody, and every Thursday night after that, they voted 'Cheers' unanimously. That's one of the cool things that happened."
"Was he a guy who could say he loved you?"
"Oh, yeah, every single time I saw him, every letter he sent me." Another instance of love. He lets that settle and narrows his eyes, their centers turning hard as BBs. Something in him has shifted. "How much of this is going to be about my dad?" he says. "I feel like it's going for sensationalism, plain and simple." And just like that, all the light that had surrounded Woody just a few hours earlier falls away. He sits in the shadows and stares right straight ahead, straight through what's in front of him, and shuts down almost entirely, brushing off all attempts at day-saving frivolity.
"So, Woody, are you ticklish?"
"All the typical places."
The air becomes so thick with weirdness that the only thing you can do is blink and try to address the situation half directly. "Woody, what kind of mood are you in right now?"
He doesn't answer. Lifetimes come and go. Eons pass. At last, he says, "Fair." And frankly, when he says that, the way he says it – flatly, blankly, with no emotion whatsoever – it's almost enough to make you jump out of your skin and flee.
Harrelson is wrong, though. Nothing about all this is about his father. It's about him and how he has managed. And just how he has managed – he once said he'd been through stuff that would crush most men – is one of the greatest of great things about him. Look at him now, suffering memories in an unlit room, having successfully overcome the urge, no doubt, to beat the shit out of somebody. All those fights, that quick-sprung temper, remanded to corners elsewhere. Later, he draws a self-portrait. He draws himself in profile, just a few scattered lines, a nose, a chin, an eye, with the rest of himself hidden from view. "I didn't put that stuff in there," he says plainly. "Just pretend it's inside a doorway. Just pretend there's a doorway there." The way Harrelson seems to see it, anything is possible. All he asks is that you keep an open mind.