Two months ago, Woody Harrelson sat down with Moviefone to talk about "The Hunger Games," including his inspiration for Haymitch Abernathy's look, why he first turned down the role, and why he ultimately said yes to his first big franchise film. He also responded to co-star Elizabeth Banks's ideas that her character, Effie, has a crush on Haymitch and Banks's own crush on him.
I love Haymitch's wig in this movie. How did you come up with his look?
While I was in prep for Haymitch, I met up with my brother on a motorcycle. I hadn't seen him in a while. He rides up and we take off to where we're going. He takes off his helmet ... [mimes taking off his helmet and shaking a full head of hair] ... Haymitch! He had the scruff and all. And it was like, "Yes!" I knew I wanted to do something, but that just seemed perfect.
You got to work with Elizabeth Banks and annoy the heck out of her.
[Laughs] Yes. Did you talk to her?
Yes. And she said she worked out a whole backstory between your characters where Effie is crushing on Haymitch and Haymitch wants nothing to do with her.
That's so funny she said that! I just thought we had a little spite for each other. Like, I look at her as just this highfalutin dame in the Capitol who has no sense of reality or what's going on out in the districts. Haymitch is hard on her. That's not so much in the book, but it just felt right at the time. I haven't heard her side of it, which intrigues me.
Well, there are sequels, so you can explore that side of things. And she did say that in real-life, she has a crush on you.
[Grinning.] I wish she could have said something earlier!
You're definitely doing the next film?
Yeah, if they're back for the sequel, I guess I'll be obliged to do it.
How has it been, dealing with all the hype?
Yeah, already it's crazy, the hype is crazy. I've never been involved in anything like this before.
This is your first franchise movie.
Oh God, the sound of that. It's just in my own mind, I've always had a thing about "franchises," I guess.
So why did you say yes to "Hunger Games?"
Well, my initial interest was [director] Gary [Ross]. I really think he's a tremendous filmmaker. Then I started to become aware that this was a little more of a phenomenon than I realized. I knew people liked the book, but then ... Jesus! Ironically, I turned it down at first because I just didn't feel like there was that much to do. It wasn't an uninteresting part, I just didn't see the whole picture. So I turned it down, but I'd already started reading the book and got swept up in it. And Gary calls me and he says, "You gotta do this. I don't have a second choice." And I said, "OK. Well, let's do it then." I was really happy to do it because what a great experience it was to be hanging out with this cool group of people in North Carolina. Just the level of talent from every department, outstanding. Just makeup alone. Some of the most imaginative stuff I've ever seen. Particularly the stuff I saw in the Capitol. I wasn't there for the stuff they shot in Asheville, the Games themselves.
You play a mentor to these kids. Is that a role you've taken on in real life, too, like with younger actors?
Yeah, I think particularly with my kids, for example, I'm a great model of what not to do. So the same is true for other actors. Look at me, do the opposite.
You never took Jennifer Lawrence or Josh Hutcherson aside and gave them any career advice?
No, I don't feel like the kind of guy to tender advice on much of anything. I do sometimes lecture people about what they're eating, but that's only if they ask me. So any other subject, I don't feel much qualified to talk on. Certainly those guys don't need any help from me about acting or handling their career. That would be the only other thing I could talk to them about. They seem to be doing pretty good.
What do you think is the message of the movie?
I think it is about raising people's political awareness and it definitely has some issues with authority, which has some relevance to our present form of government. Although the one in the movie is a much more extreme form, I think it's a pretty powerful message. That's one of the reasons I think it resonates not just with kids, but with everybody.