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Woody Harrelson Unplugged: Rampart's Feminist Agenda

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On the morning the Golden Globe nominations were announced, Woody Harrelson broke decorum, plugging his new film Rampart in which he plays an out-of-control cop. Not nominated, his testosterone-fueled performance nevertheless illustrates this Maui-based actor's ferocity, playing a character very little like his green (he grows his own produce), peace-loving, pot-smoking self. Just before opening, I caught up with Oren Moverman at the Gramercy Park Hotel restaurant where the Israeli-born Rampart writer/director filled in Woody's missing link.

How did you work with Woody Harrelson to get him that worked up and violent?

To be Dave Brown, Woody decided to transform his body. He lost something like 25 lbs. on a liquid diet. His body was starved, and when he started hanging out with cops, watching movies, he went into a very dark part of his psyche, to create the energy and fuel to become this guy. Once he was shooting with Ben (Foster) at Tommy's Burgers. We locked down Tommy's Burgers so no one could come in from the street. A woman in a wheelchair wanted her burgers and she was screaming. You know Woody as a peaceful and funny guy. He just started yelling at her to the point where I had to stop everything and calm him down. 'This guy is really getting to me,' he said, 'this is not me talking. I've turned into Dave Brown. I've got to get out of this.' He got into that head space through starvation and preparation. He just became the guy.

Is Dave Brown based on Rodney King?

The character came out of a lot of Rampart scandal testimonies pulled together by James Ellroy, who wrote the original story. It was never one person but an attitude and a way of carrying oneself. I've had people contact me to say, 'I knew Dave Brown' or 'I was Dave Brown.' I got a heartbreaking email from a guy who said he was part of the Rampart scandal and hated that he was. He was a cop who became a criminal. Now he turned himself around and is doing outreach work. He was very moved by the movie. I didn't see that coming.

Dave Brown is surrounded by lots of women, excellent actresses. He lives in a kind of harem with Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon; Robin Wright and Sigourney Weaver are superb. Was that your idea?

It started with Ellroy. He had a lot of female characters. Then I changed male characters to female. I wanted Dave Brown to be surrounded by women. Women are the only hope we have to save the world from Dave Browns. The idea of change, of pushing this kind of masculinity away can come from strong, optimistic women. The rookie at the beginning (Stella Schnabel) used to be a man but I thought it would be interesting to tell her, 'This used to be the way it was to be a cop.' Unlike some men he refuses to change.

Where does Dave Brown go?

By the end of the movie, the only thing he has going for him is the people watching. He's off to Purgatory. It doesn't matter. What matters is how we see him.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.