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Woody Harrelson’s ‘little well of anger’

The laidback star discusses playing mean and nasty for ‘Seven Psychopaths.’

Woody Harrelson is not a violent man, but he'll happily play one onscreen -- especially if it's for writer-director Martin McDonagh. In McDonagh's latest, "Seven Psychopaths," Harrelson stars as a crime boss at the end of his rope after his beloved shih tzu is dog-napped by some petty con men (played by Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell). For Harrelson, the role meant finally correcting a previous mistake of turning down the chance to work for McDonagh.

The movie offers several definitions of a psychopath. What's yours?

Probably they're just as unique and as individual as flowers. [He picks up a vase on the table, sniffs the flowers and laughs.] But you know, I guess that it's meant to be that they're all individuals and they defy stereotypes. Martin McDonagh is never going to be easily stereotyped or categorized.

What made you want to work with Martin?

Well, I've been a fan of his for quite a long time, before he made any movies. I was working on this decade-long project, this screenplay to take place entirely in Ireland, so I wanted to meet him because I inquired about the best Irish playwright. Although I guess he's a little bit Irish and a little bit English. But anyway, so I was in Dublin and he flew in from London and we hung out and we had an incredible time. And then we stayed friends, and at the time he was writing this play called "Pillowman," and then he offered me the lead role, the one that Billy Crudup ended up playing. I read it and I thought, well, it's too bad. This guy is such a genius and he's always great at this ability to juxtapose light and dark in such a way that it just makes you laugh. And in this case I felt like the dark had overpowered the light, so I didn't do the play. And I went and saw it and I was just like, "This is one of the best productions I've ever seen. Of anything." So I was really pissed at myself for not doing that. Now, I certainly wasn't going to pass up the chance to work with him again.

You're not a terribly angry or violent person in real life, but you play those types so well.

It does seem to just come pretty easy. I think you'll find this is true with most actors: You're going to find a pocket, a little well of anger in there. I've certainly found it to be true. And by the same token, actors are some of the funnest people to hang out with, but there's always that little pool of anger ready to bubble up. I suppose it comes in handy at times like these.

As long as it doesn't get you in trouble.

Well. From your lips to God's ears on that one.

Woody the animal-lover

Being a dog-lover himself, it wasn’t difficult for Woody Harrelson to connect with the pooch-obsessed gangster he plays in “Seven Psychopaths,” who goes to great lengths to retrieve a stolen shih tzu named Bonnie.

“I have one now that I’m that attached to,” Harrelson tells Metro. “She’s half pit-bull, and we have yet to determine what the other half is. We don’t know for sure. But she’s a beauty. We call her Snowy, and she’s really a lot of fun. And if I lost her, I can say that I would lose my mind. I can’t imagine what that would be like. It was just hard, like, I left yesterday from Maui, and just saying goodbye to her was … ugh.”

 
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