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Woody Harrelson Does Bad Pretty Good

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In the new drama Out of the Furnace, a young man (Casey Affleck) gets involved with a group of criminals and then goes missing. Determined to find him, his ex-con brother (Christian Bale) grabs a shotgun and sets off.

Actor Woody Harrelson, perhaps best known for his role as the bartender on Cheers, steps away from comedy to play a member of that group of criminals, a viscous meth addict and bookie named Harlan DeGroat.

Harrelson spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about the movie and preparing for a role that required letting loose a lot of anger.

"I would say tapping into rage is a pretty unbelievably facile kind of thing," he says. "I got those resources in there and so, you know, I'm ready to go with that."

Interview Highlights

On researching for the role

With any character you kind of got to take what you have, you know, in your own personality and then kind of build on that with your imagination or whatever you've been inspired by.

I certainly did... spend some time hanging out with some dubious characters in the Pittsburgh area. But also some interesting people, but people who were into meth or into heroin or, you know, just people I wouldn't normally be meeting. Just to kind of get some ideas.

One of the best things that happened as a result of it, I had never seen Breaking Bad and... I was like, "Well I better watch this, this might give me some ideas." And of course then I — you talk about a binge watch. I really went crazy with it.

On the types of questions he would ask drug users during his research

I just ask very basic questions about how they start their day and their friendships, ... questions you would ask, you know, as an interviewer, you would ask someone if you just wanted to get to know them better. You know, I don't usually go to, "Tell me about your pain and what drives you, why do you do this terrible drug?" I don't ask these kinds of heavy questions. I just kind of hang about and absorb what they're about a little bit.

On what it's like to play a character without much humanity

I guess it's just interesting to play someone that I feel is so different from me. I prefer light comedy, honestly, so I don't know how I ended [up with the part]. Scott [the film's director] offered it to me. I don't know if you've ever met Scott Cooper, but he's a very difficult man to turn down.

On his Cheers character, also named Woody

That was weird. Kind of meant to be. Would have been weirder if the character was called Woody Harrelson, I would be like, "Damn, both names? That's just ironic."

On what he'd do if he wasn't an actor

Well I think it would have to be something in the entertainment industry. I'd probably be over there at NPR doing interviews with people. Yeah, maybe that.

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