Woody Harrelson on Veganism, Being a Dad, and Smoking Pot with Willie Nelson

Laura Brown: Last time I saw you was in London. You’d been there for months shooting Star Wars and had basically emigrated from the U.S. What was it like coming home?

Woody Harrelson: It was great. I’d been in London for a year, and then I did the press for LBJ [the Rob Reiner-directed film in which Harrelson portrays President Lyndon Johnson], and then I went [home] to Maui. The first thing I did was go directly over to Willie Nelson’s house since he’s near the airport. I went over and lost a bunch of money playing cards, so then I felt even more at home.

LB: Maybe everyone just needs to move to Maui. When did you first meet Willie?

WH: I met him on his bus in 1998. I went to his concert, and his wife came up after and said, “Willie wants you to come say hi.” So I go back and open the door to his bus, and it was like Cheech and Chong, with the smoke billowing out. Through the smoke I see this real spry dude with long hair and a fatty in his mouth, saying, “Come on in. Let’s burn one.” So I go in, and we just had the best talk about everything, you know? Incredible guy.

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Harrelson in a Tom Ford shirt and Greg Lauren cargos. Photographed by Robbie Fimmano.

LB: Is that how you ended up in Maui?

WH: Yes. During that first meeting he invited me to stay at his place even if he wasn’t there, which I did. I think we stayed for a week and then went to the less populated side of the island. That’s when I fell in love with Maui.

LB: What is it like to have a sense of home when you’re so itinerant for your job?

WH: I have a few regrets, but my primary one is that I feel like I’m away from home too much and not getting enough time with the kids [daughters Deni, 25, Zoe, 21, and Makani, 12]. We used to homeschool the first two, which I guess is another way of saying that we didn’t worry about their education [laughs]. I always feel like they learn more by just hanging with me and going places. But no, they eventually wanted to go to school, and that really put a big wedge between our, you know, hang time.

LB: Right, and then you would go off and work.

WH: A while ago I said, “OK, I think I have to work hard for three years [straight] because I took a period of time off.” It might have accompanied the same period of time nobody wanted to give me a job [laughs].

LB: What synergy!

WH: When I finally came back to work, I thought, well, not that there will be a brass band but that there would be some kind of very nice welcome. But I felt completely forgotten about, 100 percent, and I couldn’t get a job. My first job back was the [2004] Brett Ratner film After the Sunset.

LB: Oh, yeah.

WH: And, you know, slowly but surely … But I’d said to the kids, “I’ll work three years, and then I’m going to have a glorified teacher’s schedule, which means instead of three or four months I’ll have six months off.” I said that at the beginning of this century and haven’t really done it, so now I’m finally doing it.

LB: And you just did, what, six movies in a row?

WH: Something like that.

Harrelson in a Greg Lauren jacket and AG T-shirt with Persol sunglasses. Photographed by Robbie Fimmano.

LB: And then you came back from London and headed right into the awardsapalooza for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. How reassuring was it to see that attention for something you knew in your gut was great?

WH: Oh, it was fantastic. It’s so rare to do an indie and have people actually see it. To do an indie is like saying, “I’m going to do an art movie that, hopefully, will be good and, if we’re lucky, great, but definitely nobody will see it.” I mean, it’s like 99.9999999999 percent certain no one’s gonna see it. But on that one everything went right.

LB: How were the Oscars?

WH: It was fun. I realized that one of the primary things that nobody’s thinking about when they’re watching the Oscars is ladies’ foot pain [laughs]. So many of them were in such serious pain. It’s almost a conspiracy against the feet of Hollywood actresses.

LB: It’s a vast one. That’s why they have to take their time back, right now. So, Star Wars. I know you can’t reveal much, but you’re Han Solo’s mentor?

WH: I don’t think “mentor” is totally right. I’m a criminal he runs into … I shouldn’t say too much about it. Basically, I’m an example to him of what not to do. I feel that way with my own kids—I’m a really good example of what not to do. Somebody’s got to be that shining example.

LB: But you look good! Is it that vegan life? You legitimately don’t seem to age.

WH: I don’t know if I feel that way, but that’s very kind. Diet is crucial, though. I eat vegan, but I eat mostly raw. If I have a cooked meal, I feel my energy drop. So when I first started shifting my diet, it wasn’t as much a moral or an ethical pursuit but an energetic pursuit. And obviously you also get tired staying out all night drinking. And I do that. At least once a year I do a friendship tour, which is another name for a glorified bender.

LB: Is that a global enterprise?

WH: It can be very much global, yeah, “mobile and global.” We usually go to Europe and go around and see friends. This next one, I’m going to do it right. I’m going to make T-shirts for every stop—the whole nine. I haven’t thought it all through yet, but it’ll be great.

LB: Do you ever feel burned-out?

WH: [Sighs] I feel burned-out now. I mean, nobody wants to hear “movie star blues in D-flat minor” or anything. I feel so lucky to be working, but no one else works these kinds of hours. Maybe if you’re a doctor or a cop or something. On this last film [The Highwaymen] it was six to eight weeks of at minimum 12-hour days. Which is cool if you’ve got your schedule figured out so you’re shooting two months and then taking time off, but I haven’t been doing that. It’s just been back-to-back. You know, I’m not Samuel, what’s his name … ?

LB: Samuel L. Jackson?

WH: He literally works nonstop, but I know that’s the schedule he prefers. He’d rather be on set.

LB: What happens if you need to rally yourself for a scene when you’re feeling off?

WH: There are little methods you can do to rally. Backbends are great. If you’re having low energy, the first thing you do is a backbend. That’s the No. 1 fastest way to reenergize.

Harrelson in a Stella McCartney shirt. Photographed by Robbie Fimmano.

LB: Everyone thinks you’re the chillest man alive. Do you ever get nervous or intimidated?

WH: I get overwhelmed sometimes. There’s the very rigorous schedule, and then I’ll come home and have to get on the phone for a business thing, so it can feel like there’s never a time to let up. In terms of being intimidated by people, I’d say Thom Yorke. I’m just such a massive fan of his. I was nervous meeting him.

LB: Super important: Where are you on the pot—are you still off it, or are you back on it?

WH: I’m off the wagon [laughs]. I’m off it all right. I’m pretty much not smoking, but I’ve gotten back into vaporizing. I wouldn’t have told you except that you asked me about Willie, who is, of course, this model of great quality and virtue. He’s the kind of guy you’d want as president, someone who genuinely cares.

LB: It’s not too late.

WH: He would care and has the right progressive ideas, but no one ever talks about the evil side of Willie. From the second I told him that I had quit two years ago, it just bothered him. He wasn’t overt about it, but every time he’d keep passing it to me and I’d be like, “Willie, you know I’m not smoking, and I’m not vaporizing.” He’d be like, “Oh, OK, sorry!” This went on for a while, and then a couple of months ago when we were both in Maui, we were spending time playing cards, and he kept passing it to me. He’s also very sly. He could see I just lost a hand or something, and you know it’s great medicine for that kind of emotional crisis.

LB: Oh, yes.

WH: So later he reverse-psychology’d me after I had won a big hand. I’m celebrating, and he passes me his vape pen with his special reserve, and I grab it like, “Oh, fuck it,” and I take a big draw, and he goes, “Welcome home, son.”

LB: Hey, whatever gets you through.

WH: So I do vaporize, but I still am not smoking because I don’t want to mess with my lungs. Before I got to shooting Three Billboards, I went on a bender for, like, five weeks. At the end of it I was feeling terrible, so I looked up the symptoms online and found out it was adrenal exhaustion. I just pushed it too hard, so I went for days in a row with no herb, no drinking, and then it was a Thursday and it was already a record. So I wanted to see how long I could go and lasted 50-something days until Jen [Lawrence] strong-armed me in Montreal. Then I continued to not smoke or puff or anything until Willie.

LB: Until Willie, a memoir. I’m curious: Have you noticed any distinct changes on set since the Time’s Up movement?

WH: Yes, for sure. Let’s say people are definitely much more conscious of it. And now, before you do a movie, they do a two-hour meeting. Did you know there are three legal ways to touch someone [laughs]? I think fist bumping is one of them.

LB: You can fist-bump a lady?

WH: One thing I did notice at the Oscars that scared me a little was that there were at least three times when someone came onstage and was about to hug the other person and then stopped themselves and just gave them a pat on the arm or something. The pendulum has to swing because it’s been so bad, but I just hope people don’t stop giving each other hugs. Now, granted, if there’s unwanted hugging, that’s another thing. But to stop hugging is a bad thing.

LB: To stop hugging is the demise of all of it. But I also appreciate the practicality of Time’s Up. It’s a legal fund that helps women in need.

WH: Yeah, that’s true. I’m probably going to get an onslaught of people upset with me now for just saying that, but I did notice it, and I don’t want it to be a thing. All I’m saying is let’s keep hugging. If I have to stop hugging people, I’m going to be seriously hamstrung.

Harrelson in an AG T-shirt and Levi’s jeans. Photographed by Robbie Fimmano.

LB: OK, politically, what makes you feel the most optimistic in this time?

WH: I’m not very optimistic about politics, generally. I think even if we were able to get Trump out of office, which would allow a lot of people to breathe a sigh of relief, this system is designed for big businessmen working for bigger businessmen. It’s so much about money, and that’s not just in the U.S.—that’s everywhere. If we were to really change things and put in one-thousandth of the budget that was spent on the military for the past five years into protecting rain forests or supporting alternative energy, it would be amazing. If the money spent on bombs went to solar energy, my god, how great would that be?

LB: What reassures me during this particular time is the engagement that people have now, like these kids who organized the gun march.

WH: So cool. They aren’t tainted; they’re just coming from the heart. I’m so inspired by Emma González and these other kids who are standing up and articulating themselves in the way that they do. The power of it, you know, it’s like, “Whoa, man!” These are exciting times.

LB: Exactly. I think that’s what allows you to sleep at night without feeling that all is lost. OK, since this is a fashion magazine, what’s the most stylish thing you have?

WH: Probably the Stella McCartney tux I wore to the Oscars. I love Stella; she’s an original. There’s also a girl in Maui named Jeanne Angelheart, and everybody in my neighborhood wears her clothes. They’re so comfortable, especially the pants. I like to gift them to people, but before I do, I’ll say, “These are hippie clothes. You’ve got to have a little bit of hippie in you.”

Photography: Robbie Fimmano. Fashion editor: Deborah Watson. Grooming: Natalia Bruschi. Production: Kelsey Stevens Productions.

For more stories like this, pick up the June issue of InStyle, on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download May 11.

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