Actor turns worst night of his life into directional debut

Three-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson brought his film “Lost in London” to Edwards Hall this past Sunday for a screening and moderated discussion, presented by the University of Rhode Island Student Entertainment Committee.

The original “premiere” of the film took place on Jan. 19, 2017, where it was broadcasted to approximately 500 theaters.

In an over-the-phone interview with the Good Five Cent Cigar before Sunday’s screening, Harrelson discussed the night portrayed in “Lost and London” and the adventure of creating the first ever real-time, lived streamed movie.

“It’s one of those things where I was jotting down the outline and thought, ‘I could shoot this in real time,’” Harrelson said.

After he realized the technology didn’t just allow for him to film in real time, but to broadcast it live as well, he couldn’t get the idea out of his head. He was continuously driven by the thought that this could be a way to merge his love of both theater and film.

Live streaming the movie meant there could be no editing or stopping to redo a scene. The acting was like a stage play but the camera and sound equipment needed to be mobile and keep working.

The crew needed to build all sorts of sets for the movie, as Harrelson and other characters continuously took cab rides to new destinations. They rented empty spaces and created faux restaurants from the ground up, he explained. The construction of these locations, paired with the choreography needed to keep track of the cast and crew, made for an interesting first directorial experience.

“There were 300 people in the crew, 500 extras, and 26 actors,” Harrelson said, as he tried to remember everyone involved. “The choreography was really intricate. There are five vehicles in it.  We needed a line of sight to the antennas [for broadcasting] that were on top of buildings at all times.”

While it may seem like Harrelson and the characters in the movie are traveling all across the city of London, the whole movie was actually choreographed around 14 set locations within a two mile radius of these antennas.

“It was quite an interesting journey,” he said, reflecting on the long process of bringing the movie to life.

“Lost in London” is based on a night in 2002 when Harrelson got into a fight with a cab driver, broke an ashtray, was chased by the police and found himself in jail the night before he was supposed to bring his daughters to the Harry Potter movie set.

Harrelson has been quoted as describing the night as “the worst night of [his] life.” While he still stands by that statement years later, he says he was eventually able to see some humor in the midst of the chaos. Though some moments of the movie are dramatized, much of the movie plays out as it did on that night 16 years ago. The movie even opens with a credit that reads “too much of this is true…”

“Unfortunately there weren’t a lot of laughs that night it happened,” said Harrelson. “Being in comedy I tried to throw some stuff in the movie that might get a chuckle. Sometimes when a guy is in a bad situation you laugh anyway so that’s what made me think, in retrospect, maybe this could be a kind of comedy.”

The events of the movie are set in motion after Harrelson’s wife, Laura, finds out he had a one night affair through a tabloid story. Laura’s character in the film insists he stay out of their hotel for the night, sending him out into the streets of London where he runs into a whole lot of trouble, and bumps into his “best friend” Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers) along the way.

“It’s kind of a demented love letter to my wife,” said Harrelson. “It was a real test to our relationship. She’s the greatest woman in the world. Sometimes it takes something like this, where your relationship is threatened and you wonder why you didn’t show more appreciation before, though you certainly feel it after the fact.”   

While the lover’s quarrel in the film is true, Harrelson and Laura are happily married to this day. Together they have three daughters, the youngest of whom is only 11 and stars in the film as one of their children, though Harrelson says he made her promise she wouldn’t act again until after she turns 18.  The film also features a brief appearance from “the Texas Dalai Lama,” singer Willie Nelson, and a post credit cameo from Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter).  

Harrelson said his passion for theater and film formed when he first acted in a play during his senior year of high school. He discovered his interest and knack for acting when he was encouraged to audition for a play after the vice president of the drama club, who just happened to be “one of the most beautiful girls in the school,” saw his Elvis impersonation.

“That’s how I guess all kinds of things happen, just following the woman,” Harrelson said, jokingly.

Though he says there are hundreds of things he would have changed if they were able to reshoot scenes like a normal production, he looks at these small things as a part of the film and still loves it all the same. Harrelson claims he is not the most motivated worker, and considers himself to be rather lazy at times, but the passion for this movie really kept him pushing through the challenges of his first directing experience.

Harrelson may be starting out as a director, but his acting career has lasted for more than three decades. Just last week he received his third Oscar nomination for his role as Police Chief Willoughby in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” (2017) following Academy Award acting nominations for “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996) and “The Messenger” (2009). He also has won and been nominated for Emmys for his roles in “Cheers” (1989) and “True Detective” (2014). He has become a household name in recent years after starring in multiple blockbusters; including “The Hunger Games,” the upcoming “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and “Zombieland,” which, according to Harrelson, has a potentially forthcoming sequel, a new draft for which he said he just read.

Now, nearly a year after its initial live-streamed premiere, Harrelson is taking the film on a short college tour to gauge the reaction with audiences before its wide theatrical release this spring. “Lost in London,” which features a high joke-per-minute ratio and a handful of hilarious references to Harrelson’s past movies, was met with genuine laughter, applause and a standing ovation from the hundreds of people who filled Edwards Hall.

Featured Photo: Woody Harrelson during rehearsal on Grapestreet, in London. Photo courtesy of Woody Harrelson.
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Zack DeLuca
Entertainment Editor - "I am a determined multimedia journalist seeking a career in the fields of entertainment journalism and video production. I have extensive experience writing and editing for print as well as audio/video broadcasting." Zack is graduating in May 2018 with a double major in Journalism and Film/Media. His stories have appeared in the Cranston Herald, Warwick Beacon, Newport Mercury, and Narragansett Times. Twitter: @zackdeluca