The Observer Asks Woody Harrelson (Practically) Anything

135842065 The Observer Asks Woody Harrelson (Practically) Anything

Woody Harrelson (Getty Images)

Woody Harrelson plays a corrupt cop in the new film Rampart, depicting the police-force meltdown in late-1990s Los Angeles. But the actor has nothing against the fuzz—even despite his history of arrests and liberal stance on marijuana. During his research for the role, Mr. Harrelson rode along with police officers, and “most of the ones I met seemed pretty cool. Lot of ride-alongs, lot of hanging.”

What did Mr. Harrelson, when we met him shortly before his disastrous Reddit moment, make of the nationwide battle between the soi-disant 99 percent and the police force armed with pepper spray and riot sticks? “These cops…. They don’t dictate policy. Certainly they have some leeway as to how they do it, but when you’re told to clear that whole area—that’s a frickin’ tough task without resorting to violence. Look where the orders are coming from. That’s where things are fucked up.

“I’m not trying to excuse—some cops are assholes. But by and large—cops are pretty cool.”

Mr. Harrelson’s director, Oren Moverman, had been inspired in part by research in the streets of Los Angeles. Residents there, he said, discussed the police force “as an occupation: the American occupation of Los Angeles.”

“The whole issue of police reaction, and violence—if you kind of zoom out of that, you see the people pitted against each other. Never mind that there’s so much they have in common. You gotta think—who is this serving?”

We took a break to complete a word game Mr. Harrelson had begun when we walked in, as he offered us a copy of Steve Guttenberg’s memoir, The Guttenberg Bible, and invited us to send him vibes so that he might get the word. The word was “Steven,” and he only nailed it after we asked him when he was going to guess the name so we could get on with the interview.

As he basked in his triumph, allowing his blazer to slouch off his shoulders, we mentioned that his director shared his opinion about cops as pawns of a massive machine. Had they discussed this between takes? He laughed; they hadn’t. “But he’s a very progressive mind and I like to think I’m a progressive person as well.”