About 15 years ago, Woody Harrelson accidentally broke an ashtray in the back of a London taxicab, setting into motion a series of events that would land the actor in jail for a night. And now Harrelson has used that episode from his life as the jumping off point for a watershed event in the history of movies: Lost in London, the first-ever feature film to be shot live at the exact moment it appears in cinemas.
EW can exclusively announce that Lost in London — written, directed by, and starring Harrelson — will premiere in on movie screens nationwide on Jan. 19. “There has been live theater streamed into cinemas before,” Harrelson, 55, tells EW while on break from a costume fitting in London, “but this is a real movie with 14 different locations and a 30 person cast.”
His costars, as you can see from the credits in the teaser above, include old buddies Owen Wilson and Willie Nelson. And as if the undertaking wasn’t challenging enough, the 100-minute film will be shot with one camera in one continuous take. (Imagine Martin Scorsese’s After Hours meshed with Russian Ark.) The movie will shoot in London in the middle of the night local time. Its live theatrical broadcast will begin in at 6:00 p.m. PT/9:00 p.m. ET and will be broadcast in more than 550 theaters. (More information can be found at Fathom Events’ website.)
“No one has ever shot a movie and live broadcast it into cinemas at the same time,” Harrelson says atop of London’s Waterloo Bridge in the teaser. He adds, with that Woody Harrelson wink, “No one’s ever been that stupid — until now.”
In a lively conversation with EW, Harrelson revealed the equal amounts of good humor and anxiety that’s dancing in his brain as he rehearses the film — and the one stormy X factor that has been keeping him up at night.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So there’s this 2002 incident in London where you broke an ashtray in a cab. That night is the basis for Lost in London?
WOODY HARRELSON: Well, if that hadn’t happened I never would have thought to do this. That was when I spent a night in jail here in London. But in this film, the whole night starts bad and keeps getting progressively worse. At the time, in real life, it was completely unfunny. But then later I thought about it later and I said, “There’s comedy in this.”
The teaser has a loose, fun vibe. It doesn’t make it seem like a deep, soul-searching drama.
I’d say its a deep, soul-searching comedy. It’s about a guy who has it all and runs the risk of losing it all. And then hopefully ends up with this shot at redemption. I don’t wanna give away too much of what goes on in the plot.
When did you start thinking about this in terms of a film?
I had this idea 10 or more years ago. I love theater and I love film and I really wanted to figure out a way to merge the two. Then I thought this particular story does occur sequentially and cohesively, so I thought I’d like to shoot it in real time, like live cinema or whatever you’d call it.
But is that different from filmed theater? This isn’t a stagebound production?
Not stagebound at all. There are similarities to theater, since we’re doing it all in one long take. But then I realized that it lacks that most important element, which is an audience. That was a broadcast idea comes in. Maybe it’s impossible. But we’re gonna try it.
What’s the closest comparison between this and something else you’ve done?
Holy moly, I’ve never done anything where I felt like this. I guess a comparison might be Saturday Night Live. That’s like doing live theater, though you have commercial breaks. But to do it 100 minutes in a row with no break? Yeah, it might be accurate to call this insanity.
Who is your cinematographer?
His name is Nigel Willoughby. I’ve never written a single fan letter to anyone, but 10 or 15 years ago I saw a movie he photographed called The Magdalene Sisters. I called him up and said, “Dude you’re incredible. I’m blown away by the texture of your images and the lighting.” He’s gone on to do Downton Abbey and Penny Dreadful and a number of films. But literally the first person I called in terms of crew was him.
And what have the two of you talked about in terms of taking this on?
Well, sometimes you’ll see comedies that are shot kind of cheaply. But we want this to have a cinematic feel. Yeah, being a single camera deal is quite worrisome to me. Nigel and I were both quite taken with the German film Victoria, which is filmed in one take. And Nigel really became attached to that idea. He talked me back into the idea three or four times. Now we’re gonna do it. One camera, one take.
You’re probably aware that Lost in London will be playing in theaters on the night before Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration.
Yeah, that is interesting. It’s ironic. It wasn’t intentional. It’s just the way that all the schedules work out. It’s wild that this is coming on the last night of Obama’s presidency and on the eve of Trump. I don’t know if there’s any meaning behind it, but it’s a strange coincidence.
Maybe it’s about escaping to another country.
Yeah [laughs]. But I have to fly back to America the next day because we have Wilson at the Sundance Film Festival. I guess that’s on the day of the inauguration, so maybe I’ll watch that on the plane.
Have you given a lot of thought to the weather? London has a famously high percentage of rain.
Oh, man, every night I wake up in the middle of the night and completely freak out. Rain is one of the things that freaks me out the most. Being London, there’s like a 50 percent change of rain, and rain would definitely not be our friend. We’ll figure out how to deal with the condensation on the camera and moisture on the body microphones and even just the sound of the rain hitting and how that affects the vocal track. That’s freaky stuff. But if it happens, it happens.
Yeah, if you could predict weather, this wouldn’t be the same challenge, right?
Exactly. What I’ve realized during the course of this journey so far is that there are a lot of obstacles. It’s never been done before and there are probably ample reasons for that. It’s probably inevitable that there will be accidents. Which is hopefully what intrigues people to come see it. Is it going to be a disaster? I can’t say for sure.