Why Woody Harrelson made a movie about the 'least fun night' he ever had
'Lost in London' stars Harrelson, Owen Wilson, and Willie Nelson
In the early hours of June 7, 2002, Woody Harrelson was arrested in London after physically damaging the inside of a taxi cab that was transporting him from a nightclub called China White to his hotel. Although the Cheers and Solo star ultimately avoided being charged, this is precisely the kind of incident which celebrities would rather everyone forgot about. So why did the actor decide to make, as his directorial debut, the just-released Lost in London, an experimental film shot essentially as one long take and inspired by the events of that summer night?
“It was probably the least fun night I ever had, and one that I was anxious to forget,” Harrelson tells EW. “And I couldn’t shake it, couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started thinking, ‘You know, if you turned this thing a little bit to the side, or just look at it from a different angle, it could be funny.’ I started thinking about writing it as a film and as a comedy. I had to change some elements. On the night, I ran into Leo DiCaprio and Tobey [Maguire], but that particular scene, when I wrote it, I just couldn’t make it funny. I started thinking about my buddy Owen [Wilson] filling in, and then it started being funny. It’s actually my favorite scene in the movie, and Owen is amazing in this movie.”
Read on for more from Harrelson about the making of Lost in London.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you convince Owen Wilson to be in the film? Because this could have gone horribly wrong.
WOODY HARRELSON: Oh, yeah. Right up to the last minute, I thought it was going horribly wrong. The sound was really problematic, and especially if I was inside a car. Well, there’s like five vehicles in this movie, because that’s really the way things happened that night. There was all kinds of [laughs] time inside vehicles. None of that would work, and a lot of other sound stuff wasn’t working.
We had about 26 sound people on this. These guys had done everything, from huge movies to the marathon to the Olympics. All kinds of big things. And they all said this is is the hardest job they ever had in sound. It wasn’t coming together, and it was terrifying because we were right up to the point of shooting and it was still not working, and things just wouldn’t come together. Somehow on the night, that came together. So for Owen to commit like that — and Owen never did theater before, because he doesn’t really like the idea of doing something live like this. [Chuckles] So it was a big commitment on his part, and I’ve got to say he just nailed it.
Lost in London features a cameo from Willie Nelson, who appears in a dream sequence. How did he get involved in the movie?
I was thinking, “Jeez, maybe I could shoot this in real time.” But then I thought, “Well, it really doesn’t work in real-time, because I’ve got to spend the night in jail, and the end of the movie is in the morning.” But then I started thinking about a dream sequence. I called Owen to talk to him about something, and Willie was there. He was over at Willie’s house, and they were playing dominoes, and he says, “Willie wants to say hi.” So I said, “How you doing, Willie?” and he says, “Good, but you don’t have a part for me in this movie?” [I said,] “Do you really want to be in it?” And he said, “Hell, yeah, I want to be in it.” That’s how that happened. But mostly it’s true to life, it’s what happened on the night.
The “Woody Harrelson” you portray in the film is not always a very attractive person. Why did you decide to depict yourself in that way?
I let myself be the butt of a lot of jokes, and also [be] even less than an antihero. It’s a real question of whether or not in the end the audience will like me. In some ways, the story is the story. So I figure if they don’t end up liking me, that’s fair. But I love Henry Miller — I don’t know if you’ve read much Henry Miller, but this guy, he’ll write stuff and you just hate him for it. In the end you’re like, “Well, he’s telling the truth, you know.” And also, ironically, even though I love making people laugh, I had the feeling I had to be kind the dramatic center of this story. So it was better if the other characters coming in were the ones making you laugh. I’d be the bass note, and they’d be the other notes around that.
Has Wes Anderson seen the film? Your character has some choice words to say about him.
Yeah, he saw it and he really liked it, and he thought it was funny. Actually, I ran into him in London. I was there prepping, and then in comes Wes! I’m like, “Oh my God, I’ve got to go talk to him.” So I pulled him aside and just told him, “Look, this is going to be in this movie, where we’re talking about you, and I say some unkind things about you. But I want you to know it’s just for laughs.” And he says, “Okay, yeah, no problem.” And then he watched it and really liked it.
At one point in the film, “Woody” calls Bono. Is that really Bono on the other end of the line?
Yeah, that’s Bono.
How did you get him involved in this?
Well, he’s a buddy of mine, so I wanted him to do it. At the time, he was quite under the weather, and yet not only did he still do it, before he did it, he wrote himself three different versions of the scene I’d written — actually much better versions. I went through the three versions and picked and chose until I felt like, “Oh, this will make the best scene.” That’s really all from Bono, when he was feeling under the weather. So, pretty cool of him, man.
Lost in London screened live in cinemas. What kind of reactions did you get from people?
Well, there was probably three, maybe four different people, who were in different cinemas, from L.A. to New York, whatever, where they said, at the end, people jumped up and were pumping their fist. They really kind of felt the theater element of it. I guess you’d call it live cinema, but it’s theater with 14 locations and 300 crew and 500 extras. It was just a mind-boggling — just the logistics were quite daunting. That’s why I’m surprised that I decided to try something like this, my first time as a director. I guess maybe that way, from now on, it’ll be a little easier. This Solo movie and Lost in London are coming out the same day. One might do a little better than the other. [Laughs] But at least Lost in London will be online, to iTunes and Hulu, so it’s be cool that people can see it.
Lost in London is now availabe to watch on digital platforms and VOD. Watch the film’s trailer above.