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Like all great searchers, Harrelson has an origin story. He was born in Midland, Tex., and raised in the Midwest—Lebanon, Ohio, if you want to stick a pin in it—after his parents divorced. A self-described Presbyterian mama’s boy, he flirted with becoming a preacher in college before scrapping organized religion entirely. When he was 18, his father was arrested for the contract killing of a federal judge in San Antonio. He later died in prison. Harrelson acknowledges that his father’s fate might have had something to do with his own innate sense of social justice.
“I definitely see how he got wronged by the government,” Harrelson says of his father as he takes a deep drag on a pre-rolled joint. “I have no way of knowing what he did. I don’t have any way of knowing. But I just see the way the whole trial was conducted. He got railroaded.”
He offers up the joint but is turned down with a mumbled apology, something about reporting and needing one’s wits.
“I’ve decided to forgo my wits altogether,” he says after a pause.
The day’s press commitments were apparently more than a little trying, and he needs to unwind. “Verbal paparazzi,” he says, settling on a way to describe junket duty. Though that last guy wasn’t so bad, he decides, the one who was asking him about religion and his mother.
“In the real world, I’d be asking him the same questions and probing about his philosophical bits,” Harrelson says, then mentally wills himself out of his muck.
“I don’t like to hear myself play ‘Movie Star Blues in A Minor,’ ” he laughs. “It’s the greatest life….Some people believe when you’re hovering between lives, you’re kind of in that ethereal state where you’re just an astral body up in the other world, and you’re looking down, making decisions about your life. Whoever that guy was in that other world—which I guess is the essence of me—looking down, just came up with a great plan….It’s only because I’m so f---ing spoiled that I can bitch about not wanting to do interviews.”
When he’s not filming or promoting, Harrelson is in Maui with his wife, Laura Louie, and three daughters. Makani, the youngest, is 5, and Deni, the eldest, is old enough now to attend college on the mainland. He is the lone male in a house of four women.
“Well, five really, ’cause you gotta include my dog, Snowy, one of the finest bitches in this whole wide world,” he says. “It’s great when you can use that word in absolute freedom and assurance.”
Harrelson relishes family life. The night before, he’d been on the Late Show With David Letterman and is honestly distraught when he realizes he failed to mention his middle daughter, Zoe, in the interview. He beams when he talks about his kids, and looks downright forlorn when he calculates that he was away from home for seven—no, make that eight—months last year.
“You know, he’s a wonderful father,” says Gary Ross, who directed Harrelson’s turn as a father figure, if a drunken and untamed one, in The Hunger Games. “There is a caretaking kind of quality to him. He’s a very compassionate person.… At the same time, he was able to create this wild, kind of dissolute character, which was written in the book. There’s a wide range to him as a human being.”
It’s getting later and Harrelson now has just 15 minutes to make it to the Upper East Side to meet a buddy’s ex and their kid at vegan mecca Candle 79: “The best vegan food tastewise and texture and all that. But I’m a raw foodist at heart, so I can’t go too strong on this.”
He throws on a jacket, hits the head (talking the whole time) and, after a brief hunt, locates and slips on the Air Jordans he recently got in a trade with a New Orleans high schooler after a pickup game.
Before taking the elevator to the lobby, there is just one last item of unfinished business—the word he couldn’t guess in his earlier failed bit of mentalism.
“Oh, it was Chimney! ” he says wryly when told. “There’s I, a Y.…Oh, there was an E, too. Ahhh. I thought I said no E. Maybe I thought no E.”
Keep on searching, Woody.
— Styled by Alex Badia