Why Woody Harrelson Semi-Retired In The ‘90s, And Why He Was Shocked When He Came Back

Woody Harrelson Lost In London

Woody Harrelson is currently at the height of his powers, regularly appearing in not only some of the best movies of the year, but also some of the biggest. The man has certainly come a long way since his days behind the bar on Cheers -- but things haven't always been super peachy. In fact, Harrelson recently told me about one of the most significant periods of his career, when he not only went into semi-retirement, but also found himself feeling a bit abandoned when he came back:

There was a period where I basically took almost five years off, from '97 to 2002, and I did a couple little things, like favors, but I had just kind of dropped out. I guess you could say I was in semi-retirement. I just had a kid, and I was just wanting to spend time... and then I had another kid. One of the great periods of my life. What was ironic, and this was a shift I never expected, fairly seismic, was when I decided, 'Yeah, I really want to start working again.' And I noticed nobody really cared! I thought it would be like, 'Welcome back!' with open arms. It was like, 'We didn't even know you were gone!' And so it wasn't just like work came immediately.

While Woody Harrelson has been doing a lot of press for Solo: A Star Wars Story in the past few weeks, I recently had the chance to chat with him about his directorial debut, Lost In London -- and it was during that conversation that he brought up the subject of his early semi-retirement 21 years ago. Taking a look at the scope of his career, I noted that his work has changed a lot over the years, and he personally explained some of those shifts. The actor did occasionally work during the mentioned five year period when he had first become a father, but he also found himself totally unprepared for the lack of offers that came his way when he stepped back into action.

Woody Harrelson famously started his career playing farmboy-turned-bartender Woody Boyd on the television series Cheers, but in the mid-1990s successfully changed perceptions of his abilities with films like Natural Born Killers and The People vs. Larry Flynt (for which he earned an Academy Award nomination). This seemingly put him in a comfortable enough position to move away from the industry for a bit while taking care of his kids, but that comfort level didn't still exist when he returned. As a result, Harrelson started to take on take on projects he had never really considered before -- specifically big franchises like The Hunger Games, Planet of the Apes, and Star Wars -- and it wound up totally changing his career.

Thanks to these big projects, Woody Harrelson has been a part of some extremely successful blockbusters, but the actor also told me something interesting about his perception of these projects. While he certainly enjoys the work, and the position his career is now in, he told me that his heart ultimately really belongs to the smaller productions he's been a part of -- particularly because he knows that they aren't really going to make it to wide audiences:

There was this steady climb for a while, and then everything got on pretty good footing. These blockbusters, I feel lucky to be able to do them, but I suppose my heart's a little more with the indies just because you put a lot of time and passion into the work, and 99.9 percent of the time nobody is going to see that. So you pull for these little movies. Yeah, [War For The] Planet of the Apes came out last year, but I did like four or five other indies that bombed!

Of course, not all of Woody Harrelson's smaller movies got ignored last year. In fact, Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri wound up being one of the biggest winners at the last Academy Awards. At the same time, though, it the modern landscape of blockbuster and independent film, it's very easy to see exactly what he's talking about.

The good news is that if you're interested in supporting Woody Harrelson's smaller films, you have an opportunity this weekend - and that's not a joke about Solo: A Star Wars Story either. The actor-cum-filmmaker's directorial debut, Lost In London, is now available for your viewing pleasure, available to stream on Hulu and download on iTunes. It's a crazy ambitious venture, filmed in one take and actually shown live when it was first made, and is worth your curiosity. And stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more from my interview!

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.