Waving at the cheering crowd, eyes gleaming from beneath the brim of his simple trucker hat, third–time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson walked on the stage of the Zellerbach Theater on the evening of January 27th. The event marked a year from the release of Harrelson’s directorial debut, Lost in London. The film, which is inspired by a true story, recreates the events of a rather wild night: after his wife sees the cover of a magazine which suggests that Harrelson had an orgy the previous night, she threatens to leave him, and he goes out for drinks with an Arab prince. Naturally, chaos ensues—Harrelson runs into his “best friend” Owen Wilson, but gets into a fight with him after Wilson states that his best friend is Wes Anderson. Eventually, Harrelson ends up in prison, where he spends the night before being bailed out by his wife—and, of course, Owen Wilson. Lost in London was shot in a single–take, in real–time, with a single camera, and live–streamed into 550 theaters across the US on January 19th, 2017.
Following the screening of Lost in London, Felicity Paxton, director of Penn Women's Center, joined Harrelson and the audience for a conversation. She broke the ice with a “game of poker”: the actor picked the questions himself from a stack of cards on which Paxton had jotted down her thoughts during the screening. Addressing the multitude of stereotypes present in the movie, Harrelson defended himself: “You’ve gotta push enough to make people laugh, while making sure that you don’t push too far.” After this, their conversation gradually switched to less sensitive topics: Harrelson talked about the challenges he faced while making the movie—he was notified of a WWII unexploded ordnance near a shooting location two hours before filming started—discussed parenting, and made fun of the British drinking culture, all the while being accompanied by the laughter of the hundreds of people present at the event, whom he described as both “a tough crowd” and a “rowdy group" in turn.
The evening peaked with a Q&A session during which members of the audience had a chance to ask their own questions. Paxton made it clear that no topics were off–limits, which prompted eager Penn students to address unconventional issues. After Harrelson jokingly confirmed the legitimacy of the event that triggered the fight with his wife, most of the conversation was focused on Harrelson’s notorious marijuana consumption: when asked which famous actors he had “blazed it” with, Harrelson hesitated, but said that he “smoked with almost everybody” and cited Jack Nicholson, with whom he “smoked a loooot of joints with." Students who were more concerned with Harrelson’s acting career asked for advice, which the actor provided reassuringly only after joking about it: “What I would say to a young actor in a rotten place? Just give up!” He mostly declined to comment on his performance in other movies, in particular the upcoming Star Wars release, which he described as hyper–secretive.
Harrelson concluded the event by talking about how much he enjoyed directing, and said that he is looking to continue his filmmaking career, but also avoid unnecessary complications. “Oh, I’m gonna do another movie. Just not live, and not in real–time.” By the end of the night, it became clear that the actor didn’t mind either unconventional or sensitive questions. He responded to the curious audience by regularly triggering bursts of laughter, an approach he bases on the philosophy of both his acting career and personal life. “Drama? Oh, God, who needs that?”
A more detailed account of the making of Lost in London can be found in Harrelson’s interview with 34th Street. The event, officially titled A Screening and Conversation with Woody Harrelson, was organized by SPEC Connaissance and SPEC Film.