A man who speaks his mind

Woody Harrelson on truth tellers and Wilson.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Craig Johnson's Wilson, screenplay by Daniel Clowes, stars Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern
Craig Johnson's Wilson, screenplay by Daniel Clowes, stars Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Wilson (Woody Harrelson) lives in a book cluttered apartment with his fox terrier Pepper. He has yet to adjust to 21st century technology. When his father is sick in the hospital, he drops off his dog with a sitter, Shelly (Judy Greer). When a stranger (Margo Martindale) he met in a parking lot offers to look up his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern) online, a series of unexpected, life-altering discoveries occur for him. Fatherhood (a daughter named Claire, played by Isabella Amara), a kidnapping of sorts, some Antoine Doinel-style stalking, a furious former sister-in-law (Cheryl Hines as Polly), jail time, and a new lease on life are in store.

Wilson (Woody Harrelson) with Pippi (Laura Dern):
Wilson (Woody Harrelson) with Pippi (Laura Dern): "I think Wilson is kind of a catalyst ..."

In 2000, Woody Harrelson was in Sam Shepard's The Late Henry Moss with Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Cheech Marin, and Sheila Tousey which was captured on film by Michael Almereyda in This So-Called Disaster: Sam Shepard Directs The Late Henry Moss. In his role as Taxi Man, Harrelson intrudes into the family dynamics and says what nobody wants to hear.

Not a shy man, Wilson likes to talk to all kinds of strangers. On an empty train, on the swing at the playground, in the men's room at an amusement park. This can cause trouble because he always says exactly what he thinks. His lack of filters can be exhilarating, annoying or traumatising for the world around him.

"Nobody has real conversations anymore," Wilson diagnoses. A very truthful, lovely, sincere moment of remembrance for Pepper, whom he salutes as the "pride of the neighborhood," shows how much Harrelson can do as an actor - switching in a split second from the ridiculous to the sublime. Here's to hoping that his veganism spreads far and wide on all the movie sets he works on!

Anne-Katrin Titze: In The Late Henry Moss you were a chauffeur to the underworld and a kind of catalyst. I could see some of that in Wilson. A catalyst by his talking to strangers, interfering into their lives. And possibly,we don't see it, but changing the lives of others. Is that how you see him?

Wilson and Pepper (Penny) - Woody on Pepper's dog food:
Wilson and Pepper (Penny) - Woody on Pepper's dog food: "In fact, I'm quite sure it wasn't vegan."

Woody Harrelson: Wow, now that is an obscure reference. Did you go see that play?

AKT: Yes.

WH: Oh, my god. That's a while. Was that like '99 or something?

AKT: 2001?

WH: 2000? Well, you know, I know it happened during the election. That's right. The election happened during that. Where somehow magically, the person who got the most votes wasn't the President. It's a weird little thing - in our society, this democratic society.

But, yeah, I mean, I think Wilson is kind of a catalyst for a lot of, probably a lot of … You know. I mean, who knows? I mean the truth tellers in the world, they do tend to like ... Someone said to me the other day - I was bitching about some stupid thing, I don't know, that I was experiencing. Second unit on this production I'm involved in.

And I don't know what I was … Who cares what I was bitching about, but the point is, the lady says to me: "Get a grip. I'm in retail." I was like - truth teller! That stayed with me more than anything. I'm like, how am I bitching? Like, I got the greatest life imaginable.

Wilson poster at The Whitby Hotel in New York
Wilson poster at The Whitby Hotel in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In a pet shop, while purchasing a huge sack of "Taste of the Wild" for his dog, Wilson helps another customer reach for a chicken toy and later rams her car in the parking lot to make contact. This doesn't work, but he meets a bystander (Martindale), who says she would be flattered if someone rammed her car on purpose. They have ice cream together, one thing leads to another but, once again, not at all according to movie convention wisdom.

AKT: Is he buying vegan dog food in Wilson? I noticed "Taste of the Wild". I was wondering if that was vegan dog food?

WH: Oh, I doubt it. I didn't have any say in that!

AKT: You had no say about that?

WH: Whatever they had, had to do with the trainer of the dog. In fact, I'm quite sure it wasn't vegan.

Coming up - Wilson director Craig Johnson, screenwriter Daniel Clowes, Laura Dern, and Judy Greer on dogs, tattoos, Hitchcock, and Oakland's fairyland in Minneapolis.

Wilson comes out in the US on March 24.

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