Woody Harrelson/Matthew McConoughey


When Matthew McConoughey beat out Woody Harrelson for the lead role in 1996's "A Time to Kill," based on a John Grisman novel, many commented on the resemblance McConoughey bore to the real article, as though they'd gone for Woody Lite. The actors later played brothers in "Ed TV" (1999), Ron Howard's knock off of Jim Carrey/Peter Weir's "The Truman Show" (1998). 

Woody Harrelson (b. 7/23/61) was a football-playing jock at his Ohio high school when he says the theatre bug bit him after an impromptu Elvis impersonation at the school cafeteria. He studied Theatre Arts in college and was a stage actor when he was offered the role of his namesake on the TV series "Cheers" (1985-1993).

Harrelson had big shoes to fill. He was to replace the beloved character "Coach," played by Nicholas Colasanto, who died after the show's third season. Instead of bringing in an older actor, the show's writers introduced Woody Boyd, who had the innocence of Coach as a young man. Boyd was "country dumb," and Harrelson parlayed his famous role into an equally loveble public persona, while winning the "Funniest Newcomer" American Comedy Award plus an Emmy for the role.

After "Cheers," Harrelson jumped onto the big screen with films like "White Men Can't Jump" (1992) and "Indecent Proposal" (1993). He moved on to a controversial role in Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" (1994), the part that aced him out of the Grisman flick but launched him into a career playing all manner of interesting characters, such as a German transvestite named Galaxia in "Anger Management" (2003). The only regular cast member from "Cheers" to receive a nomination for an Academy Award (for 2003's "The People vs. Larry Flint"), Harrelson showed his musical talent as well as his humor in 2006's "A Prairie Home Companion," directed by VIP Robert Altman. (Garrison Keillor, by the way, has come out against the drug war.)

In between roles in major motion pictures, Harrelson has found time to become an activist for hemp and the environment. He got headlines for climbing San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge to hang a banner protesting the logging of ancient redwood trees, and for ceremoniously planting a few hemp seeds in Kentucky, intentionally getting arrested to challenge the Kentucky law that failed to differentiate between marijuana and its less-psychoactive cousin hemp (he won the case). He has travelled the country on a bike in caravan with a hemp-oil-fueled biodiesel bus, lecturing at colleges and festivals, taking the press in tow. He also narrated the excellent documentary "Grass" (1999).

Of pot he says, "I do smoke, but I don't go through all this trouble just because I want to make my drug of choice legal. It's about personal freedom. We should have the right in this country to do what we want, if we don't hurt anybody. Seventy-two million people in this country have smoked pot. Eighteen to 20 million in the last year. These people should not be treated as criminals."

Upon his opening in December 2005 in Tennessee Williams's "The Night Of The Iguana" at the Lyric Theatre in London, Harrelson told Alison Roberts of the Evening Standard, "I've kind of become the poster boy for this, when there are so many more important things to talk about. But yes, there's a level of hypocrisy within governments about it, and I have to call bullshit when I see it. Tobacco and alcohol and various pharmaceuticals are much more addictive than pot. If you're banning something because it's harmful, then freaking outlaw McDonald's." Asked, does he still smoke it? Harrelson replied, "Sure. If the cops want to nail me they just have to find me on a Saturday night."

Matthew McConaughey (b. 11/4/69) was arrested for pot possession in 1999 after police responded to a noise complaint at his home in Austin, TX and found him playing the bongos in the nude, with a bong at his side. McConaughey appeared as an older guy chasing high school girls in "Dazed and Confused" (1993), Richard Linklater's hugely disappointing follow up to his beautifully crafted "Slackers" (1991). McConaughey was good in "Contact" (1997) (based on the book by VIP Carl Sagan), but lately tends to play dull romantic leads in movies like "The Wedding Planner" and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." Maybe he's just trying to finance some of his own projects, like "The Rebel" (1998).  You can't blame him for cashing in on his looks: he was named People Magazine's 2005 Sexiest Man Alive.   



Copyright 2006

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