RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now, from striving to make yourself a better person to channeling the dark side of humanity. That's what actor Woody Harrelson does in a new movie, "Out of the Furnace." The film, directed by Scott Cooper, stars Christian Bale and Casey Affleck as brothers in a dying steel mill town. They're trying to make the best of the tough hand life has dealt them, when the younger brother, played by Affleck, gets back from yet another tour in Iraq, he starts fighting in an underground no-gloves boxing syndicate. It's run by a meth-dealing criminal named Harlan DeGroat, played by Woody Harrelson.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "OUT OF THE FURNACE")
WOODY HARRELSON: (as Harlan DeGroat) You gotta be a good boy and take a dive like Penny said you would, or am I gonna have to teach you a lesson?
CASEY AFFLECK: (as Russell Blaze) Teach me a lesson?
HARRELSON: (as Harlan DeGroat) Yeah, teach you a lesson. Let me hear you say it.
AFFLECK: (as Russell Blaze) Teach me a lesson.
HARRELSON: (as Harlan DeGroat) Hey, yeah, I like this one. He's tough and angry.
MARTIN: The wider world first knew Harrelson's name when he played the loveable barkeep Woody on Cheers. But he's portrayed villains before, most notably as Mickey Knox in the 1994 film "Natural Born Killers." When we spoke recently, Harrelson told me he draws from his own instinct and experience, even for the really bad guys.
HARRELSON: With any character, you kind of got to take what you have, you know, in your own personality and then kind of build on that with your imagination or whatever you've been inspired by. I certainly did, you know, spend some time hanging out with some dubious characters in the Pittsburgh area, but also some interesting people, but people who were into meth or into heroin or, you know, just people I wouldn't normally be meeting. Just to kind of get some ideas, you know. But one of the best things that happened as a result of it, I had never seen "Breaking Bad," you know. I was like, well I better watch this, this might give me some ideas. And of course then I - you talk about a binge watcher. I really went crazy with it.
MARTIN: So, when you sit down with someone who's a meth user and you're trying to figure out how you can use that in this role, what kind of questions do you ask?
HARRELSON: Oh, I just ask very basic questions about how they start their day and their friendships, and, you know, just questions you would ask, you know, as an interviewer, you would ask someone if you just wanted to get to know them better. You know, I don't usually go to tell me about your pain and what drives you, to why do you do this terrible drug? You know, I don't ask these kinds of heavy questions. I just kind of hang out and absorb what they're about a little bit.
MARTIN: I mean, this is a guy who's really, he's living on the edge of something and you don't see a lot of humanity in him. What's interesting about playing a person like that?
HARRELSON: I guess it's just interesting to play someone that I feel is so different from me, you know. I prefer light comedy, honestly...
MARTIN: Do you?
HARRELSON: ...I don't know how I end - you know, it just, the part, you know, Scott offered it to me. And I don't know if you've ever met Scott Cooper, but he's a very difficult man to turn down, so.
MARTIN: But you do know, I'm sure people have told you, you're pretty good at playing bad guys.
HARRELSON: Well, thanks, yeah. I mean, I think, I think that's a compliment.
MARTIN: As someone who prefers light comedy, how do you work yourself up to that level of anger? You pretty much attack this girlfriend of yours and another man. It's very harrowing, it's a lot of emotion. Does it take you a lot of time to get emotionally ready to do something like that?
HARRELSON: No, I would say tapping into rage if a pretty - unbelievably facile at that kind of thing. It's just - I got those resources in there and so, you know, I'm ready to go with that.
MARTIN: So, a very different role - a lot of us were first introduced to you on "Cheers" as Woody Boyd, charming, affable barkeep. I'm sure you've been asked a million times but I've always wanted to know, they just named the character after you?
HARRELSON: No, no. The character was already called Woody Boyd.
MARTIN: So, that's weird.
HARRELSON: Yeah, that was weird. Kind of meant to be. Would have been weirder if the character was called Woody Harrelson, I would be like, damn, both names? That's just ironic.
MARTIN: That would have been really weird.
MARTIN: So, if you weren't an actor what would you be? Is there another career out there that you think may have been a good fit for you?
HARRELSON: Well, I think it would have to be something in the entertainment industry. I'd probably be over there at NPR, you know, doing interviews with people. Yeah, maybe that.
MARTIN: Well, we might be able to find you a job here.
HARRELSON: Hey, whatever you can do. God knows, this won't last forever, so just let me know.
MARTIN: Woody Harrelson. He co-stars in the new film "Out of the Furnace." He joined us from L.A. Thank you so much for talking with us, Woody.
HARRELSON: Thank you.