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Woody Harrelson talks about roles in ‘Zombieland’ and ‘Midway’

Just like the “Cheers” song, “Everybody knows his name. Few know that Woody Harrelson is 58 years old.

The laid-back star of the new “Zombieland” and “Midway” films is just as chill about hitting this stage of his life.

“When I was younger, I felt like someone pushing the big rock up a hill. Now, I’m just trying to hold onto the rock, so I don’t careen down the other side,” said Harrelson who looks decades younger on a warm fall day in Los Angeles.

“I wake up in the morning and think, ‘Dude, don’t careen today!’ ” he joked.

He’s too busy for a downward slide with two big movies this season including “Zombieland: Double Tap,” where he reprises his role as zombie-hunting Tallahassee along with Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. Then in director Roland Emmerich’s “Midway,” he plays Admiral Chester Nimitz in the story of the Battle of Midway told by the leaders and those who fought it.

Review-Journal: What is your idea of a great Sunday?

Woody Harrelson: I’m at home in Hawaii with my family. That’s paradise. I’ll wake up. Do some yoga. Maybe I’ll play soccer or join a game of basketball. You can’t sit it out in life. You have to keep moving. I love to toss the Frisbee around on the beach with my daughters or we go surfing. Man, that’s a good day.

Why did you choose to do the film “Midway”?

I really wanted to work with Roland Emmerich again. I think he’s a master filmmaker and this was a perfect fit for him. It’s a big battle movie and I don’t think anyone could bring it to the big screen the way that Roland can do it. … It was also a fascinating time in our history that’s not really known. Most people know about Pearl Harbor, but they don’t know that the battle of Midway really shifted the war in the Pacific.

Did you get to spend time with military men and women?

The best part was I met with so many amazing members of the military. In fact, the other day I got to play basketball with the fine young men and women of the Navy. They’re trying to make a difference in the world. Very cool. Very exciting. I feel a huge debt of gratitude to those brave people.

What do you look for in a role?

I’m looking for a phenomenal script and a phenomenal part. Maybe it should scare me. Just a little bit. I want it to be interesting and not just the good guy or the bad guy. No one is just one thing.

How do you get under a character’s skin?

I do try to take aspects of myself that relate to the character and fill in the rest with a little imagination. Some movies need a lot of imagination. Some less. I just have to go into my mind to think about what life has been like for this guy. Of course, it’s good if there is a great script and a top writer giving me pointers.

You’ve done some crazy roles. “Natural Born Killers” comes to mind. Do you ever scare yourself with how deep you can go into a role?

I guess that’s the blessing and the curse of acting. You want to really get into the skin of a character, but when you’re finally in it, it can be a little scary.

Is it easier to make love or war on screen?

Oh, it’s always easier doing love scenes. Honestly, I can’t tell you those are hard scenes because they’re not most of the time. If you know the actress it can be weird, though. On one film, we had to take a few shots of tequila first before doing the love scene.

Do you lament the movies that weren’t hits?

I don’t lament. Even the movies nobody saw the first time around are good films. I hope that my audience will find them someday. It feels really cool to look back and say, “People are just discovering this because it was really good.” I guess I don’t want to even think about the films that were actually bad. Those are out there, too. The deal is you just want to keep making good choices. That’s what counts. The movies will outlive me.

You’re the dad of three daughters — Zoe, 23, Deni, 26, and Makani, 13. Are you a strict dad?

I call them “the goddess trilogy.” They’re amazing. As for me as a dad, you could say I’ve got my own style of parenting. It’s a laissez faire style. I basically just treat my kids with respect and love. I say, “Do your own thing. Don’t let anyone treat you badly.” But what do I know? Their mom is the No. 1 reason the kids have grown up so great. She’s doing the work. I come in and do a little frosting on the cake.

Holidays are coming up. What is the best gift you’ve ever received?

It wasn’t for Christmas. When I turned 50, someone gave me every single thing I have ever done on film or tape including all the episodes of “Cheers.” This present included my episodes of “Will &Grace” and every single movie. It was a big shopping bag of stuff and I couldn’t believe how many DVDs were in there including even my small movie parts.

Did you stage your own Woody Harrelson film festival?

At the time, I took the movies over to my daughter Makani, who was little, and said, “Which one of them do you want to see?” Of course, she pointed to “Kingpin.” I haven’t seen “Kingpin” since it came out and I watched it with her thinking, “That one turned out great. It’s a hell of a movie. Damn! Always makes me feel great.”

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