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INTERVIEW: Woody Harrelson Bites the Bullet for Adolf

The Emmy Award-winning actor discusses his new play about two Midwesterners chasing a mysterious artifact at New World Stages.

Woody Harrelson
(© David Gordon)
In 1983, 22-year-old Woody Harrelson and Frankie Hyman were working construction together in the sweltering hot Houston summer. Harrelson had just graduated from Hanover College in Indiana, where he received a dual degree in theater arts and English, and had his whole life ahead of him.

As it happens, it would be two years before he would be cast in his breakout role as Woody Boyd on the sitcom Cheers (for which he won an Emmy Award and received six nominations), but it was during that seemingly uneventful summer that the germ began for Harrelson and Hyman's play Bullet for Adolf, which makes its Off-Broadway debut on July 19 at New World Stages.

The work explores a friendship between two Midwesterners (played by Brandon Coffey and Tyler Jacob Rollinson) who encounter a New Yorker running from his past and soon become entangled in mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a World War II artifact.

One reason for the decades-long delay in the play's arrival is that the pair, after becoming such close friends, lost complete track of one another. "I thought about him all the time," Harrelson says. "Finally, I went on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and said 'Does anybody know Frankie Hyman?'" As it turns out, Hyman's brother was watching the show that night, and not long after the friends reconnected and started writing their play.

While he is best known for his work onscreen -- he has also starred in such films as The People vs. Larry Flynt and The Messenger, both of which earned him Oscar nominations -- Harrelson, who is also directing the play, has been heavily involved in theater for over 30 years.

"I did 26 plays in college. Sometimes, I'd be working on three plays at a time," he notes. "Even while I was on Cheers, I'd put up little plays. I think now I really understand how to stage things, how to block things, and how, hopefully, to make things more interesting on the stage than they were in the script."

The actor, who starred on Broadway in The Rainmaker, definitely believes he's learned a lot from his last stage experience -- a London production of The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams. "If it works effectively, after two-and-a-half hours, the audience should feel like they've been punched in the gut," he says. "I decided then that I'll never do anything but comedy after that. This time, I just want them to laugh hysterically."