When writing and directing your first feature film that you’re also starring in, most people would try and tackle something easy. A movie without too many locations, maybe, or a story with just a few characters. Something stress-free that still allows you to demonstrate you know how to make a movie and can be trusted with a bigger budget for your next project.
Clearly Woody Harrelson didn’t get that memo when he decided to make Lost in London, which premiered earlier this year and was based on real-life events in Harrelson’s life.
Rather than make something safe and easy for his first time writing and helming a feature film, Harrelson decided to make the most ambitious project imaginable for his debut movie, which consisted of filming in real time and in a single take with 300 crew and 500 extras. As I watched the movie, I was blown away at the technical achievement and couldn’t believe how the story kept adding characters and locations all over London. Trust me, this is an amazing accomplishment and one that’s absolutely worth checking out.
With the film now available on Digital and VOD, I recently landed an exclusive interview with Woody Harelson. He talked about where the idea came from, all the various challenges he had to deal with, the casting process, the vomiting scene, and the rehearsal process. Plus, he tells a story about how right before they were going to film, an unexploded ordinance from World War II was discovered at a key location. In addition, he talked about how he ended up in director Ruben Fleischer’s Venom movie with Tom Hardy, and so much more.
Check out what Woody Harrelson had to say below, and I definitely recommend checking out Lost in London if you have the chance.
WOODY HARRELSON: How are you, man?
Collider: It’s been a long 18 hours since I last spoke to you.
HARRELSON: Yeah. That’s wild. Thandie’s wild, man.
Yeah, absolutely. It was a very good pairing. She has a lot of energy.
Yeah, like I said yesterday, man, thought Solo was great. I actually saw it again last night in IMAX, it’s just a fun film.
HARRELSON: Well, thanks, man.
But jumping in to why I get to talk-
HARRELSON: I’m just saying it’s an amazing accomplishment from Ron, you know? I can’t believe he pulled that off.
I could keep talking to you about that, but I do want to talk to you about your film. So I watched Lost in London yesterday and I can not believe you pulled this off.
HARRELSON: Oh, thanks, man.
Seriously, it’s beyond ambitious for even a seasoned filmmaker, let alone a first time filmmaker to try to tell this story. So, when did you know you wanted to do this?
HARRELSON: Well, it was a couple years after the incident. The incident happened 2002, I couldn’t get it out of my head as it happens when you have one of the worst nights of your life, and I kept thinking about it, but then I started shifting my thoughts and thinking, “You know, you look at this from another perspective, it’s kind of funny.” You know? And then I thought, “Man, I could make this into a comedy.” Then I later started thinking, “Geez, you know, if I could just deal with that little gap where I finally fall asleep and I could make that work, I could actually shoot this in real time.” That’s how it all developed.
You wrote and directed this. Obviously you worked with producers and a ton of talented people to pull this off. What did you end up having to possibly change as a result of just what you were trying to do? Meaning everything in real time.
HARRELSON: Well, that’s where I had to put in that kind of … the dream sequence, you know? In the jail cell.
HARRELSON: With Mr. Nelson. Yeah, I had to do that, otherwise that wouldn’t have worked. That didn’t actually happen, but a lot of it happened as it is. There is a lot of lines that were actually from the night. So when I was … when the guy said, “Put your hands under your head.” I was like, “If I take my hands off my knees, I’m gonna fall down.” You know? I’m so tired.
HARRELSON: So, yeah, things like that really happened, and also on that same sequence, just as an example, he was like, “You know what would have happened to you in the States if you’d have run like that?” You know all those, there were things like that that were actually from the night. Obviously, it wasn’t a funny night, so I had to come up with some humor.
One of the sequences that I couldn’t believe was you in the bathroom with the throw up. What I’m curious about though, is how do you actually pull that off to film … because you’re doing it all in real time, so as it happened I couldn’t believe that you had had it ready.
HARRELSON: Yeah. If you watch it again, you’ll see there’s a little telltale thing there that kind of gives it away, but you’d have to watch it close.
I thought you pulled it off great. I didn’t see it coming.
HARRELSON: Well, that’s good.
It’s also a very funny sequence.
HARRELSON: Oh, thank you. I love that too. That girl is really, really talented, Zrinka [Cvitesic].
Absolutely. Jumping into the rehearsals, obviously this does not come together and look as good as it does without rehearsals. Talk a little bit about putting it together, and in terms of the rehearsals and how long was that process?
HARRELSON: Well, I had to come out in … I guess it was October, so this is October, what would be a year and a half ago, whatever. I had to go over and work on the casting, and then I left. I was working on … I forget what it was. And then I came back, and then … That was what enabled me, that trip over in October and then I was completing casting, but I was also starting a rehearsal, so that I got to get into rehearsal sooner than I would have, and really terrific actors. Shaheen [Baig], who is the casting person, just really good. She’s the lady who does Peaky Blinders and knew she’d be good, but she was great. She brought in a lot of super talented actors.
Were you nervous about having the kids doing … ‘Cause you have young kids playing in the film, and obviously you’ve filmed this very late at night. Talk a little bit about that.
HARRELSON: Well, that was a big issue, because they’ll let you do that one night, but they won’t let you do it two nights. It’s kind of like a very local thing where they vote on it, and they voted against allowing it…it was supposed to be three nights running. We were gonna do three … A total of three times we would film it, but they weren’t allowed the three nights. They did allow the two nights, which that was a struggle to get that to happen, and so the one night we literally filmed it twice. That was the night before the actual thing, and the actual night. Actually, the first time was, I think, pretty good. But the second time was at a … people just too exhausted. That started by five in the morning.
Yeah, I can’t imagine doing it once, let alone twice.
Did you have to get permission to be able to use the Cheers them?
HARRELSON: Yeah, I had to get permission on that, of course. It was no problem. Yeah, there was a lot of things like that I really hadn’t thought about that you had to get permission for, so … Luckily, those things were … lawyers took care of that stuff, but some of it I thought they were a little overzealous. Like whether I could say so-and-so’s name, or whatever. A lot of wild shit happened that were kind of big obstacles. The sound was the biggest obstacle, number one. Just didn’t come together. And then also, just before we shot it in one of our last run-throughs, we couldn’t run it all the way through ’cause I didn’t have access to the theater, so I couldn’t iron that stuff out the way I wanted to, and there’s the kid. You know, like the special kid who’s the good cop’s son.