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Woody and me

October 29, 2021

As anyone who’s on Facebook knows, they like to throw up memories. One of mine yesterday was this.

“Woody Harrelson’s on Real Time and I’m having flashbacks to a conversation with Cindy at Steve’s Canada Day party in 2002 and a Friday night in the Clyde a couple of years later.”

The memory did make me smile. I’ve already shared my Kenneth Branagh story (twice), but I’m pretty sure Woody’s never merited a mention. Here goes.

In the early summer of 2002, when I was working at the Greenpeace UK office, Steve, the former campaigns manager of Greenpeace Canada, turned up in London as the campaigns manager of another NGO. He was subletting the north London home of Gert, at that time the executive director of Greenpeace International, based in Amsterdam.

Steve decided to have a Canada Day party. I was one of a number of people from the Greenpeace UK office who was invited. At one point I was standing in the garden with Cindy Baxter, a Kiwi working in the UK. I glanced over at this guy and said to Cindy, “That guy over there really looks like Woody Harrelson.” She agreed that he did. Shortly afterwards Cindy said, “That guy over there really sounds like Woody Harrelson.” I agreed that he did. A moment later we looked at one another and one of us said, “I think that guy actually is Woody Harrelson.” What the hell was Woody Harrelson doing there?

We cornered Steve, who explained. As was well known within the organisation, Woody was a great pal of Twilly, the (sadly now late lamented) head of actions with Greenpeace USA. Woody was at that time doing a play in the West End. Before Steve left for the UK, Twilly contacted him to say Woody was feeling a bit lonely in London and suggested Steve try to get in touch with him. So Steve invited him to the party. It was on a Sunday, which meant Woody could attend if he wanted to do so, as the theatres would be dark. And it turned out he wanted to do so. 

Later in the evening, as I was getting ready to leave, so was Woody. He asked if someone could remind him how to get back to the tube station. (It was about a 10 minute walk.) I said I was leaving anyway, so I’d walk him down there. On the way we chatted about a number of things. I commended him on his willingness to take small roles in films that might not otherwise get a wide release, citing, as just one example, Welcome to Sarajevo. This Channel Four film would never have been picked up by Miramax if Harrelson hadn’t agreed to be in it.

The beginning of the trailer makes it look as if he and Stephen Dillane are co-stars (and indeed they shared top billing), but Harrelson’s role as a gonzo journalist was quite minor.

In return, Woody recommended a book to me: A Friend of the Earth by T C Boyle. He said he’d been trying to persuade someone to make it into a film for years.

We parted ways at the tube station. (I was getting a bus.)

I did order and read a copy of the novel, written in 2000 and set in 2025 after climate change has taken its toll and biodiversity is a thing of the past.

And that was me meeting Woody Harrelson. The first time.

Flash forward a couple of years and I am working on a contract for the League Against Cruel Sports. One Friday evening a large number of staff members went to the pub after work (as opposed to the diehards, myself included, who went to the pub most nights). In this larger group were some young women, one of whom made the trek from the public bar through the saloon bar to the ladies toilet. She came back with the news that Woody Harrelson was in the saloon bar. 

I did know that Harrelson and Kyle MacLachlan were soon going to be starring in a play together in the West End and figured they were probably rehearsing somewhere on the south bank.

Anyway, this spotting of Woody Harrelson in the other bar caused quite a flurry of excitement amongst some of the female members of staff. It was known that Harrelson, a vegetarian, was an outspoken supporter of animal rights causes. It was suggested that someone should go to speak to him and make him aware that there was a group of people from the League in the other bar. I was having a conversation at the other end of the table with a couple of people who were cringing as much as I was at the thought. None of us voiced an opinion, none said, “Leave the man alone.” One of the young women went off to introduce herself (and the organisation), returning with the news that Woody would come and say hello in a few minutes. And indeed he did. I looked away, pretending this wasn’t happening, continuing my conversation. Meanwhile, Woody’s fans had been struck dumb. Tamsin, one of the sillier young women, who was sitting on my other side, elbowed me in the ribs and said, “Anne, Anne, you have to talk to him. You’re good at this.” I sighed, stood up, walked around the table, held my hand out and said, “Woody, hi. I don’t know if you remember me, but we met at that Greenpeace party here a couple of summers ago.” He looked at me for a moment, recognition dawned and he held out his hand, saying, “Sure. I remember.” We shook hands and then I said, “I didn’t think I’d ever run into you again, but now that I have, I’d like to thank you for recommending A Friend of the Earth. I really enjoyed it. I can see why you rather urgently want to see it made into a film. In a few years you’ll be too old to play Ty.” He laughed and agreed that would be the case. Then I said I’d leave him alone because (pointing at Tamsin) “that young lady over there is so desperate to have her photo taken with you she’ll probably pee her pants if she doesn’t get to do that soon”. Tamsin, predictably, leapt up and hurried around the table. I went back to my seat and a quick glance revealed that pretty much everyone in the group was gaping at me. I returned to my conversation. Woody suffered having his photo taken with Tamsin and various other young female fans. As he was leaving, I looked up. “Good to see you again,” he said. And then he was gone.

So, that’s it. Woody and me.

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