GO FURTHER SPEC directed by Ron Mann, written by Solomon Vesta, produced by Mann, with Woody Harrelson, Ken Kesey and Steve Clark. 90 minutes. A Sphinx production. Saturday, September 6, 6:45 pm, at the Uptown 1; and Saturday, September 13, 3:30 pm, at the Isabel Bader. Rating: NNNNN
We're in a sweaty bar on sixth street Austin's main club drag, when a cowboy in big boots clip-clops over and thrusts his hand at an ever-smiling Woody Harrelson. "Man, I saw your movie, went straight home and got two big boxes of frozen veal and tossed them from my freezer."
Harrelson smiles even bigger and locks his sky-blue eyes on his new cowpoke pal. When Harrelson talks to you, he makes you feel like the only person in the room. "That's great, man. Good for you. It makes a difference."
The film that freaked the not-so-lonesome cowboy is Go Further, an excellent documentary road movie directed by Toronto's Ron Mann, premiering at this year's film festival. It features Harrelson and a hemp-oil-fuelled bus full of buddies on an eco-consciousness-raising tour of the American West Coast inspired by the 60s travels of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters.
It's the same scene a few months later backstage at last week's Blue Rodeo show at the Molson Amphitheatre. This time the bubbling new buddy hasn't even seen the movie. "Woody, I read an article about your new flick. The director was talking about you doing yoga and, well, now I'm doing it - and it's great."
More congratulations from the star, and yet another person beams under the Harrelson good-vibe umbrella.
Go Further is a funny, hopeful film that manages to challenge just about every part of the Western lifestyle without self-righteously finger - pointing, serving up a checklist of choices for better living.
I confess to Harrelson that, well, I haven't acted yet on any of the issues the movie raises.
"But I'm thinking about starting yoga."
"The fact that you're even thinking about it is amazing," says Harrelson, "And it's all about evolution, not revolution anyway."
Harrelson's efforts to get hemp - and pot - legalized in the States remain his most publicized political actions, and his very public position against "Bush War Two" continues to make him a favourite target of Fox News, CNN and the rest of the American media monolith.
But these two stands are just part of a larger world view that's all about "leaving a lighter footprint on the earth."
Harrelson is an all-organic vegan presently 28 days into a 30-day fast. He chuckles in Toronto, days after the blackout that paralyzed the northeast. Harrelson and his family live well off the grid in the Hawaiian forest with 40 other families in a community that has no power lines sticking into it and no sewers or water mains under its earth.
It's a totally self-sufficient way of life that Harrelson thinks is more achievable than most believe. He offers tips on how to do it on the people-power Web site he and his wife, Laura Louie, have created at www.voiceyourself.com.
But how does a mega-star rationalize his larger-than-life existence with his simple aspirations?
"I don't live larger than life. I live a very simple life in a simple home with a simple power supply coming from the sun. I pick my breakfast in the morning off a mango tree, and I'm as happy as a friggin' boy can be.
"Organic produce is number one because we've got to stop using pesticides." Food is the biggest of the many issues that fire Harrelson, both for personal health and the health of the planet. "Before even thinking about bio-diesel, solar panels, anything - get energy into your body first." And don't even think of dairy. "Yeah, milk does a body good - if you're a calf."
Harrelson was in San Francisco hanging with his buddy and fellow anti-war actor activist, Sean Penn, during the blackout. The timeliness of plugging a movie about living off the grid as the power supply hemorrhages is not lost on the thoughtful actor.
"It's just further proof that the energy system as it exists right now is not sustainable and is friggin' disastrous ecologically and socially. The people in the petroleum industry are the ultimate human rights violators.
"The deal with oil is, we've got to get off the dinosaur tit. It's great for a few, disastrous for others, including small countries like Iraq and Afghanistan that get in the way of the oil-igarchy."
As we chill late at night in a Toronto backyard, his animal love flares. Two raccoons show up, and Harrelson is on his feet to greet his animal buddies. "Don't feed them," we beg, but it's too late as he tosses fruit to the fur-faced foragers.
So how did a serious theatre student and self-confessed young wildman who hit a Hollywood home run at 22 with a starring role on the major network sitcom Cheers turn into a committed earth warrior?
"It just slowly evolved. I always felt attached to animals, the same way I see my kids are. But I wasn't that conscious, and it's always good to be a little unconscious because then it doesn't have to gnaw at you. So I was enjoying that state for a while, and then I started to get hip because Ted (Danson, his Cheers co-star) asked me to fill in for him at a couple of American Oceans Campaign events.
"I said all right. I'm 25 at the time, I'm a freakin' madman, but I said, 'I'll just focus on this,' and that's what I did. I studied everything about ocean gill netting, because that was what I was going to speak on. It was horrible stuff.
"I started finding out more about the ocean, and then I heard about a plan to turn over 6 million acres of Montana wilderness to the extraction industries."
On that fight Harrelson met Greenpeacer Peter Bahouth, who had a big influence on him and now contributes to www.voiceyourself.com. After that, his activism bloomed. Once you start getting aware, he says, it just grows.
But you have to wonder whether rabid political activism is the best career move for an Oscar-nominated actor with lots of opportunity to go deep on the Hollywood experience. Has it ever hurt?
"Never. Because success to me equals happiness. It doesn't equal money or fame, so they can't take away my success. It's impossible."
As it is, this is turning into a good time work-wise for Harrelson. He's currently in Toronto directing Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth with a small local theatre company, and when the show wraps up at the end of next month he starts shooting a movie with Spike Lee. And his activism posed no barrier to his recent TV gig, a regular spot on Will & Grace.
That gig gave him the chance to try to persuade star Debra Messing to abandon dairy. He failed.
"I've been 18 years in this profession, and lately I've been focusing more on theatre and my family. The best word I can hear any day is "Daddy," and the movie I'm most proud of making so far is Go Further."
Like inspiration Ken Kesey (the Go Further crew's visit to the original prankster at his Oregon home was his last onscreen appearance), Harrelson believes in meeting people and making connections. He's a Hollywood head-turner who's down to earth and always asks questions when he meets someone new.
In many ways, he does his most effective work selling an alternative lifestyle by looking so good and having such a great time doing it.
"I'm a good worker and a hard worker - and I'm also a world-class vacationer."
Go Further Rating: NNNN (Ron Mann) It's supposed to be a road trip documentary about Woody Harrelson and friends biking, eco-busing and raising consciousness along the U.S. West Coast. But like any good doc, another story, almost a narrative, emerges. Harrelson brought a junk-food-munching production assistant along from his Will & Grace shoot to help load bikes on and off the bus. The transformation of Steve Clark - aka Jedi - from chain-smoking Big Mac scarfer into committed, earth-loving vegetarian is a hilarious and touching slice of real life that gives us all hope.
Despite its potentially earnest message, Go Further never gets preachy, largely because of Harrelson's good-natured patience with those who haven't embraced his "earth first" approach, and because of great characters like Jedi and others they meet along the way. Despite its potentially earnest message, Go Further never gets preachy, largely because of Harrelson's good-natured patience with those who haven't embraced his "earth first" approach, and because of great characters like Jedi and others they meet along the way. Despite its potentially earnest message, Go Further never gets preachy, largely because of Harrelson's good-natured patience with those who haven't embraced his "earth first" approach, and because of great characters like Jedi and others they meet along the way.
In Go Further, getting there is more than half the fun. In Go Further, getting there is more than half the fun. In Go Further, getting there is more than half the fun.