Woody Harrelson makes Netflix debut with ‘The Highwaymen’

First, it was the big screen heavyweights migrating to the small screen. That trend is fast-becoming passé as Netflix becomes the new best thing and everyone who’s anyone is clamouring to work for it in Hollywood and around the globe; including South Africa with Shadow, a local original series that enjoyed a debut in 190 countries. 

It stars Pallance Dladla as the eponymous lead with Amanda Du-Pont – a feather in their cap, no doubt. Netflix’s currency also soared to greater heights after Alfonso Cuarón’s black and white feature, Roma, won best director, best cinematography and foreign language film at the Oscars last month. 

While on the subject of movies, the Netflix film making a noise is The Highwaymen, with Woody Harrelson cast alongside another heavyweight, Kevin Costner (Frank Hamer). 

In a telephone interview with the 57-year-old actor, who has straddled comedic and sobering roles with panache throughout his career, he was intrigued by my name while exchanging pleasantries. 

After attempting to pronounce it several times, he gave up and asked: “When you meet people, do you always have to repeat your name like three times?” “I just tell them to call me, ‘D’, as in the fourth letter of the alphabet,” I said. 

He laughed, most grateful to have a simplified option, and said: “I’m just gonna call you, D, then.” We both chuckled, in agreement, before proceeding with the tête-à-tête. 

He explained his eagerness to play Maney Gault, one of the Texas Rangers involved in putting an end to the theft and killing spree of notorious criminal couple Bonnie and Clyde. 

“I got to read the script and I thought it was phenomenal. John Fusco is a really top-grade writer. I loved the script. I thought it was an amazing story. I don’t know your appreciation being in South Africa and how much it resonates there. But, for some reason, the Bonnie and Clyde story, to this day, there’s a fascination with it in America. “When I read it, I thought it was so cool to see it from another perspective. I’m hoping people feel the same way when they watch it.” 

Paired with Costner, he admitted, “It was pretty cool. I really do admire Kevin in the same way Maney admires Frank in the movie. So it was kind of easy to play that part for me. There’s a lot in us that parallels the characters, you know. 

Frank is a strong and decisive character. He is a really smart guy, who just gets shit done. Maney has a great deal of admiration for him and I think that comes across.” The movie also stars Kathy Bates. 

On sharing screen space with her, he said: “Yeah, she is phenomenal.” This is his first project with Netflix and, going by his comments, it won’t be his last. He agreed: “Yeah, it’s my first time working with them. I figured it’s better getting good with them while they are taking over the world. 

“They are also great to work with. They trust the artist and they just let them do their thing and they don’t interfere with it. They don’t nickel and dime the production, which I have seen a lot of with other movies. It just blows my mind how much they penny-pinch.” 

The Hunger Games actor was also in the first season of True Detective, opposite Matthew McConaughey. As for his love for this whodunnit genre, he admitted: “Well, it’s always pretty fascinating, you know, working on a case that has a lot of interest. People are very interested in Bonnie and Clyde. I find this one cool as it looks at how we track them.” When he isn’t on set, learning lines, he does enjoy kicking back to watch a movie. 

“I will say, I get a chance to watch things – but usually, I watch it at home. Roma, I thought was a phenomenal movie. When I saw Green Book, I said that’s the best movie of the year. Turns out, other people agreed. 

“I also thought The Favourite was fantastic. A lot of cool selections. 

It (the Oscars) was unusual this year.” When pushed to share more on his upcoming projects, Harrelson, who was last seen in Venom and Solo: A Star Wars Story, teased: “I don’t want to bore you.

” I told him fans would be far from it. He gave in, “I’m working on Zombieland 2 right now. There’s a couple of other things coming up, too.” After several decades in the industry, he gives the nod to projects based on: the script, the director, the other actors and cinematographer involved. 

“It’s always about what makes a story worth telling. I have three different projects but I guess you can’t call it TV anymore.” 

And so streaming platforms continue to dip into the acting pool normally reserved for big and small screen projects. The tide is changing, creativity is flourishing and actors like Harrelson are embracing as well as celebrating the transformation in the different entertainment spaces.


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