Hollywood is obviously full of unique and memorable celebrities, and has been for 100 years or so, but it’s difficult to come up with a handful that put a capital I on Individual quite like Woody Harrelson, who is currently filming the Han Solo-centric Star Wars spinoff. The actor can be seen in theaters right now in War of the Planet of the Apes, making it all the more difficult to picture his breakout role as the soft-spoken (and soft-headed) Woody Boyd on Cheers. Even the way that Harrelson landed the bartender role is hilariously unique. In his words:
I was 23, and I kind of had an idea that I didn’t want to do television because I generally didn’t like the quality. But eventually I went in and I read for [the Cheers casting director]. I was really carefree because I knew I was going back to New York, and they’d pretty much decided on this one guy, but they were just doing a few more auditions, so I went in and I could tell right away — she was like, ‘Aha! Hang on.’ She says, ‘I want you to come in and do this for the boys,’ right? Well, it turned out she was taking me in to meet the writers. I didn’t know this. I’m following behind her, and I needed to blow my nose. I’m going down the hallway, through a door, into where everybody is, and I just happened to be blowing my nose, and then everybody laughed before I said a word. And as [director] Jimmy Burrows said, ‘You had the part right then.’
I couldn’t love that story more, as it speaks to both the incredibly young Woody Harrelson, as well as the memorable character he would go on to play for eight seasons. Woody Boyd, beyond having some uncomfortably interesting hair days, wasn’t the most potent bourbon on the shelf, to spin the phrase with a barkeep in mind. With an innocent naivety hanging on him like an albatross, he’s the kind of character that would walk directly into an interview while blowing his nose…which is exactly what Harrelson did. It’s like he was getting into method acting without realizing it.
In his interview with THR, Woody Harrelson talked about how rough his life was before that fateful audition, and how being chased and maced by cops at one point turned it all around for him. He was actually set to take on an understudy position for a Neil Simon play when the Cheers thing happened, which is kind of incredible to think about. The world was so very close to missing out on Woody Boyd, a man who doesn’t necessarily understand why one would joke about a refrigerator running. I’d rather not think about who else would have taken on the gig.
But let’s go ahead and just state this directly right here. Woody Harrelson got Cheers with nothing more than a snotty nose. And Brad Pitt lost Cheers because he wasn’t funny enough for whatever role he auditioned for. Imagine a world where both of those thesps were boozing it up with Ted Danson and George Wendt together all day.
While Cheers is only available to watch on streaming — at least until it inevitably becomes the next big TV revival — you can check out our summer TV schedule to see everything hitting the small screen soon.