“Acting is a little easier than doing a concert,” Willie Nelson says. “At a concert, you have to last a couple of hours, so doing a movie is a piece of cake.”
Nelson’s latest movie, however, is a higher-stakes affair than the pictures he’s appeared in in the past, since it will be filmed and broadcast into movie theaters around the world live. The ambitious comedy Lost in London, which premieres Thursday at 9:00 p.m. EST in a variety of cinemas via Fathom Events, chronicles a wild night that Nelson’s real-life pal Woody Harrelson had in the titular city a little over a decade ago. After going to a nightclub, the actor broke an ashtray in a taxi and then fled the car, switching to another cab. With the police after him, he then exited the second cab and was arrested for causing £300 of damage.
“I was a freaking idiot,” Harrelson said in 2002. “It took a long time to settle down. In the cell, I had a lot of adrenaline. I did some yoga and was thinking, ‘Here I am, I’m 40 years old, this kind of madness I want out of my life.'”
The actor has said that he got the idea of turning his crazy night into a movie when he finally had the hindsight to see just how funny it was. He wrote and is directing the movie, which also stars his and Nelson’s pal Owen Wilson. According to the country singer, Harrelson simply asked Nelson if he’d be a part of it and Nelson said yeah. “Woody, Owen and I are all Texas boys,” the singer tells Rolling Stone. “We’ve been friends for a long time; we hang out together in Maui a lot. We play dominos, poker, chess, you name it. … The movie sounded exciting.”
Although Nelson wasn’t present on Harrelson’s night in question (“I’m kind of glad I wasn’t there, ” he says with a laugh), he’ll be playing himself and the voice of reason for Harrelson. “All I know about the story is that he was in some trouble and was in and out of jail and having marital problems,” Nelson says. “I think my job is just to help him out and morally console him and tell him what a prick he is.” The singer laughs. Asked if he’s ever been in such silly trouble himself, he laughs again and says in his typically easygoing manner, “Never, never, never.”
In recent weeks, he and Harrelson have been going over the script on the phone, making changes. “We’ll probably change it again, too,” he admits, though he says it’s already funny.
Nelson knows what he’s talking about too. Since 1979, when he made his feature-film debut in The Electric Horseman, Nelson has appeared regularly in movies and television, sometimes playing himself. His favorites include his debut, Barbarossa and Red Headed Stranger, as well as his movies with fellow singer Kris Kristofferson, Songwriter and Stagecoach.
As a country singer, it just made sense for him to go into acting. “Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and all them cowboys have always been heroes of mine since childhood,” he says. “I always wanted to grow up and do the same thing: ride my horse, shoot my gun, sing songs. I’ve realized as much of my dream as anybody could expect.”
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Although Nelson – who has a new album, God’s Problem Child due in April – does not make it clear if he will be singing in Lost in London, he says one of his songs will be in the picture. “I have a song called ‘London’ that I recorded a while back and I played it through for Woody and he liked it,” he says of the gentle, somber deep cut on his 1972 LP The Words Don’t Fit the Picture. “I was in London, and it was midnight,” he recalls of writing it. “And I just started writing about London, how quiet it gets sometimes over there. It gets quieter in London after midnight, I think, than it does in Dallas.” He laughs. “It was just some thoughts,” he says. “I like London a lot. And I like the English people.”
When Nelson returns from Great Britain this time, he’ll be writing something in addition to his songs. Lately, it seems, he’s gotten interested in working behind the camera in addition to in front of it. “Last night, I was writing all night on a treatment for a movie that we’re going to do called Lady Luck,” he says. “It’s a Western. We’re going to do it in our town in Luck, Texas. It’s music and gambling and a robbery and all that good stuff. It will be a good time.”
Country singer Willie Nelson talks new album ‘God’s Problem Child,’ due out this spring.