Out of the Woods
Over on his website, my pal Mark Evanier has an amusing piece here where he comments here on a list that was published about 100 Things Every Angelino Should Do Once in Los Angeles. Given that he's lived his entire life in Los Angeles and only done 16 of those things makes his commentary all the more entertaining.
I bring this up because of #41 on the list, which means I won't ever be able to do all 100 even if I tried. It was "Avoid James Woods."
I've worked on two movies with Jimmy -- as he said to call him. One was his Oscar-nominated performance in Salvador, that Oliver Stone directed. The other was a movie it's likely none of you saw, The Boost, based on a novel by, of all people, former Nixon-speechwriter Ben Stein. (No, Stein didn't come to the set when I was there.) It was basically about a yuppie couple (his wife played by Sean Young) whose life plummets when they start using cocaine.
(For the sake of timelines to those who keep track of such things, this was before the very public and bizarre mutilated-doll and lawsuit contretemps he and Ms. Young soon later had, in which the FBI and police also got involved.)
I have lots of stories about Salvador, an odd and reasonably-enjoyable time, filmed largely around Cuernevaca, Mexico, and perhaps I'll write about at some point (like when we used the Mexican Army as extras, and they showed up two hours late). Not so many about The Boost, though the few I have I probably won't write about at some point.
I got along fine with Jimmy, and had some interesting, pleasant conversations with him. We even flew back to Mexico City together on what was not much more than a prop jet. Though he wasn't someone I'd care to stay in touch with, and I'm quite certain he'd feel the same about me, not that he has any clue who I am at this point. He's a bright guy -- he attended MIT in political science (specializing in defense analysis, my notes say), though left before graduating, so perhaps he missed the important parts that would have filled in the holes -- however he not only struck me as conservative at the time we crossed paths, but has since become so deeply off-the-ledge, hate-filled nasty that he's now to the right of Atilla the Hun. He was a lively storyteller, and even quite jovial at it when he was in the mood to be so, occasionally telling rambunctious, if awkward stories, if awkward ones at his own expense. Though while others would be laughing uproariously, I sometimes would feel uneasy, most notably during a memorable tale about a run-in he had with someone he once let board at his house, as I thought, "Hmm, gee, I know he gets points for telling stories ridiculing himself, but this really make him look sort of...well, really, really bad."
"When he was in the mood" is the operative phrase. Let's put it this way -- being able to detect "the mood" is the starting point for Woods survival. To be fair, it was incredibly easy to detect "the mood;" there wasn't any subtlety or risk of uncertainty, pretty much the same way it's easy to detect a gurgling happy baby in your arms and a growling mountain lion furiously racing at you. And besides, he was generally in good spirits -- as I said, I got along with him just fine. Even if I did have to sit outside his trailer for an interminably long time on The Boost one early-evening, as I waited endlessly for our scheduled meeting, before he finally was able to pop out and ask me to come back later. The challenge was always knowing what switch might be turned that would quickly change the former into the latter.
Ultimately, from those two limited but close-at-hand experiences, I think that Point #41 is a pretty good one. And given the nasty, mean-spirited, crazed-anger of many of his rage-filled political statements these days, it is highly recommended for most people. Alas, it's out of my own hands at this point, having now not-avoided him on two movies. Though if taken on a case-by-case basis, as in "Avoid James Woods in the future when given the opportunity," there's still hope...
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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