How Woody Harrelson Evolved Before 'The Hunger Games'

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Woody Harrelson is having an amazing year. 2012 began with terrific reviews for his cop drama "Rampart." Then Harrelson earned critical plaudits for his supporting role in the HBO movie "Game Change." Now, he has his first blockbuster lined up with a supporting role in "The Hunger Games."

Following his stellar work on TV's "Cheers," Harrelson made moves to become a Hollywood leading man. Unfortunately, starring roles in "Natural Born Killers" and "The People Vs. Larry Flynt" made more headlines than they did cash at the box office.

Without a signature box office smash, Harrelson found his career changing from that of a Hollywood leading man to one of the elite supporting players in the business. Here's a look at the evolution of Harrelson as a character actor.

"The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio"

Working with his future "Game Change" costar Julianne Moore, Harrelson stunned critics with his poignant portrayal of a lost '50s era father in "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio." While the film is entirely centered on Moore's housewife, who deals with her lower-middle class ennui by entering and winning jingle contests, Harrelson brings remarkable depth and sadness to the relatively thin and perfunctory role of Moore's abusive husband.

"The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" tanked at the box office but there is no denying that the role was a dramatic turning point in the career of Woody Harrelson.

"A Prairie Home Companion"

"A Prairie Home Companion" was yet another bomb at the box office but once again provided a template for what Hollywood was beginning to see from Harrelson. Playing a comical crooning cowboy opposite John C. Reilly, Harrelson stole scenes from the likes of Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and "Prairie Home" creator Garrison Keillor with his relaxed comic performance. It was a minor role in a movie that never really had much of a plot, but once again Harrelson surprised critics with his range.

"No Country for Old Men"

One of the many reasons Harrelson has become Hollywood's go-to supporting player is his extraordinary ability to melt into an ensemble and make everyone around him better. In the Oscar-winning "No Country for Old Men," his arrogant killer for hire provides just the jolt the heavy thriller needed.

Part comic arrogance, part dangerous assassin, Harrelson willingly plays the fool to Oscar winner Javier Bardem's mad man. In doing so, he aided greatly in the creation of an iconic film villain.

"The Messenger" and "Zombieland"

It was in 2009 when audiences finally caught on to the new Harrelson. First he provided pitch-perfect comic support to rising stars Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone in the hit horror-comedy "Zombieland." Playing an over the top, zombie-killing badass, Harrelson mixed comedy, horror, and pathos in ways I'm sure no one expected from a trashy Hollywood zombie movie.

Harrelson then followed "Zombieland" with "The Messenger," earning a much-deserved Academy Award nomination for the role of an emotionally damaged soldier who turns to booze and drugs to deal with the hardship of his job informing families when a soldier has been killed. "The Messenger" is a provocative film that provides an oblique critique of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while offering an evenhanded, deeply sympathetic take on the soldiers fighting these uncommon conflicts.

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