- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

Don’t expect to see James Woods in next year’s batch of sequels, remakes and retreads.

The 58-year old actor all but swore off big studio projects during a rambling phone chat to promote his black comedy “Pretty Persuasion.”

Then again, the way he spews out words like “feminist” and “liberal” as if they were poison pricking his tongue he might not be welcome in progressive Hollywood.

That venom fits perfectly with his work in “Persuasion.” The film follows a morally hollow student (Evan Rachel Wood) who falsely accuses her teacher (Ron Livingston) of molesting her and her schoolmates. Mr. Woods plays her father, and the minute he appears on-screen we get why his daughter turned out the way she did.

Dear old dad is a vile anti-Semite with a penchant for X-rated chat lines.

“I read the script — it was so screamingly funny and politically incorrect, not like Bill Maher pretends to be,” he says. “It’s the way life can be in certain places.”

The film is a lesson on family values, or the utter lack thereof, he says.

“It’s hilariously funny but has a serious undertone,” he says. “The mother’s gone. The guy is left, and he’s selfish and uninvolved. All the comments on the culture derive from … latchkey kids.”

The actor, whose views place him in a small conservative underground of stars including Charlton Heston and Bruce Willis, says his ego would love to sign on for blockbuster movies.

His artistic side just won’t have it.

“I’m so much more comfortable doing something of quality,” he says. “It turns out that a lot of the quality stuff from an acting point of view derives from the independent world. Big movies, they have no stories they want to tell. It’s the same movie again and again. … People go to malls and watch them the way they buy Reeboks.”

The artists today are being ignored, he says. And even the biggest hits are the product of people the public will never know.

“‘Wedding Crashers’? Who was the director on that?” he demands. “I can’t tell you. … When movies were great, they were made [by artists]. Now, they’re made by some dweeb in the marketing department.”

Although his career has cooled in recent years, Mr. Woods once hovered near the upper echelon of actors with blistering turns in “The Onion Field,” “Salvador” and “The Boost.”

Perhaps his roguish good looks weren’t enough to guarantee mass appeal. More likely, his unique brand of intensity was meant for character parts.

He may not like the system, but his passion for the work remains.

The cerebral actor got his start while studying for a degree in political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“We did terrific plays when we were in school,” he says, including work by playwright Harold Pinter “when no one knew who he was. I became enamored.”

Today, to hear Mr. Woods tell it, the only roles left for aging white males like himself are “the jerk in the suit who’s the villain.”

He blames arch-feminists for that scenario, one of many times the conversation sounds like a Rush Limbaugh sound bite.

It’s clear Mr. Woods swings from the right side of the plate, but he’s rarely caught pontificating like, say, Tim Robbins or Sean Penn.

“I tend to avoid politics,” he says, for fear of becoming part of the “moron cavalcade.”

“If you want a good laugh, watch Bill Maher [on his HBO series “Real Time”],” he suggests. “You’ve got rap stars and situation comedy starlets batting around the latest talking points from the DNC [Democratic National Committee]. That, to me, is comedy.”

Mr. Woods would rather drive across America to check in with so-called Flyover Country.

“These are the people who keep this country together,” he says of his occasional road trips. “It’s so endearing to meet people who are bright, patriotic and care about their communities.”

The treks recharge him while reminding him that not everyone lives in splashy mansions with multicar garages.

“It is hard to stay level in a spoiled environment,” he says of an actor’s life.

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