James Woods: Out of the Woods?

After being trapped in career hell, romance hell and scandal hell, James Woods says he's back on top, working with filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone. Here, the actor lets fly about greedy agents, double-crossing lovers, baring his all on-screen and why he hates hookers.

"I was treated so horribly, so genuinely evilly by one particular person in my life, that it stunned me to learn that people had to be that evil," declares James Woods with considerable passion. The actor, whose career went for a few years, by his own admission, "cold, cold," is hot. Hot again with three high-profile features on the heels of a blistering performance on cable as Citizen Cohn. Let's see. There's the high-octane The Specialist, opposite Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone, the festival-type fare Curse of the Starving Class with Kathy Bates, and Jason Alexander's hip comedy Stranger Things.

We'll get to all that career resurgence stuff later, but right now Woods is busy doing Woods. Which is something like being strapped into the front car on the world's biggest thrill-ride. Just like he is on-screen, the guy's pore-oozingly intense in real life. His psychomojo is in overdrive. He can be snarly one minute, then boyishly open, then confrontational, then sweet as berries, then vainglorious and self-deprecating.

I've been asking him how, after becoming a real comer for doing prickly stuff like The Onion Field and Salvador, he got trapped with Glenn Close in the politically correct amber of Immediate Family, with Dolly Parton in the gooey, feel-good amber of Straight Talk and with Michael J. Fox in the surefire-make-a-buck amber of The Hard Way. Woods, as is his wont, starts off answering a question on cruise control, then veers off-road into the personal. "What's the difference between Sleepless in Seattle and Straight Talk? It's a roll of the dice," he says. "But, truth is, I went through a really bad year two years ago. Whatever could go wrong, you name it, did. A best friend had a heart attack and died. Then I broke up with a business associate, went through a divorce, had unwarranted bad publicity, career problems, money problems. One of those years where, as a friend says, 'It's guaranteed that when you wake up, your shoelaces will break.' One of those years you look to the heavens and say, 'What else can you do to me?' It was almost Job-like. I say this with some degree of humor now. But only some."

Woods takes a deep breath, then continues: "And, in the confluence of bad things, there was this person in my life who caused me great trouble, who lied to me so venomously, so calculatedly and with such a horrible motive: greed. And, in the confluence of bad things, there was this person in my life who caused me great trouble, who lied to me so venomously, so calculatedly and with such a horrible motive: greed. I was being lied about and trashed by someone out to make a buck. I went through the wringer. People who lie and cheat and trash celebrities in the press just to make a buck--knowing that the person is vulnerable, knowing that a celebrity literally doesn't have the same rights under the law as a non-celebrity--are horrible. But that person has been utterly and completely eradicated from my life. I have scraped the shit off my shoe and I have gone on."

Hmmmm, I think, to which shit in Woods's very deep pile could he be referring to? Is he maybe referring to Sean Young, his The Boost co-star, whose entanglement with him was supposedly commemorated by dismembered dolls on his doorstep, harassing phone calls and photos of mutilated animals in his mailbox? Is he possibly referring to Heather Graham, with whom he made Diggstown, and for whom, at 44, he publicly declared of the actress half his age, "I'm wildly in love with her"? Or is he perhaps dissing ex-wife Sarah Owen who, in a 1991 People story and on TV's "Hard Copy," portrayed Woods as an emotionally volatile batterer addicted to porn videos, phone sex and such high jinks as spanking the monkey while lurking outside her cancer-stricken mother's bedroom door?

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