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January 09, 2017

Enduring Promise

Liane Bonin Starr
  • Promise

    Hallmark Hall of Fame
  • My Name is Bill W.

    Hallmark Hall of Fame

You could forgive James Woods if he struggled to pick just one highlight from a career studded with two Oscar nominations, eight Golden Globe nods and collaborations with directors and costars as varied as Clint Eastwood, Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese.

But there is no such hesitation. “I’ll make this a blunt statement,” he says. “Actors usually have a period in their life that was the most creative, the most rewarding, the most personally fulfilling — when they were connected to another creator or creative element. The great connection in my life was Hallmark.

"When I look back, it’s amazing that all the high points of my life seemed to be connected to Hallmark and ironically, of course, with Jim.” Jim is James Garner, Woods’s costar and producer for the Hallmark Hall of Fame movies Promise and My Name Is Bill W. That Woods connected with the late Garner — whom he calls “truly my best friend in the world” — was by no means guaranteed.

In 1974, Woods was cast as a killer in the first episode of The Rockford Files. When the former Maverick star told him his lines would be “cut down to nothing,” Woods recalls thinking, “Screw Maverick.”

More than a decade later, their paths would cross more auspiciously, though Woods recalls that his agent was less than enthusiastic.

“He said, ‘Oh, and you were offered to play some crazy person in a TV movie.’ Literally, he said those words. And when I said I’d like to read it, he said, ‘You’re not going to do some TV movie playing a lunatic!’ But I read it and said, ‘This is what I’m doing. This is the best script I’ve ever read in my life.’”

Later, Hollywood shared his high opinion of Promise, awarding five Emmys and two Golden Globes to the emotionally wrenching story of a man struggling to find help for his schizophrenic younger brother.

Woods and Garner — who became “instant friends” on the set of Promise — came together in 1989 on another intense project, My Name Is Bill W., the story of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson.

“I have had over 100 people come up to me and say, ‘If it weren’t for you, I’d be dead,’” Woods states. “And I say, ‘Look, it had nothing to do with me.’ But [the message of AA] was channeled through [me], because the story was so accurate.” Woods also lauds Hallmark for working with distributor Lorimar to allow more than 200,000 copies of the movie to be made available to AA members.

Still, it’s Promise that will stick with Woods. “I want to make this movie for the rest of my life. It was just such an experience.”


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 10, 2016

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