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James Hibberd

The Wild, Untamed Woods

July 15, 2006 8:56 PM

"I don't like the green room, it's too quiet in there," said James Woods as he flew through the breakfast buffet at CBS's Saturday TCA session. Dressed in a suit with a red power tie, Woods worked the room like a whirling dervish, chatting up network executives and press alike.

About an hour later, he was front and center at the session for his new series, the legal drama "Shark." Woods plays Sebastian Stark, a ruthless L.A. defense attorney who switches over to the prosecutorial side, bringing his bombastic, impressionistic view of law to the by-the-book District Attorney's office.

Like his character, Woods is a mile-a-minute talker who's funny, engaging and sometimes exasperating considering his penchant from jumping from one subject to another.

The Oscar-nominated Woods said he learned about the concept of justice from his Aunt who worked within the Rhode Island legal system for years.

"Rhode Island is the parking lot of the mafia," Woods said, noting that "justice is a lot about negotiating, which is not dissimilar to our business."

Woods took issue with a question from a critic who asked "Shark" creator Ian Biederman if Woods' character will lose cases.

Woods jumped to his feet and gave the impression he was going to jump into the crowd to confront the critic directly.

"Lose? You're dripping acid first thing in the morning," he cried, getting laughs from his co-stars and critics. "I want names and numbers taken."

Biederman admitted the character, would, in fact, lose someday, which prompted Woods to turn to executive producer Brian Grazer to ask if the writing staff was up for negotiation.

At one point Woods let his microphone drop off his lapel jacket. A sound tech ran onstage to reaffix the mic as Woods struggled with it.

"It's hard to believe I've done 120 movies," he said.

That led Woods into a discussion about why he was doing a TV series. The feature film business has embraced "more corporate thinking, more parochial thinking," he said, pointing to some of this year's Oscar nominees.

"Look at 'Brokeback Mountain,' 'Transamerica,' 'Capote,'" he said. "They are all very specific. They have the same tenor. There is not much breadth. Movies seem to be scared."

Woods also let critics know that thanks to a business deal he is independently wealthy and doesn't have to make choices based on finances.

That led a critic to ask just how Woods got so loaded.

Without elaborating, Woods said it was money made "Outside the business," which prompted more questions about whether it was real estate or pork bellies that made him flush.

"The secret was "selling enriched uranium to the Nigerians," Woods said, admitting there had been some "ancillary problems."

"Luckily, we got rid of the paperwork," he added.

One critic asked the rest of the cast what it was like to work with Woods, who speaks in the shouting style favored by big talkers like on-air sports analyst John Madden.

"He's got a very soft hand and he puts on the talcum powder very nicely," said Alexis Cruz in what may go down as the most poetic description of an actor ever at press tour.

Co-star Jeri Ryan couldn't contain her laughter when one critic asked if anyone was nervous that "'Shark' might jump the shark," referring to the TV adage of shows that play out their freshness by going someplace creatively they shouldn't.

Ryan rolled her eyes and said "how many hours did that keep you up last night?"

The critic tried to save himself by saying he was referring to the romantic tension between Ryan and Woods.

Ryan played along, noting that if two characters who are set in a sexually tense relationship, you can't throw them in bed together because then that dynamic "is gone."


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