BRETT HARRELSON'S RENTED three-bedroom Malibu home overlooking the Pacific is a study in New Age bachelor chic. Driftwood and seashells mingle on shelves with books on nutrition and yoga, and dozens of crystals transform the afternoon light into a colorful spectrum against the white walls. In the kitchen, Harrelson, 33, wearing jeans, a T-shirt and button-down, all made of eco-friendly hemp, prepares a meatless lunch of wild greens, steamed veggies and couscous. "Everything is organic," he says, pouring a glass of carrot juice. "That's big in our family."

Harrelson seems finally to be at peace with himself—as well as with his older brother, actor Woody Harrelson, 35. "We spent a lot of time angry at each other," Woody says of their childhood rivalry. "Today," he adds, "Brett's very Zen. He's focused." Thanks in large part to Woody, who got his brother a screen test on his latest project, The People vs. Larry Flynt, in which Woody plays the outspoken Hustler magazine publisher. With only regional theater and bit TV parts {Family Ties, Remington Steele) behind him, Brett's readings were a bit rocky, but director Milos Forman felt he was perfect to play Flynt's subservient brother Jimmy. "I get a kick that the brothers play brothers," says Forman.

Their mother, Diane, 59, is equally pleased. "Growing up, they fought all the time," says the legal secretary, who moved with her three sons (Jordan, 36, is an insurance broker in Charlotte, N.C.) to Lebanon, Ohio, from Dallas in 1974, seven years after the boys' father, Charles, now 57, abandoned them. Five years later the elder Harrelson was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a federal judge, allegedly at the behest of a drug dealer. "I forgive him and accept him," says Brett, who, along with his brothers, keeps in touch with his father and believes Charles was railroaded. "[The government] needed someone to answer. My dad was an easy target."

In youth, Brett says, "I was the black sheep and Woody was the straight arrow." While Woody never missed class or church, Brett dropped out of high school at 17 to join the Army, spending two years in Germany. He returned to Ohio, patched things up with his brother, worked as a legal clerk, then, at 22, followed Woody to California. "I came to L.A. to starify," he says. But finding nothing like Woody's success, he gave up acting to become a motorcycle racer, rising to No. 8 in the 1992 pro national rankings. "After seeing a few people killed," says the never-married Brett, he became Woody's assistant.

Though there have been offers and he's anxious to get back to acting, Brett has yet to commit to a new role. For now he's enjoying the attention Flynt has brought him and his tight relationship with Woody. While shooting the film, Woody "did not direct me, did not criticize me," says Brett. "He took me aside and gave me hugs."

CALVIN BAKER
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • John Griffiths.