The Oscar-nominated actor opens up about his performance as President Lyndon B. Johnson in the upcoming biopic LBJ, as well as the current crop of POTUS nominees.
Woody Harrelson isnt the only actor playing President Lyndon B. Johnson during cinemas current LBJ renaissance, between his foul-mouthed turn in Rob ReinersLBJ, Bryan Cranston in HBOsAll the Way, and John Carroll Lynch in Pablo Larrains fellow Toronto Film Fest entryJackie. Heis, however, most certainly the only actor playing President Lyndon B. Johnson right now who politically self-identifies as an anti-government anarchist and has few kind words for the man he plays onscreen in the biopicin a pointed Texas accent and under heavy prosthetics.
Im more of an anarchist than anything, confirmed Harrelson as he spoke with The Daily Beast aboutLBJ, Reiners first politically-themed film sinceAn American President. I dont really believe in government. I dont see the positive effects of it. Our federal government was just supposed to take care of trade between the states and protect us in times of warand instead, its become belligerent around the world and its constantly in every aspect of our lives.
Were overtaxed to pay for an out of control weapons industry, added Harrelson, 55, who has two Oscar nominations and an Emmy under his belt. Off-screen, hes known for vocally advocating for environmental rights, fighting to legalize weed, and being one of Hollywoods most visible 9/11 truthers. We subsidize countries around the world to buy weapons from us. The government, Im not terribly proud of.
Ironically, he doesnt think much of presidents either. I like Obama, he said. He was better than what the other choices were, but in the end I look at presidents as puppets. Industries control our countries and make decisions for us. The politicians are all really puppets of the industries, and I think thats really obvious to anybody who looks at it with any clarity. The point is, I dont really see how were helped by the government. There are some good social programs that I think are worthwhile, but we could do that just as people running our own business, you know?
Harrelson found himself playing Americas 37th VP turned 36th POTUS, whose explosive ego the film highlights in its most raucous moments, not so much because he admired Lyndon B. Johnson but because Reiner was doing it and he wanted to work with the Princess Bride and A Few Good Men helmer. He did his research, poring over records and taped phone conversations to get under LBJs skinskin that, the film argues, was way thinner than the history books might have thought.
LBJmade its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, competing for buzz with the Natalie Portman contenderJackie, about Jacqueline Kennedy dealing with the aftermath of JFKs assassination, while vying for buyers as an acquisition title. It chronicles LBJs private fears, questions, and ideological splits with Kennedy before the rivals became running matesand how JFKs assassination changed LBJs politics. He did adopt a big swath of JFKs policies so it would be hard to not see it that way, said Harrelson. Im not sure how much of it was motivated by his depth of emotion or by what he considered to be politically expedient. Its really hard to read him. Hes a fascinating character.
Reiners film opens on the pre-White House days in which Johnson scrapped bitterly with his political rivals, using an acid tongue to bark at his staffers and wielding great power as the Southern Democrat enjoying his position as the Senate Majority Leader. Hes always wanted to be president, he says, but not through such secondhand ways as surviving the Dallas assassination of Kennedy, which catapults Johnson into action.
Behind closed doors, however, the powerful politician from Texas confides in his wife, Lady Bird Johnson (Jennifer Jason Leigh, also marvelous under prosthetics) his most private self-doubts.
Hes a sensitive man with an enormous ego, describes John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan), who wins the Democratic endorsement and goes on to the White House. Only Lady Bird sees the real Lyndon: Hes afraid people wont love him.
I felt a bit ambivalent, said Harrelson of his onscreen alter ego. Well, even more than that: I didntlikeLBJ. I always think of LBJ and Vietnam, like a lot of people do. Thats really the legacy that hes most remembered by. Of course he did a lot of things, good things, civil rights and the Voting Rights Act and so forth, but he did escalate in Vietnam and he lost a lot of peoples lives on both sides of the equation. So I dont know, man. Im still a little torn about him. Im very fascinated by him, still.
Harrelson brings an irritable, irascible stoicism to this LBJ, subtle in his notice of perceived slights and fiery in his exchanges with an openly hostile Bobby Kennedy. Human moments bring both him and the otherwise conventional film to lifelike when he terrorizes the Senate whip by threating to slam his two-inch pecker on a tabletop, or holds a meeting with his aides while unceremoniously taking a crap with the door open.
Its fantastic, said Harrelson, recalling how he got to re-create Johnsons infamous conversation with his tailor shortly after being sworn in as president. Hes like, Down where my balls hang, imma need another two inches its so funny. And by the way, that conversation happened less than a week after he became president.
Looking to November, he has strong words for both GOP candidate Donald Trump and Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton.
I mean, I cant imagine anyone who wouldnt be a better candidate than Trump. I mean, literally anyone, he said. But definitely Hillaryat least shes qualified.
Harrelson still has doubts over the U.S. governments questionable behavior the morning of Sept. 11, 2001particularly President George W. Bushs decision to read a childrens book during the attack. I think theres no world leader whos going to sit after being attacked and read a story about a goat for seven minutes, said Harrelson. Before I had read anything I thought that was a little questionable.
As it happens, Harrelson is about to reunite with Reiner and screenwriter Joey Hartstone inShock & Awe, about a group of journalists pressing Bushs claims that Saddam Hussein is allegedly stockpiling WMDs.
Its kind of along the lines of All The Presidents Men, said Harrelson. These guys were finding out incredible information and they had good inside sources. Its these journalists who were writing stories for Knight Ridder saying, hold on, what the hell are we blaming Iraq for 9/11? They were trying to associate Bin Laden, this deeply fanatical religious guy, with the secular dictator. Theres no connection!
Theyre writing these articles but nobodys picking them up, he exclaimed. But theyre picking up stuff from Judith Miller thats all fabricated shit that she got from Cheney and other sources. It was really a wild situation.
And after that, Harrelson will prepare to shoot and star in his own directorial debut. All hell say about the plot is that its based on a wild adventure he once had in London, and that the experience in question left him changed: Well, he said, it taught me how lucky I am.
Read more: www.thedailybeast.com