Woody Harrelson on Playing President Lyndon B. Johnson, His Star Wars Character and Kite Surfing
He’s come a long way from his early TV days on Cheers, building a film career with roles in about 80 movies, including White Men Can’t Jump, the Hunger Games franchise, War for the Planet of the Apes, No Country for Old Men and The Edge of Seventeen. Now Woody Harrelson, 56, portrays a fellow Texan, President Lyndon B. Johnson, in LBJ, in theaters November 3.
Why LBJ, why now?
It’s timely. In many ways, he was a great president. Definitely you’d have to overlook getting bogged down in Vietnam.
You underwent an extensive makeup process. What was that transformation like?
Everything from the neck up to the forehead was prosthetics—the nose, the ears, the chin, the eyes had brown contacts, and I had a wig on. That was a big, big concern of mine. The lady that I worked with on The Hunger Games and several other things, her name’s Ve Neill and she’s a phenomenal makeup artist—she really, really helped me because the big risk about these things is that it could look fake.
She agreed to do it, which is huge. This was a relatively small-budget thing and [director] Rob [Reiner] said, “Get whoever makes you comfortable.” So, she got this guy named Arjen [van der Grijn], who’s Dutch and he’s been trained by the masters. He’s a prodigy. When I met him, I thought he was the assistant. I thought, “No way anyone this young could be doing this work.” He’s really, really talented. He helped with all the prosthetics stuff and Ve did all the makeup. It took a couple of hours in the chair and then an hour at the end to take it off, but it was really helpful.
Bryan Cranston for his LBJ project All the Way said that he found LBJ to be many people. Did you find that to be the case?
Yeah, I do think he was many people, no question. It depended on who he was talking to. All of us have that to some degree, but I think he was a little more extreme in a way.
Did Bryan have any words of wisdom for you?
Bryan was very helpful because we were making these movies at the same time. It was a while ago now that I made this. We made it back when Bryan was making his with [director] Jay Roach. He only had one day off a week, Sunday. I called him one day and he was on that phone for an hour and a half just giving me all kinds of great advice. He studied LBJ so much by doing a play and then, of course, doing his movie, that he’s really an expert. Not only did he give me a lot of tips about him, he was as generous as you can imagine. You could easily see if someone called me and tried to get tips on a part we were both playing, I might not have been as generous as him. He said, “We’re not in competition. It’s a big tent, let’s fill it.”
Give us a hint on your character, Beckett, in next year’s Star Wars film.
I’m a criminal and I work with Han.
Are you still kite surfing at home in Hawaii?
Yeah, kite and stand-up paddle. I get in the water every day, hanging out with my friends. It’s a pretty gratifying life. It’s a definite life of leisure, but it’s very active. It’s also in one of the most beautiful settings I can imagine.
You’ve acted in about a dozen films in the past two years. Are you a workaholic? Or is it that you find these projects that inspire you and you have to say yes to them?
It’s the latter. I’m definitely not a workaholic, although I feel like one lately. I’ve been on this project [Star Wars] that I’m working on now since January, and we’re not going to finish until mid-October. I was here working on this movie I did, Lost in London. It was an autobiographical thing. I wrote it, directed it and shot it in one take, in real-time. And I did that this January. I started on this the beginning of February.
All these other things I did, I’ve got to say, it was just they were too good to pass up. I really would prefer to maybe work six months a year and have a life of leisure for the other six months. That’s been my dream for a while. I was supposed to be done with this in July, the movie I’m doing now. The dream is basically a teacher’s schedule, where you get that summer break.
When you think back to Cheers and the start of your career, has it exceeded even your wildest dreams? Yeah. I could have never guessed that I would keep going like this. I really feel lucky to still be doing this. It’s amazing. Even though I’m ready to go home and just chill for a while, I still every day think to myself, My God, this is such a great, amazing job. I’m so lucky to be doing it. I love it. Even if I had some crazy windfall and suddenly had billions of dollars, and didn’t have to work again because of money—but I will say, I would do it anyway. I just love it.
The Colonel in the War for the Planet of the Apes is a despicable character. Does it bother you to take on roles where you know people are going to love to hate you?
I thought it was an incredible trilogy, so to be a part of it, even if I had to play the bad guy, I was pretty psyched about it.
Original article can be found HERE.