LOS ANGELES – There are some years when prolific doesn't begin to describe Woody Harrelson's output.
In the past 12 months, Harrelson has appeared on screen as acerbic history teacher (“The Edge of Seventeen”), a neurotic divorcee (“Wilson”), a terrifying military leader (“War for the Planet of the Apes”), the brilliant but troubled father of Jeannette Walls (“The Glass Castle”), the local police chief who turns a grieving mother into an avenger (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) and the 36th president of the United States (“LBJ”) for director Rob Reiner.
And the 56-year-old still has the young Han Solo film, “Solo,” to come in May (he plays the space smuggler's mentor).
“I don't have 'no' in my vocabulary, other than the k-n-o-w, right?” Harrelson laughs.
On a recent afternoon in a Los Angeles hotel promoting “LBJ,” now playing, and “Three Billboards,” out Nov. 10, Harrelson is in a giggly mood and sporting some interesting garb – loose striped drawstring pants, no shoes and white socks adorned with marijuana leaves (Harrelson said earlier this year he gave up smoking).
In a conversation with The Associated Press, Harrelson talked about softening on LBJ, Ron Howard taking over “Solo,” the sexual harassment crisis in Hollywood and his need for a break.
Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q. Do you enjoy working so much?
A. I've been maybe overworking it a bit. You know, eventually they'll get bored of you. So I'm going to put my foot on the brakes. I'm tappin' the brakes.
Q. How did Rob Reiner convince you to take on the role of Lyndon B. Johnson?
A. Rob had the same kind of attitude – even more extreme than me – about LBJ because he was draft age. He hated LBJ because he might send him to his death. A really good friend of mine who's a producer says, “You've got to play LBJ.” And I said, “Well, dude, I'm sorry, but I just don't like him because of Vietnam.” It's hard for me to overlook that. But I decided that I would at least read up on him a little bit. So I read a book and it softened me a little. And then literally right at that time Rob Reiner calls me and says “I want you to play LBJ.” It's too bizarre. And I do think, although you can't overlook genocide, he did a lot of great things. I've now come to feel like I kind of begrudgingly admire the man.
Q. How do you choose projects lately?
A. Things have gotten better and better in terms of choices. And I'm really psyched about the last couple of years of unbelievably cool projects. Even the ones that didn't work at the box office, I feel very lucky to be part of. I watched “LBJ” in Austin with people who either knew LBJ or knew Lady Bird. Never would there be a more right audience for saying, “No, this is bull---, this isn't good.” Their response was just so gratifying. “Three Billboards” I don't even worry about, I just know it's going to do great.
Q. You've worked with director Martin McDonagh before on “Seven Psychopaths.”
A. I knew him years ago. I wrote this screenplay that takes place in Ireland so naturally I wanted to look into the greatest Irish writers. So I met Martin in Dublin and we had a big night and we've been friends ever since. I was working in London doing a play and we were hanging out frequently and I really, I'm a big admirer, I think he's one of the greatest living writers and he offered me (the play) “The Pillowman” and I read it and I'm going, “Oh my god.” There's like a kid crucified on stage and I said, “The darkness had finally overcome the light in your work,” and I didn't do it. Then I watched it and it was freakin' one of the greatest things I've ever seen onstage. I was like I'll never turn down another Martin McDonagh anything.
Q. Do you care about awards recognition?
A. Not even a little bit. I got awarded this life. It's un-freakin-real, you know? And the statues wouldn't change my life one way or the other. My main thing is I want people to see these movies. You don't want to make them for a dusty closet.
Q. And then you have “Solo.”
A. Yeah I'm not worried about that one.
Q. I think everyone was surprised when directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller exited the film. How was that transition?
A. We got Ron Howard, how OK can you get? I love Ron. He's been in this industry almost longer than anyone else and he's still a kid. He still has this childlike exuberance for life. He didn't get stained by life. It's beautiful to see a person like that. It can be pretty unforgiving, this industry.
Q. There is obviously a lot going on in the industry with all the revelations of sexual harassment and assault, with something new every day it seems – like James Toback.
A. See, I didn't know anything about James Toback, but some people say he was a less well-kept secret. But these guys, it's good they're getting their comeuppance.
On the other hand, it's like the last thing I want to talk about.
Q. Do you feel a responsibility to do anything? How can men in this industry help this era end?
A. Well, I can't imagine anybody doing anything now! Who's going to be that stupid? I think it's ended. I really think it's ended. On the other hand, who knows after time how things shift, but I can't imagine anybody, even if that's their inclination, behaving that way. So it's shifted. It has happened. It's seismic; it's a 9.0 frickin' earthquake. Tectonic plates have moved.