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Woody Harrelson sees similarities between LBJ and first Mayor Daley

Woody Harrelson in character, in the title role of "LBJ." | Sam Emerson/Electric Entertainment

The process of making “LBJ” (opening Friday) gave Woody Harrelson — who plays the title character, President Lyndon Johnson — “a lot of added insight into power and powerful politicians,” said the actor.

Noting that the first Mayor Daley — Richard J. — “was clearly close to President Kennedy and his family, and related well to their Irish-Catholic roots, he also would have been a kindred spirit with LBJ,” said Harrelson.

“I know they were good friends, and I’m sure really understood each other and how to get things done politically. They were both larger-than-life politicians and each had a forceful way of getting things done,” added Harrelson, who contrasted President Donald Trump with Daley and Johnson “and their ability to work across the aisle with the opposition.”

“The relevance of this ‘LBJ’ film today is really about relevance by contrast,” said Harrelson, who joins many of his Hollywood pals in opposition to the new president. “Johnson came up through the traditional political process. He was in the House [of Representatives], then the Senate — where he became majority leader, who worked well with a Republican president [Dwight Eisenhower]. Then he became vice president and then president.

“Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t have a notion of how to get things done or how politics works — nor is he interested in learning  how.”

As for tackling the role of Johnson, Harrelson admitted he had his misgivings at first.

” My biggest concern was it’s hard to not think about Vietnam when you think about LBJ. The two are synonymous. But, as [‘LBJ’ director] Rob Reiner says, ‘It’s a tale of two presidents.’ There’s the Vietnam phase of LBJ, and then there’s the incredible legislative feats he managed to pull off,” said Harrelson, with a tone of true awe. “That’s what finally convinced me to play him — his legacy of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, establishing Head Start, Medicare, Medicaid, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the War on Poverty. He was incredible.

“As for Vietnam, the tragedy is that he took the advice of the so-called ‘Wise Men’ [advisors] who he inherited from Kennedy. … They got him to escalate the war, when the prudent thing would have been to pull out.”

As for Kennedy and his assassination, Harrelson has no qualms in admitting he joins many who believe there was a conspiracy “of some sort” behind JFK’s killing. “I would stake my life on it, that there was a conspiracy,” said the actor.

Asked what he would have liked to talk to President Johnson about — if he would have had the chance — Harrelson noted it would be more about listening to the man.

“I’d have loved to have heard some of those great stories that he had to tell. People I’ve met who actually knew him tell me he had the most incredible tales he could share — especially behind-the-scenes stories about other politicians.”

I’m sure many of us would have loved to hear those as well!