Would Rob Reiner screen 'LBJ' for Donald Trump: 'I would never go to his White House'

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Woody Harrelson stars as Lyndon Johnson in the new film LBJ. (Photo: Electric Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection)

Add Rob Reiner to the list of celebrities who wouldn’t accept an invitation to visit Donald Trump’s White House. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment about his timely new political drama, LBJ, the outspoken filmmaker and political activist indicated that he’d steer clear of a one-on-one meeting with Trump, even if the invitation came with the opportunity to screen his portrait of America’s 36th president (played by Woody Harrelson) for the 45th inhabitant of the Oval Office. “I would never go to his White House,” Reiner says emphatically. “Not only do I not agree with him politically, but I find him to be a disagreeable person, and a person with no feelings or empathy for anybody but himself. Hopefully our country and democracy will survive this presidency, but this is one of the biggest challenges democracy has ever faced — to have someone as disreputable as Donald Trump in the White House.”

Reiner’s impression of Trump is based both on his actions while in office and also on a past encounter long before the New York businessman and gadfly assumed the presidency. “I met him one time before,” Reiner remembers. “I know a lot of actors, and they all have big egos. But never anything like I saw with Donald Trump!” Funnily enough, Reiner’s leading man had a similar experience when he met the current president. During a recent appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher, Harrelson recalled a 2002 dinner meeting with Trump and Jesse Ventura that he described as “brutal.”

“I never met a more narcissistic man,” Harrelson said. “I had to walk out halfway through and smoke a joint just to steel myself for the rest of the [dinner].” Of course, Reiner didn’t tap Harrelson for the role simply because they both happen to agree on Trump. “Woody comes from Texas and has a great sense of humor, as Johnson did. Johnson also had these tremendous insecurities and vulnerabilities. I knew Woody could combine all of those elements; he was my first choice for the part.”

In the unlikely event that Trump does watch LBJ, which opens in theaters on Nov. 3, Reiner isn’t holding his breath that he’ll learn anything from it. “He doesn’t seem to want to learn anything; that’s the most upsetting thing. He has no interest in it, because it’s not about him personally. He only cares about his own survival and his own pocketbook.” On the other hand, the director does see the film as being an instructive guide for younger audiences who want a better understanding of the political process, especially at a time of deep dysfunction in Washington when little seems to be accomplished. And one of those younger viewers could even go on to become a politician capable of getting the wheels of government turning again. “It’s going to take an extraordinary leader who deeply understands the intersection of politics, policy, and government. If you understand how all that works, you can bridge divides.”

Rob Reiner with LBJ co-stars Bill Pullman and Jennifer Jason Leigh. (Photo: Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection)

As the film depicts, Johnson had to bridge his own divides while trying to enact such forward-thinking pieces of legislation as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, navigating around strong opposition from those across the aisle, as well as within his own party. The Texan also had to operate in the long shadow of his popular predecessor, John F. Kennedy, who had had a very different temperament in office. White House lore has it that Johnson had an open-door bathroom policy and often spoke in language that would politely be described as “coarse.” Reiner, who was 16 when Johnson took office, admits to not thinking highly of LBJ during his administration, especially as the Vietnam War grew to overshadow his domestic agenda. “I was of draft age during the Vietnam War, and I hated the guy because he could have sent me to my death. As I grew up and spent time in politics and policy, I got to understand a little bit more about what he was able to accomplish, and I thought, ‘Wow, this guy is much more complicated and complex than I ever thought.’”

Vietnam isn’t addressed in the film, which jumps around between Johnson’s first few months in office following Kennedy’s assassination, as well as showing how he wound up becoming JFK’s unlikely choice for veep. “We wanted to look at that sliver of time, because it was an opportunity to examine who this guy really was,” said Reiner. “If you wanted to do a movie about his presidency, it would probably be 10 to 12 hours long! It’s really a tale of two presidencies. He had the misguided foreign policy adventure of going into Vietnam, which was really a mistake, but he also had his domestic achievements. If he hadn’t had the Vietnam War, he probably would have gone down as one of the great presidents of all time.”

LBJ opens in theaters Friday.

Watch: Woody Harrelson on playing LBJ:

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