Actor Woody Harrelson could always be counted on for speaking out - even at a young age. As a boy, he got himself involved in an altercation at school between a bully and a female student. The resulting fist fight landed him and his adversary in the principal's office. 'I thought I was doing a good thing and I ended up getting punished,' he says. Not that the incident stopped him. Years later, on the streets of New York early one morning, he noticed a man mistreating a woman. 'I told him he'd better stop, and he did. It didn't get physical, but he knew he had to stop by the way I was conversing with him.' Today Harrelson is well known for his activism. Over the years, he's tackled issues as varied as the legalisation of hemp and marijuana, and speaking out against the war in Iraq. He's a vegan who once owned an oxygen bar on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and now eats a mostly raw-food diet. He's had addictions to alcohol, drugs and sex, but today lives relatively quietly in Costa Rica with his girlfriend (and former assistant), Laura Louie, and their two young daughters. Speaking in Beverly Hills, he's laid back and self-deprecating. Until the conversation turns to politics. 'I went to San Francisco the other day for a concert, Power to the Peaceful, where 50,000 people showed up,' he says. 'There were people as far as you could see - people who really want peace and care about peace as an idea, which is all it seems to be right now. 'But on the plane over, I was thinking about something to say about Iraq and I wanted it to be funny because that's the best thing I've got. But 41/2 hours went by, and I couldn't think of one damn funny thing to say about genocide for oil.' Harrelson's penchant for being outspoken was one of the reasons he was a prime candidate for his role as a compassionate lawyer in his latest film, North Country, in which Charlize Theron plays a female miner initiating what would become a landmark sexual harassment suit. 'I think the sexual harassment issue is important,' he says. 'But the larger issue to me - maybe even the most important in this day and age - is that there was a woman standing up and saying, 'I'm not taking it any more'.' Harrelson acknowledges that he's known as one of the more outspoken and politically active figures in Hollywood, but says he can't imagine being any other way. He's most often associated with the movement to legalise marijuana, but he says there are more important issues. 'I care a lot more about trees and shifting our economy to something sustainable as opposed to our reliance on all these industries that are heavily subsidised and getting big tax breaks and raping mother earth on a daily basis. And these are the industries that control our country and our world, politically, socially and economically.' Harrelson says he doesn't get much help from the US media, which he describes as cynical about liberal Hollywood's attempts to change the political climate. 'The media in the US is great at subverting or maligning the message. To me, it's more about freedom.' Most people in prisons in the US are there for what Harrelson describes as victimless crimes. 'Whether it be drugs or prostitution or gambling, they do things that are only hurting themselves. To me, that's not a crime. That's legislating morality.' Being so often associated with the marijuana issue has its drawbacks. 'It's ironic, because then there's a double indemnity thing. Everybody thinks that when they see me on TV and in the movies that I'm stoned. Meanwhile, I never do an interview stoned and never work stoned, so probably nobody has ever seen me stoned. I just come off that way,' he says, laughing. 'It's my personality.' Harrelson is good friends with other Hollywood activists such as Sean Penn, who hired a boat in New Orleans and personally fished people out of the water in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. 'That's true heroism,' says Harrelson. 'He's reached the highest level of respect as far as I'm concerned.' Penn and Harrelson have something else in common: a strong desire to see the end of the Bush presidency. 'I think this oil-agarchy will have its time, and then it will crumble and fall eventually. History will not treat the Bush administration kindly. For now, they're doing what they want. But I have children. I have to be optimistic.'