Josh Brolin has had one of the strangest rises to leading man status imaginable. Though he kicked off his career in The Goonies, he spent the next twenty years of his career in supporting parts, and on television with little success. Then came 2007, where he was not only in four big movies, he was great in all of them and the lead in No Country for Old Men. Now he’s a star and he’s one of the three leads of Gangster Squad. We had a chance to talk with Josh Brolin on set about the movie and his career, and that interview follows after the jump.
Josh Brolin: Well it’s hit kind of a mythological place for me in that I have no knowledge of it whatsoever other than what I’ve read and what I’ve watched… there’s been these movies recently like Public Enemies that have copied this old school cadence in their language… and I like the idea of it being as normal as possible and as modern as possible even though it’s not modern. I doubt that they knew they were speaking in that cadence back then. So when you hear something in that cadence, it takes you out of it for me. That’s why I like the version that we’re doing.
But to answer your question my father wrote me an email recently, because he came on the set about a week ago… about when he was a kid and he used to drive up Sunset Blvd watching these places, Kiss Kiss Club and stuff. So I have more of a personal connection to it through him. And you know, all research and all that but for me it’s a different mythological experience, it’s all make believe.
It seems like all these films either mythologize like The Untouchables or de-mythologize the truth of it… where do you see this more as?
Brolin: Well for me I’m not really looking at the common. I just did Men In Black and it didn’t really feel like the 60s, well it did feel like the 60s in the way we dressed and all that, this is cool being able to dress up in these clothes, but to me it’s about the passion of this guy. It’s cops and robbers, it’s good and evil, it’s Shakespearian, it’s mythological, it’s classical, and it’s Greek… So that’s the fun of it to me, the relationship with this guy and his wife. When I met with my character’s daughter and she would tell me about the relationship between the Mom and the Dad and what she remembers, it had a huge impact on me. My wife will be mad at me for saying this but I will anyway. When we first got to together we wrote these emails to each other even though we spent almost zero time apart. I would go into the bathroom and while I was in the bathroom I wrote another email to her…. that first extremely romantic year. Anyway I put together a book of emails that we had after the first year, which I thought was about 60 or 70 emails, and it turned out to be 470 pages of emails. And I started going back recently and reading those emails, it was a nice way to feed what Mireille and I are doing in this, because he was, he was a total romantic, a total idealist, and really believed in what he was doing here. And it was fun to be able to play that kind of passion.
Brolin: With this, it all depends, honestly it’s what I find most interesting, the more I looked into this character and who he was and what he loved. There’s specific traits that I’ll meld into a composite character. But it’s not all him, and it’s not supposed to be him, it’s loosely based on him. Because if it was about him, from what I read, there’s a lot of great traits about him, but… you’re trying to make the most interesting movie, otherwise it should be a documentary.
A lot of it’s fiction, but it’s like Apocalypse Now is fiction, that’s all based on that novel, all based on what happened over there, but you’re trying to make the most interesting story, and that’s really all that matters to me because we’re not making a documentary, we’re not making a non-fiction, we’re not pretending to.
Can you give us an overview of who your character is and what his journey is in the film?
Brolin: Well basically he’s a guy who’s like me, he’s in love with California. You know, I grew up, especially as an actor thinking that I had to move to New York to be a good actor. But after a while you start to live the world a little bit and you start to appreciate where you’re from. I love California man, I love Los Angeles, I love the whole of California, I have places… my whole thing is with all the money I make, I just want to buy as many places in California as I can because I love it. We have everything here, we have the ocean, we have the mountains, we have the desert, we have everything. I could really connect to that, and that’s what that guy is.
He has the innocence of the 40’s and 30’s, and yet they came back from the war and things had changed, there was a ton of corruption happening. And when Mickey Cohen moved in and just wanted to poison and monopolize on Los Angeles, he really took offense to it, and he was the Serpico of his time. He refused to be bought, he wanted to get it done, he was getting reassigned because nobody trusted him, because he wasn’t on the take. And he did what he could, and finally he did it illegally. I mean, not totally illegally, he did it within the boundaries of the law, but the law back then was a different thing then it is now. It wasn’t so paranoid.
Can you talk about working with Ryan and Sean?
Brolin: Yeah, working with Ryan is a new thing for me, he’s a very young actor and it’s fun to watch him navigate…
Brolin: No, no no, not at all. Ryan has a lot of fame right now that he’s dealing with, so psychologically it has to affect you. I think he’s doing a really great job with it, I didn’t have to worry about that. Sean wrote me an email I read a couple of years ago, he said “I’m watching you in Bed of Roses right now and I can’t believe it didn’t make you a huge star…” that was a joke obviously. I was very fortunate that I got to be in this business a long time before anyone took any kind of notice. And then working with Sean is always the greatest. Sean and I are always looking for things to do together because we enjoy each other. We’re veterans in our own right.
How far do you go back?
Brolin: Sean and I? Kids. But really close the last 5 or 6 years.
Is there anything about living in 1940’s LA that you think would be fun or preferable to today?
Brolin: It’s all a perception now. Listening to my Dad, when he had car clubs, there was an innocence to it that we don’t have today. Even my kids, I have two 18 year olds and a 23 year old, and the crap that my kids were listening to at 10 years old I was like ‘what is going on? What’s happening?’ And yet I was listening to punk rock in the 80’s and my Dad would come into my room again and again and again and turn it off, I think my Mom even broke a record once, a Black Flag one. And then they had, back then, they had Elvis and they thought Elvis was so risqué. So everyone has their perception to what innocence is. But listening to my Dad speak about this time, and watching his face, is enough to believe there was something special going on in this time.
Ruben said he was very inspired by the Coen brothers… do you see any elements of the Coens in this movie?
Brolin: Anything that is absurd I see as a Coen brothers’ influence! The Coen brothers are my favorite people period. Favorite filmmakers, yes, but also favorite people, period. I just love who they are. They continue to do whatever they feel like doing. They’re just getting ready to do this film in New York about… well I shouldn’t say… but it’s going to be a great movie, and yet it’s not what you would think. After the success of No Country and True Grit, they could basically do whatever they want, and yet they choose this. And it’s not in rebellion; it’s just what they feel like doing. They don’t understand, they don’t get it, they don’t get the whole ladder thing which I love.
It seems like your character is the most grounded of the squad, is that about right?
Brolin: No, it’s not. I think that he gets so obsessed and so myopic about nailing Mickey Cohen that he starts to lose his center, and he’ll do it at any cost. So no, he’s… no, to answer your question. There’s definitely a trajectory to his arc, because of not being able to get Mickey Cohen as quickly as he would like.
How much of a balance are you trying to locate in terms of being authentic to the time, and on the other hand, it seems clear from Ruben and producers that they want it to be more contemporized, they don’t want it to be…
Brolin: I don’t even know what any of that stuff means. You want it to be more contemporary, what does that mean? Sherlock Holmes is more contemporary because the shots, because it’s Guy Ritchie? I don’t know. It’s how to choose to shoot the movie. Are the Coen brothers contemporary in the way they shoot a movie, well they are because they’re the Coen brothers and they exist in contemporary times, but every time they shoot a movie it’s different and it has a different feel to it. This, I don’t think, tries to copy what they did in the 40s… so I guess it’s contemporary… I don’t even know how to comment on that, you’ll see. This may feel more period than any other movie you’ve seen about this period, because we didn’t try to make it feel period. It just is.
I guess, do you have to be careful in terms of improv, dialogue, behavior…
Brolin: No, I want to believe that people were just as visceral as they are now. And the fact that there weren’t so many laws they had to adhere to gave them the ability to do certain things that would be considered extreme now. I mean I know one thing they used to do a long time ago when I believe it was Kennard and O’Mara got together, and when people came back from the war they’d have a layover of a day and these sailors would go to the theatre, and fall asleep in the theatre, and these pick-pocketers used to come and slash they’re pockets and get their money, the only money they had to take home with them. So these guys used to sit in the booths, find out where the pick-pocketers were, take them outside, put guns to their heads, scare the shit out of them, make them run down the alley and turn left and said ‘get out of here, run as fast as you fucking can’. And they had a chain tightened on the other side of the alley. So they’d run as fast as they could thinking they were being shot at, and they’d go around and get clotheslined, I mean I love all that shit, I think that’s great. You know, you learn these stories and there’s a mentality that you hope to inherit from it. When we think about the 40s you think about the innocence and all that. I think there were a lot of things that were more underworld and a little more debaucherous than that.
Brolin: Oh my god I can’t even tell you! I’ve been all over the place recently and shooting a lot of movies in a lot of places other than LA. You know, movies used to be shot in LA and it was nice, so it’s nice to be home.
And not on soundstages for a lot of it?
Brolin: Yeah yeah, I mean look at this, that’s incredible. I just saw it driving up, I got off the freeway and was like ‘Holy shit! So cool!’ It’s pretty great.
Is there a decade you feel close to/partial to?
Brolin: No my wife and I always laugh about me walking in with the armor and the turkey thing… you don’t want to know about it.
Yes we do!
Brolin: No you don’t. Look at me I’m blushing now! No… you know… That’s why I do this, man. That’s why I do this because I love exploring different psyches, different eras. I’m really lucky to being doing this. Doing Men in Black and being in the 60s, and even though it was this unreal alien thing, it was really fun to be in the 60s, with the clothes and the hair and the style. So doing this afterwards, it was a natural trajectory to go to. I was doing that movie when I got the call that this was a possibility, and I said I would love to do it. So yeah it’s a lot of fun.
Gangster Squad opens January 11.
For more on our Gangster Squad Set Visit:
- 15 Things to Know from Our GANGSTER SQUAD Set Visit
- Director Ruben Fleischer Talks GANGSTER SQUAD, Classic Gangster Movies, the Incredible Cast and the Level of Action During Our Set Visit
- Producers Dan Lin and Kevin McCormick Talk Story Origin and the Vibe They Were Going for on the Set of GANGSTER SQUAD
- Giovanni Ribisi Talks Gangster Fascination, 1940s Technology, and His Character Moustache on the Set of GANGSTER SQUAD
- Anthony Mackie Talks the Appeal of the Gangster Genre, African-Americans in Film Noir, and More on the Set of GANGSTER SQUAD
- Robert Patrick Talks Gun Tricks, Ensemble Chemistry, and Losing 30 Pounds on the Set of GANGSTER SQUAD