Almost a year ago to the day, I was on the set of Jonah Hex in hot and humid Louisiana. While on set, I watched Josh Brolin stand on top of a huge ship trying to find a way to defeat John Malkovich. Even though comic book movies might have been a small genre ten years ago, nowadays, some of the biggest actors in the business are lining up to play comic book characters. As a huge fan of the genre, it’s awesome to see.
Anyway, while Josh Brolin was under hours of makeup and involved in most of the shots, towards the middle of the night he sat down to talk about the challenges of the makeup, the character of Jonah Hex, what was it like to go up against John Malkovich, how much of the action he could do himself, why he wanted Jimmy Hayward in the director’s chair, working in the scope (anamorphic), and so much more. It’s a great interview that’s absolutely worth checking out.
Before you read the interview, if you missed the trailer for Jonah Hex, I’d watch it first.
As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio of the on set interview. Jonah Hex hits theaters June 18. And just to be clear, this interview was done with a number of other online journalists who were also on set with me. This is not an exclusive.
Josh Brolin: Oh that’s right. I remember you. You were on the right side of me.
Brolin: I was talking about what a piece of shit this was and then you were like “no it’s not”, right? Maybe you did have an impact.
You seemed like you were doing a lot of decisions right there in that room about do I want to do this project? It seemed to me at that moment that you were really debating internally because it seems like you do a lot of internal debate whether or not you want to take a project. You kind of mentioned that during “Milk” and it seemed like at that moment…
Brolin: No “Milk” is not…that wasn’t the case. I read “Milk” and immediately I was very emotional after reading it and then I saw the documentary—the one that Rob Epstein did—and I said that’s it. I saw it with my daughter and that was it. This thing is a different thing. It’s like I’ve been offered these kind of superhero movies or “Terminator” or whatever those movies are and I just go ahh. If it really resonates, and “Terminator” when I read it, I thought was really dark and cool and interesting, but then I knew they could go this way with it or that way. With this thing I don’t know wherever they went it was still going to be absurd. It was still going to be anti-hero. It was still going to bring back sort of this hybrid of spaghetti western genre, you know the balls of westerns and I’ve been watching, and I don’t want to insult anybody, but I’ve been watching these westerns recently and they don’t have any cojones anymore. And what I love about this is you don’t really get into the supernatural elements. You’ve got this guy who refuses to die for some reason whether it be a physical or metaphysical reason or spiritual reason so you can do anything. You can kill off anybody and you can still bring them back because he’s kind of half there and half in reality, you know? What it reminded me of, at least in a positive way that allowed me to go in this positive route…travel along this positive route was Javier in “No Country”. You know, is he in the room? Did he leave the room? Does he exist? Does he not exist? Is he a figment of Tommy’s imagination at that moment and all that? So I just started kind of going off on that. Did that make any sense at all?
You did and can I just say the makeup looks amazing. It looks great on you. How is it to wear?
Brolin: It sucks man. It does because we didn’t want to do the CGI thing and because of a certain movie that I thought it was extremely distracting for me personally. I said we have to go practical with this but so you know I have a piece of tape here, I have this thing that hooks in the back. I have this thing behind my ear so it pulls my face back, then we put a facial prosthetic on, then we put teeth in with wires going up here. So we had these teeth, so this thing holds back my lip and then we do another prosthetic over here and then we paint the face, so it’s a lot of work.
But for you as a performer, does it put you in the right place by the time you hit set are you revved up and ready?
Brolin: Yeah, I mean usually I’m telling jokes on the set and I haven’t really got time and I’m like walking around here just like growling at everybody. I don’t know why. I think it’s because of this, I don’t know. Yeah, it does. It helps for sure. For sure it helps. I don’t like it personally but professionally it works, I guess.
Would you have hesitation about doing it again if this a success; they wanted you to return to the role, would the prosthetics…?
Brolin: Yeah, but I know what happens. I do have hesitation, honestly. We’re half-way through it now and I’m like never again, never again.
Never go through it again?
Brolin: Yeah, but we’re talking about doing “John Brown 2” which would be absolute full prosthetics, you know? It starts at 56 years old, so we’re talking…I’m becoming that actor, you know? Like the Lon Chaney.
This is right after “W”.
Brolin: We had prosthetics in “W” also. Not this massive. But you know what happens with when you finish and if you’re really proud of the job and all that and then you go “why not?” you forget. It’s like having a baby I guess from what I heard from my ex-wife. You know she’s like “oh I’m never doing it again” and then 2 months she’s like “want to have another one?” So it’s that kind of a thing, I think.
Had you heard about the character prior to hearing about the film?
Brolin: A little bit. I wasn’t a big…I read comic books and stuff but I didn’t know a lot about it. I wasn’t one of those graphic novels freaks, you know, who…and I don’t mean it negatively, I’m just…I didn’t do that. I read a lot of Ray Bradbury. I read a lot of that kind of stuff, you know Isaac Asimov and things. But no, I didn’t know a lot about it but I liked the idea of it and I liked the idea that it wasn’t a huge success. Do you know what I mean? There’s not a lot of expectation and I love that. It makes it riskier for us. It allows us to do things that you wouldn’t normally be able to do and being loyal to Comic-Con people. Yeah, we’re going to be loyal but the guys who write Jonah Hex now came on the set and they were flipping out. They were like “this is unbelievable” and they were truly feeling that, you know? And we wanted to make them happy but at the same time we have a luxury to kind of do what we feel like doing because it’s not a failed comic book necessarily but it’s the comic book that just won’t go away. It has its loyal audience. People like it existing. It’s not “Watchmen” but they love that it exists because they need it. They need the guttural visceral primitive thing always. So it’s kind of a law of balance right now—law of averages where we have all these superhero things and where’s the other guy who’s sort of a protagonist but he’s kind of an antagonist and he’s a drunk and he’s kind of curmudgeony and then so are the other characters, so who’s the good guy, who’s the bad guy? I like that, you know?
It’s like the spaghetti western. It won’t die.
You were talking about how westerns—modern westerns—a lot of them don’t have the same kind of cojones or the same sort of gravitas to them, what are your favorite westerns? What are the ones that are touch stones for you?
Brolin: I mean there’s a lot of them. There’s a lot of them. There’s things that I saw recently and there was a director and I don’t mind saying so that we were trying to get Chan Wu Park, who did “Old Boy”. There was a Japanese director, can’t remember his name right now, who did “Itchy the Killer” that I liked very much.
Oh Miike, sure.
Brolin: We talked to Sergei Bodrov who did “Mongel” who I thought was incredible. There was a lot of people who’ve done a lot of things that I really appreciate and then you go back to the Italian spaghetti westerns that our spaghetti westerns were based off of so I’ve seen everything. Everything. I don’t have a favorite I like and then I’ll go and watch “Days of Heaven” and I go how beautiful is that. So I think, at least my idea, was lets bring something again that’s primitive and guttural but then let’s also do something beautiful where you’re outside and this isn’t a typical western setting. It’s lush. It’s green. It’s beautiful. So I don’t know, to me I love that the studio is like we don’t have a model for this. We don’t know. They don’t know whether to be supportive or angry or anything and I like that. It’s good. So if it works we’ll have created something original that other people can copycat, other people can splinter from and try to make their money based on what we did. That’s my hope. Who knows if it’ll work or not but that’s my hope.
So many of the characters you’ve played recently have been guys who it seems you as an actor have to find a way to make them empathetic to an audience to a certain extent despite everything about them from George W. Bush to doing “Milk” and things like that. You’ve got to find a way to make the audience follow you along. I mean with “Hex” what is that to you? What do you present to the audience? Obviously he’s not a character who has his…he’s Superman with his big heroic arc, I mean it’s a different kind of thing.
Brolin: No, but he has a past you know? The fact that his mother was a prostitute. The fact that…I mean that’s why I like the relationship between Lila and Jonah because Lila…and I said this to somebody yesterday, I was like well you’ve got to have Megan Fox in your movie because everybody wants Megan Fox in your movie. No, we were looking at a bunch of different people. We were looking at people like Melissa Leo at a certain point. And we really went through the gamut and I woke up one morning and I was like it has to be Megan Fox. If I can get a performance out of her it has to be Megan Fox because to me this whole beauty and beast thing and then you also have Megan surrounded by these toothless whores and she’s the most beautiful and yet she’s the most broken, you know? And I like that. It’s like everything is not…that’s my understanding of life. What you perceive. You might be an interested guy, an interested reported then I get to know you and then I know you’re this also and you’re this also and you may hide it in a certain way. That’s what I love. It’s like the Dan White thing. Dan White was a good guy. It wasn’t that he was a bad guy. He was a good guy who just snapped. What creates the snap in somebody? So that’s why I like the contrast between what you’re perceiving cosmetically and what’s going on underneath. To me, Lila is the most broken character of all. Jonah’s probably next, you know? Turnbull is probably the craziest. He’s caught up into this romanticism and revenge factor of losing. He refuses to lose. Anyway it goes on and on and on.
You had a relationship with John Malkovich prior to this. How is it working with him where you guys are head-to-head in so much of the movie?
Brolin: It’s great. It’s Malkovich. “um….Josh I was like…” He does this whole thing. It’s fucking great and blah, blah, blah anyway. To me he’s a genius. I mean he really is. And when I saw him do, what was it, Burn This on Broadway he was one of the reasons why I did “True West” on Broadway. I didn’t want to do it because Phil and John had already done it and I knew it was doomed. Vin Vrantely already told us it was doomed because he didn’t want to continue but you look at John and you go “how can I not do this great play. Look at what he did with it. I’m curious what I’ll do with it” you know? So he’s been a huge inspiration for me and he became a great friend and I called him about this and it was like “will you please do this?” “Yes, Josh I‘d like to read it and see how I feel afterwards and then I’ll ring you afterwards” or whatever. I just think the guy is freaking fantastic. And then the studio they have an idea of somebody or John plays all the crazy people and I was like no, man. We started going through a lot of really wonderful actors and I said you know the thing about those actors—and I won’t say who they are—is because there’s a lot of rage in the part is that I won’t mention any actors but usually with these certain actors they feel rage and it comes out straightforward. It comes out…I’m trying to do you guys a favor by not looking at you too much….but it comes out straight, you know? John, he feels rage and he may pick up a poodle and start petting it and reciting a poem or something, which to me is far scarier than somebody who’s just screaming at you, you know? So John always does something very interesting and eclectic and I don’t think forcefully. I think maybe when he was younger that was a force thing. I think John is truly eclectic now. I think he’s become what he was aspiring to become.
How much action and stunt work do you do personally in this?
Brolin: A lot. My stunt guy, who’s my guy and comes from movie to movie, Mark Norby, when I broke my collar before “No Country” he was the happiest guy on earth because he knew I wouldn’t be able to do anything. There’s a lot of stuff for him to do on this. He was the coordinator on “W”, you know not a lot of stuff to do but he’ll do a lot of stuff on this. I would prefer to do pretty much everything but this movie’s freaking killing me. I mean it is. Everyday is like…if you saw me wake up in the morning and walk to the bathroom, it’s a joke. I mean I’m limping. I jammed my finger yesterday…before yesterday I can move that better now…this one I can’t bend very much. I have bruises everywhere.
When you’re breathing heavy in like an action scene, are you able to breathe properly with that on?
Brolin: Yeah, I just slobber a lot. I do. I was going to incorporate the thing but I’ve gotten used to it now because we have different ones I use for different times, so more action stuff I can talk better now than I can usually talk. But I was trying to incorporate like a little thing that I held in my belt loop and I would do that but then that was too Malkovichy because that’s something that Malkovich does. So I decided to do away with it.
You talk about some of the other filmmakers who you were sort of inspired by sort of when you came into this. What made Jimmy sort of the right collaborator for you on this?
Brolin: He wrote me a brilliant e-mail. A brilliant e-mail. It was one of the best. And I’m an e-mailer and I do a lot of my enticing through e-mail and I’m a decent writer so I guess I’m sort of good at that and I read his e-mail and I was blown away. It was extremely passionate, extremely intelligent, extremely knowledgeable — not of the character necessarily but technically. You can’t take away from the fact that the guy’s worked for a company that can’t fail. They just don’t fail and at Pixar you’ve got to be good man. It’s like Apple. They just keep…they just challenge after challenge after challenge. And Jimmy knew the comic book really well. He had a first edition of the comic—that I don’t think he went out and bought after he knew we were going to meet. I think he had that. And there was a great new adolescent energy to him, you know? And again, there’s no expectation. There’s the opposite. And there’s no reason why he can’t make a phenomenal film even as a mistake. He has the vision. He has the fashion. You look at Quentin Tarantino, when Quentin was working in the video store, you would never say oh let’s get that guy to direct a great film—you know a big film—and this is a big film but it’s not a huge film. We’re talking abut you right now dude. He’s incredible to me and if he pulls this off, he’ll have an amazing career and we don’t’ have…we’ve got in the 30’s or something as a budget. This is going to look…this is huge scope. Big, big, big scope. And it may be ridiculous at times but it doesn’t matter because that’s the genre. We can do that. That’s what I like about it. A mistake maybe an asset to us in the future so, yeah I’ve never done anything like this. You know me I’m just like I get into all the complicated characters and shit. To me this is not what this is. It’s very simple. It’s very linear. It’s very straightforward. My big thing was to get somebody like him, if we weren’t going to get Danny Boyle we were going to get somebody like him and then at that same time was to get brilliant actors. That was my thing and that’s where I came in and I called Malkovich. I called Fassbender. I called Megan. I called..who else is in it?
Brolin: No, I didn’t call Will.
Brolin: Michael Shannon. There we go. Thank you. Jesus. Who I think is just, I mean and I don’t say it lightly when I say it, he cannot do…to me he can do no wrong. I mean he is such a brilliant presence and I like that. I want to be surrounded by that.
I was just going to ask you quickly about you guys are shooting this anamorphically.
And could you just talk a little bit about that?
Brolin: 2:35 man. It’s hard. It’s hard for the camera people—the operators—to hold everything because it’s so thin and it’s so wide.
You have to be aware of it in a different way, don’t you?
Brolin: A totally different way but if you can pull it off, again, when you see it in the theatre it’s going to be a whole…a genius experience. And then that’s when you bring the kind of (inaudible) feel into this, you know what I mean? It’s not like you’re doing a thing—oh it looks like the 70’s. I don’t want that. I don’t want—oh it looks like a low-budget B movie in the 70’s. Even Jimmy will say “God this looks so 70’s” and I’m like no, I don’t want to hear that. And I don’t want it to look crisp like what we have now. I want something in between.
You’ve had this incredible run of filmmakers you’ve worked with recently and an amazing set of films you’ve worked on. Sounds like you’re very involved in making this one happen like you were a big driving force in this. Is that something that you’re bringing these experiences to each film now and you really see yourself kind of driving the material that you’re going to be doing?
Brolin: You either want to live up to that or you don’t and I was very, very lucky in that the studio said to me do you want to helm this in finding the most appropriate director, at least for you, who you deem to be the most appropriate person and I said for me I know that’s usually bullshit. You’re going to jerk off the actor to make him feel good but ultimately you’re going to make the decision yourself and they were very honest with me and straightforward and they said we want to be in business with you and we’re going to let you do it. Obviously they have the final say, which is just obvious but they gave me a lot of range here, you know? And it’s not…if it doesn’t work again I don’t feel like a total failure. You do what you do man and it turns out you can come out with a perfect movie and it just doesn’t hit the pulse of society at that moment. Or you can come out with a movie that’s OK and it just works at that time when you release it. Everybody wants that. They want to embrace it. So between this and between the people speak, yeah I’ve been in much more of a producer mode and we’ll continue with that. “John Brown” with Mark Gordon is a possibility right now. “Pits and Joe” is a thing I’ve written that I’m probably going to direct in the next couple years and we’ll see what happens, man.
John mentioned that you guys were…from what John said it seemed as if you were crafting your performances with each other in mind. He seems to be the almost, from the scene we saw, a Shakespearian type orator where it seems like and he mentioned you’re quite the laconic protagonist.
Brolin: Thank God, man. Yeah,….look at him. He’s so careful. (laughter) I could watch that guy forever, man. Yeah, I think that happens unconsciously. I mean we got together beforehand and we were talking about what we wanted to do with accents and the southern thing and how far we wanted to go with it or if we wanted to stay generic and just very typical talks and finding out the tone of the film. Not really actor talks but more how is this going to affect the big picture. And then now you just do your thing and when you have an actor like that or I would never assume that I’m this type of actor but I know that I can look at somebody when I’m acting and even though we’re in the scene and we’re…and Sean is a perfect example…we’re still figuring out and looking at each other. It’s almost like a boxing match. You’re hitting each other but you don’t hate each other, so it’s technique. It’s all this stuff and seeing what works, what doesn’t work and where you’re going to get your best punches in but you don’t want to kill the guy, you know what I mean? That’s kind of what I feel with John. It’s a great ballet. With Sean it was a ballet, with John it’s more of a boxing match.
Is there a reason why Jonah Hex that you feel still wears a Confederate uniform?
Brolin: Because those are the only clothes he has. I don’t know. No, because it’s a comic book, that’s why. Yeah. That’s what I feel. Is there an emotional reason? I think that’s what he represented. He doesn’t want to not represent what he grew up being and yet at the same time you can do that and like what he says in this movie he says look, it turned out that I think you should always strive for your country but we were 2 countries but none better than the other. So I realized that at one moment so he went and turned himself into a Union post to sit out the rest of the war in a prison cell and it ended up backfiring on him and killing a lot of his, you know, compadres. But I do, I think there’s a pride that you have. My mom was like that -and not Confederate – but a southern girl and she carried that wherever she went, even though I know she could have lost the accent, she could have done that. She carried that with herself. She had that pride, but then she also never wanted to go back to the south, do you know what I mean? It’s that kind of a feeling. Anyway, thank you guys.
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