With director Joseph Kosinski’s Only the Brave now in theaters, I recently landed an exclusive interview with star Josh Brolin. He talked about his initial meetings with Kosinski, portraying these true-life heroes, if it’s difficult pretending to be married to Jennifer Connelly, the way he likes to work on set, and so much more. In addition, Brolin talks about working with director David Leitch on Deadpool 2, Cable’s origin, when he might start filming X-Force, the Sicario sequel, Soldado, and playing Thanos in the Russo Brothers’ Avengers: Infinity War.
If you haven’t seen the Only the Brave trailers, the film is based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who battled the Yarnell Hill wildfire, which blazed through Arizona in June 2013. Brolin plays the guy at the top, superintendent Eric Marsh, and Miles Teller plays his new recruit, Brendan McDonaugh. As the film unfolds, we watch as a group of local firefighters fight to become one of the most elite firefighting teams in the nation. It’s an extremely well made film that shows the determination and sacrifice of these brave men and women. Only the Brave also stars Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, and Taylor Kitsch.
Check out what Josh Brolin had to say below.
Collider: I get to talk to you twice in a week. This is a good week for me.
BROLIN: No, it’s a good week for me too. Literally. It’s like somebody who I’m familiar with. Thank God. Even if it’s just the four-minute familiarity.
I have friends that are actors that talk about doing press. They say it’s definitely a little bit of a challenge when you’re being asked a lot of the same questions.
BROLIN: You know what? It is. Not just that. The harder press is when you’re going … This one’s pretty good and it’s been pretty intimate. It’s been fairly familial because of what we are dealing with, and the fact that we’re doing a lot of these screenings for first responders, and we’re doing for charitable purposes, and all that, so it had a little different ring to it, which is nice.
Usually … Not usually, but half the time you go around you have to lie about a movie. You’re like, “This is great,” and you know it sucks. You’re just going, “What am I doing? What am I doing with my life? Who am I?” You try to find the most redeeming part of whatever it is that you’re trying to exploit and get people in seats for. With this one, it’s the opposite, man. As empty as you can feel during this process is the opposite of how I feel right now.
The movie’s fantastic and it does a great job at portraying these true-life heroes. There’s nothing to be down about when it comes to something like this.
BROLIN: Yeah. I feel the same way, man. I don’t think that we exploit them wrongly in any way. I do think that we exploit them, but we exploit them in a way that is true to the spirit of who they collectively were and I love the response. The response isn’t just like, “Wow. There’s a performance that stands out.” People have been very nice to me, but at the same time, they talk about Joseph Kosinski. They talk about the movie. They talk about the spirit in which it lives. It’s always nice to be in a great movie, or a really good movie, instead of really good and then kind of okay movie. I’ve been at least perceived to be both, and I really appreciate that people are focusing on the movie itself.
Have to ask you, how hard is it to pretend to be married to Jennifer Connelly?
BROLIN: That sounds like that’s a loaded question, man. It’s wonderful, man. She’s really wonderful. People talk about that scene in the car, and she’s a tough cookie because she’s very raw. We did that scene a bunch of different ways and Joe picked the one that he felt was the most stripped down and raw and emotional, and I think he was right. She’s a beautiful girl. You forget because, yeah, she was beautiful on set, but she was definitely stripped down. I don’t mean literally. I mean emotionally. Then you see on the red carpet and you’re like, “Holy shit. My God.”
She’s what we call a talented actor.
BROLIN: Yeah. Yeah, she’s the real deal.
I’m sure there’s a number of scripts that come across your desk. I’m sure there’s a lot of directors that present you with material. Talk a little bit about that first meeting with Joseph and him pitching you on the idea.
BROLIN: Well, he came to Asheville, North Carolina, and I was a little curmudgeon-y because I was little frustrated with the role that I was doing. I was 50 pounds overweight and it was all for the movie that I was doing, but I was a little reticent. Having done a couple of other movies that were very ambitious that I thought that directors presented themselves as one of the guys that it didn’t turn out to necessarily be that way, I was definitely reticent and especially because I was … I’ve been involved in the firefighting community for the last 30 years, which I think I told you. Even more so because a lot of these guys don’t want to be exploited in any way.
It’s funny because Joe comes across in this kind of “Tom Slick” way. Not slick, but just his look. He’s an architect. He’s very … I don’t know. He’s kind of nerdy looking. He didn’t try and sell me in the way that these other guys had. Like, “I’m going to be there with you,” and, “I’m the real thing.” He just told me how impassioned he was about this script.
He didn’t say that it was his one … What do they call it? “Passion project.” He just said, “I really appreciate this story. I came across this story. I’m somebody who’s done some really technically proficient films, but this is just something that it grabbed me and started pulling at my heartstrings.” It’s a movie that hasn’t been done for a while. The last movie really of note that’s been done about firefighting is Backdraft. We have our own feelings about Backdraft.
It just seemed like a great opportunity, but more than anything I just wanted to … I wanted to work with somebody who was willing to be in it with us and be a great leader as opposed to kind of be off on the side wrapped in a cashmere sweater and kind of taking care of his own selfish needs. He turned out to be that in spades.
I’ve talked to him a number of times. He’s just a really smart guy too.
BROLIN: He is an extremely smart guy. That’s the thing is you have … He’s able to get in there and be kind of an incredible director and demand certain things of you. In this case, demand the rawness and the community that I think he was a major advocate of and pushed for. Then on the other side of it, like I said, he’s kind technically a brilliant filmmaker. By the way, he was smart enough not to make too complex of a film. The film feels very much like the subject matter, which is straightforward, and not trying to hide it with a bunch of overtly “interesting” shots. I think he has enough in there, but I think they all tend to lend to the behavior of what’s going on, which I think was really smart of him.
Do you find that you’re better in your first few takes or do you feel like it takes you a little bit to warm up to the moment?
BROLIN: I think that’s a better question for Joe, but he’s told me specifically of what he thinks Jeff Bridges is, what he thinks I am, what he thinks Miles [Teller] is. I’ll put it this way. I don’t think my first few takes are normally the best. I think that I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m a fairly nervous actor in the beginning and I need to really feel comfortable in order to kind of find my way inside a scene. I’m very experimental. I think once we do a few takes I start to really find my way with where I think the scene lands the best.
It’s so interesting. I’ve watched a number of actors work on set and some give a very familiar … It’s like they’re trying to hit a certain thing that mentally they have, and then I’ve seen other people, like Woody Harrelson, where every take is completely different.
BROLIN: Yeah. I don’t want to hit a thing. I don’t want to imagine that there’s any one thing that exists. In anybody’s behavior, whether it be yours or … Anybody who I’ve ever come across, I don’t think … It just feels like a manipulation. When you’re around somebody who has an intention you can feel the manipulation in the air, and I don’t appreciate it. It usually is for something that’s selfish. To me, if we do enough research and we do enough prep in really trying to understand the spirit of who we’re playing then when you let it go.
When they say, “Oh, you cry in this scene,” and then, “This you do this.” I go, “Ah. Do away with all that stuff.” Somebody who is emotional may start to laugh hysterically because that’s the way that one person deals with a tragedy. Not necessarily laughing per se, but you know what I mean? Crying is not always the result of a sad feeling. They may cover it up. They may go hard. They may go … You know what I mean? If I’m available to what’s going on in the moment and depending on what the other actor’s doing, anything can happen. I like it. It’s scary. It’s a scary place to put yourself in, but between Jennifer and I. That was done a lot of different ways, and rightly so because then it’s up to Joe to get in the editing room and see what feels right within the emotional trajectory of the whole movie.
When you do a scene like that with Jennifer in the car, it’s very raw. It’s emotional. I’m sure it’s something that you’re not just banging out in 30 minutes. How long does it take you to … You must leave set after that and sort of just be emotionally exhausted. Can you sort of talk about that and sort of regrouping after doing such a scene?
BROLIN: Luckily, she’s such a good person that I can go and I can kind of decompress, but then there’s also … She said it a few times. She said, “You get a certain way when you work, and I don’t know what that way is, and we don’t really get specific about it, but I know that your nerves are a exposed and you don’t want them not to be. You want to be available.” It strange because when I was doing Deadpool there was more stress that I felt in general than I felt during Only the Brave, Granite Mountain.
Why? I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe because I’m so busy. It’s a movie that’s so emotional or so kind of behaviorally alive that I can relax, where maybe Deadpool was the opposite. I don’t know. I don’t know and I don’t really think about it until I talk to you. Until I talk to you and try to deconstruct it. I’ve gotten to a point in my career where the only thing that I really try and go for is to be as available as possible and to make sure that I do my prep so that when I show up that I know it’s like, “Look, I know I can do this scene a few different ways. I think this is the direction to go. I’ll talk to the director about it, and then I just kind of throw caution to the wind and go for it.”
BROLIN: That can also set myself up for great humiliation, which I’m totally willing to embrace.