Josh Brolin | Interview
Actor Josh Brolin can take a joke. He can dish them out, too.
To help promote his new movie No Country for Old Men, Ethan Coen pulled a little prank. He wrote a piece for Esquire claiming that the casting of Josh Brolin was a mix-up: The moviemakers wanted his father, James Brolin (’70s star and Barbra Streisand’s husband), but the casting agent got the wrong guy. So Coen said he got a hasty rewrite to suit the younger man. It’s a gentle jab at Josh Brolin, who’s worked steadily but gained little recognition—until now.
Suddenly, Brolin finds himself in three Oscar-contending movies in one season (No Country, In the Valley of Elah, American Gangster) and earning praise for his work with the Coens as Llewelyn Moss, a Texas hunter who discovers $2 million in drug money and goes on the run. Brolin Junior is taking Coen’s joke—and his rising Hollywood stock—in stride.
What do you think about this Esquire gag Ethan Coen wrote?
I think it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever read in my life. Actually, I asked Ethan to do this. Esquire contacted me and asked me if I wanted to be in their Esquire 100 issue. I called Ethan to suggest that he interview me or something, and he said, “Can I just write it?” So he sent it to me in e-mail and he said, “What do you think, do you think it’s too much?” I read it and thought it was freakin’ hilarious.
But some people believed it.
Somebody asked Ethan and me in a press conference about “the fact you hired Jim Brolin and ended up with Josh.” What the fuck? Are you serious? I don’t mean to put anybody down, but God, the intelligence level.
How did you really get involved with this project?
Sam Shepard told me about the book. He said, “I just read this book by Cormac McCarthy. It’s called No Country for Old Men. It’s phenomenal. Go get it tomorrow. I heard they’re doing a movie about it with Tommy Lee [Jones].” He mentioned the Coens and he goes, “I hope they don’t fuck it up.” I was so blown away by the characters, I never thought once about doing the movie or wondered if I could play Moss.
Why didn’t it cross your mind?
Because I’ve been in that situation many times. It usually takes directors who don’t really listen to the studio to fight for me for a role like that. David O. Russell did it on Flirting with Disaster. He said, “I have to have him in this movie.” It’s the only reason why I was in the movie. I didn’t get paid or credit. I think I’m the only one who didn’t get credit. So however difficult they make it for me, I’m used to it.
But you’ve been really busy this year. How’s it been, balancing professional life and family life?
I’ve turned down many, many movies to stay home with my family. The hard part is not my kids, it’s my wife [actor Diane Lane] and I. Because she’s working, I’m working. We spent very little time together for about 12 months. Finally we said, “That’s enough.” She’s my wife, man. I like being around my wife.
In No Country, you spend the vast majority of your time onscreen alone. That must be a challenge.
For me, for a guy who appreciates language and dialogue, it was a great challenge to do something like this and figure out ways to manifest an idea without words and not overcompensate by doing physical things as fillers, like scratching when I don’t really itch. The fear is you’re going to be boring. Just as an actor, as an ego, if I’m sitting here in this interview with you, and if it’s all laconic, you’re going to go, “What a horrible interview!” So I have that fear.
What was the vibe on the set of No Country? I mean, you’re working with the Coens and Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem—an interesting group of people.
We had fun. The Coens were readily available for a laugh, but as conversationalists they don’t feel the need to uphold their end of the conversations. There’s no ego involved, no petting going on. I didn’t like it in the beginning, I wasn’t used to it: Am I doing well, am I not doing well, are we on the right track? Then after a while you just do your work. In general, I don’t trust petting anyway: “You’re amazing, oh my God!”
What was your reaction when you saw the finished film?
[Grins] I thought it was going to be more like The Big Lebowski. I came up to Joel and Ethan after I saw the movie and I said, “That wasn’t very funny.” They’re like, “Shut up.”
No Country for Old Men is in theaters now.