When I joined Cinematical and the wild, wild world of movie reporting, I expected all my "geek out" moments would be confined to my desk as they always had been -- watching trailers, the "first look" at a big comic or fantasy character, interviews, whatever. I didn't think I'd actually be sent out in the field to meet a man like Jonah Hex, and I'm pretty sure I won't ever get an introduction like this again. We'd been told earlier in the day that Josh Brolin was pretty sick, and might not be able to actually speak with us. At one point, they even called a doctor in, and we watched Brolin strip off all his gunbelts and duck into a Civil War tent to get checked out. (He returned with all his limbs. The set may have been historical, but the medical care was modern.)
But Brolin is nothing but professional and considerate. He's also mysterious. To this day, I'm not sure where he was lurking, but the set emptied for lunch, and he appeared at the far end of our camp. He clinked across the open field in that gunslinger gait you only expect to see in movies -- no rush, his face twisted in that ugly sneer. It was a High Plains Drifter entrance. As a fan of the character, I was inwardly jumping with joy, and I wish I could've taped the quirky, eerie moment to accompany this. But now you know how the interview started.
Is that [make-up] as painful as it looks?
Josh Brolin: Yep.
Can you talk about that piece in the back of your head, and what that's doing to your face?
Brolin: I'll tell you the sequence of events in the morning. We have a piece of fabric that's glued on this side here, and that has a piece on it. Then behind my ear, there's another piece of fabric glued. We attach it, and it pulls back one side of my face. Then we do a full prosthetic from here to here, then we put pieces in with wire that pushes in my cheek, and it holds part of my mouth back, then over that we do this prosthetic. Then we paint. See, I walk around in New Orleans, where it doesn't really matter, with half a mustache and half a beard. Nobody cares, no one can tell. So we put hair on here, and then we paint my face.
What does it add to the performance? Does it makes it much easier to get into the character if it's there, rather than adding it in later with dots and digital effects?
Brolin: I feel like I just got [the character] yesterday. I feel like I was just doing a scene with John Gallagher and I just got it for the first time. I mean, I hope I'm wrong. But there's such a razor's edge between this kind of drama, and absurdity, and kind of comic book feeling to it. I'm not sure where we are tonally. My wife put it best. She goes "It's a strange set, it seems like everyone's at sea in their own canoe, but tethered together." And so I think we're doing extremely well, in spite of ourselves. Because there's no model for this. Even the studio's going "How are we supposed to sell this? What is it, what's the tone?" If we succeed, I think we'll succeed in incredible originality. And then if we don't, you just move on to the next one, you know?
Do you see this as a return to genre, or a way to mix the two things you've done over the course of [your career], like the Western stuff in No Country for Old Men?
Brolin: No, it is a mix. You know, I've been offered a lot of comic book stuff, and big movies and all that. And the money's really attractive because I do like money. But this was really original to me. I read it the first time, and I didn't like it at all. But I couldn't stop thinking about it. I kept waking up – I dream a lot, you know, and I kept waking up in the mornings going why [does] this thing keep coming back? There's something within it that I really enjoy, and this kind of anti-hero thing, and this kind of Western with cajones as opposed to these new, stylized Westerns that I don't care for very much. It brings that into it, and it also brings this idea of one foot in death, one foot in reality where you can get away with anything, and justify it, and I love having that luxury. We can pull off anything and justify it, because of that, and no one can really call us on our shit. No "Well, Jonah Hex doesn't do that." Well you know what, Jonah Hex can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, whether it's here or in the afterworld. It becomes, to me, very metaphysical, very spiritual, existentialist. That's what keeps me interested. I may be full of sh**, but that's what I create in order to keep me interested.
At the core of this guy, who is he to you? Who is Jonah Hex?
Brolin: Well, he's a loner, he's a guy who has lost an incredible amount. He's watched his wife and his kid die right in front of him. He accidentally killed his one of his mentors' son, and his best friend. There's also this revenge factor, but it's so emotionally wrought with all these different feelings of love, and of loss, and revenge, and avenging, and all of this stuff. I love how convoluted it is, because the hero's not necessarily the hero. That guy isn't necessarily the bad guy. Everybody's kind of intertwined, and its something I've always believed in [real] life – that the greatest guy is capable of doing the worst things, and the worst guy is capable of doing something wonderful. You don't see that a lot in film. And then on top of it – and that's if you want to watch it in a serious way, look how I'm talking – the other side of it is, it's a fun, entertaining ... I don't say that as a pitch. It is entertainign to me. And we found yesterday in that scene with Jonah, or at least I did, a lot of humor where I took his alcohol, and drank it, and it started flowing out of my mouth. That wasn't scripted or anything, we just start improvising and playing, which I like to do. And also with Jimmy Hayward on the set, it brings a kind of I don't know, a spasmodic, adolescent tone to it, and I like that, because he doesn't know what the rules are yet. So anything goes with Jimmy. He brings an incredible energy to it, and he doesn't understand what not to do, and I love being around that. It reminds me of Robert Rodriguez.
Did you have any input with Jimmy when he was doing a rewrite on the character, did you collaborate with him a lot on that?
Brolin: Yes. Yes, structurally. But I also improvise a lot, it's just what I do. If it was up to me, I'd never cut the camera, I'd just go and go, and you feel this, and you do this and then something happens, and then you worry about it in editing. You know, editing to me is where it all happens, so you create as many options as you can here. So as its this work of art in process, and in progress, yeah, we collaborated. Yeah, we talked a lot together, got together a lot, we watched a lot of different movies, we talked about who we wanted to be the DP and all that. I'm the one who pulled Jimmy in. [Laughs] Bringing Jimmy to the studio, I had to write a really long e-mail to Jeff Robinov to prepare him for Jimmy, because when you see him, he's just like "F****ing rad, dude! It's going to be awesome!" as he pitched him the idea, "All I know is that it's going to be f***ing awesome, dude!" And I knew, how is the head of the studio going to go for it? And yet when you really get into Jimmy, and past all those adolescent idioms, that he's really an accomplished guy whose worked for a flawless company like Pixar. They do not know failure. So yeah, I like the idea of that.
You mentioned that you screened some films, what movies did you watch during that process?
Brolin: Oh, a lot. We watched Italian spaghetti westerns, we watched the wackiest B-movies, there was a ton. There was a ton. I even turned him on to Martin McDonagh's plays, To Kill a Man, Lieutenant of Inishmore, which has that dramatic [element] that makes you cringe, but you can't stop watching it, you're laughing but you don't know why you're laughing. You know what I mean? That's the tone that I wanted for this, personally. It's not my movie, but you know, I'm a control freak.
Obviously this thing has franchise possibilities. How appealing is the possibility of playing this role a few times?
Brolin: Now that I have this on my face? No, but I know that when it's done, and I go home, and I forget. It's like having a baby – until you feel it again. I like the idea of it. I like the idea of it for me, selfishly, only because ... I don't know, it's not obvious. It's not obvious. As a character, and as a tone, and what we could do with this. We can do anything. With Megan Fox's character, I love that character, I love what it represents because you have this beauty and the beast idea. You have this incredibly beautiful girl – you know, people say "Oh, well you hired Megan because she's Megan Fox." No. There were a lot of people we were looking at. We were looking at Melissa Leo at one point. We were looking at a lot of different people. But to me, Megan – I watched Megan on an interview one day, and I was like .. God, you know, there's a lot of pain. I saw pain. This girl was just kind of being rebellious, but youthfully rebellious, and there was something there. Then I heard about a strip joint, or something like that, and I was like, I want to meet this girl. Seems to be who I'm attracted to. And she was something. I really really liked who she was, and I liked the idea of this incredible beauty being amongst this setting, and her being the most broken out of anybody, you know? And then that's the connection between her and I. Well you'd never put that gorgeous of a girl with this guy, but yeah, you would. You really would, as long as there's this emotional parallel. It's not all this serious, but honestly, this is the stuff that I do at home just so I have something to talk about.
The comic book artists were really inspired by Clint Eastwood, are you guys trying to avoid any self-conscious links to Eastwood?
Brolin: Totally. But it's also there, and we're not going to deny it. It is. It's the wandering nomad with no name, but he has a name, but he doesn't really have a name. There's also some parallels, just as easily, with Javier's character in No Country For Old Men. Very, very similar. Is he there, is he in the room, did he go out the vent, was he even there in the first place? I like that. There's a lot of hybrids between character and genre, and who I wanted to do, and I'm not going to go out and do exactly Clint. I was really worried about coming out and doing this deep voice, because it seems like all these characters are doing deep voices now. You look at Batman, you look at Watchmen, [lowers voice to a Bale rasp] and everybody's talking like this. You go, why is everybody talking like that all of a sudden? Me in Grindhouse! But it's a generic character, and it's ok that it's a generic character. We're almost making fun of the generic character, and then allowing him to be fun, and allowing him to be emotional and allowing him to be all these different facets that you wouldn't necessarily get in a normal "genre" film.
Can you talk about the humor of the piece? We had Will [Arnett] here, and he's being completely serious –
Brolin: Kind of.
But in the comics, there's a kind of humor that comes through because of who Jonah is, and the fact that he doesn't seem to care about anything –
Brolin: But he does. Again, there's an exaggeration to the character. We'll only know this when we see it, but there's a bit of absurdity, a theater of cruelty and bizarreness of the character. So it allows me to go further, allows me to – [laughs] – I mean, there's sometimes that I do a scene, and I think I'm Carl from Sling Blade! I start going mm-mm, hmmm, and I go, that's what it is! It wasn't thought out, it would just happen and I go, that's ok.
So [the comedy] comes from improvisation rather than the actual script?
Brolin: Absolutely. And you know, Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti from Jonah Hex came to the set, and that was huge for us, to get their approval. They were very approving, and they were very hyped about what we were doing.
Did you read a lot of the comics to prepare for the role?
Brolin: I did. For me, that was one thing [in] the collaboration with Jimmy [Hayward] was getting together and extracting those lines that were fun, fun lines that were right on the verge of being dramatic and absurd, and kind of humorous, and all that, so we tried to take a lot of those lines out and say what we could incorporate into the script?
Are you now going to become a collector of Jonah Hex back issues?
Brolin: It's funny that you say that, because I have all these drawings that Jimmy and the guys did at Pixar, and I like them. And I want to have a big one in my office.
Jonah Hex as a comic book is kind of popular again. Did that help at all to get this going again, or was it just a coincidence that DC had a comic book which people were liking again?
Brolin: Well, there were three series, and almost a failed comic. It's this thing that won't go away, and yet it's not a huge hit. It's not like Watchmen where its the most read graphic novel of all time. Jonah Hex, you have to be a real geek to know what it is. I like that aspect of it. I'm as much of a geek as you are.
But the new series is actually pretty popular. Did that help get it made, did it make it easier to get [the studio] to understand that people wanted it again?
Brolin: I don't know if people want it again. It's not because of public demand that we're doing this, you know, very obviously. It was one of these things that it almost went away, and I really kind of tackled it again. I talked to Warner Bros and I said hey listen, if I put together actors that ... it's more obvious with Batman because again, it's one of those things, it's been around, it's been proven to be successful. You have a guy [Christopher Nolan] in who is an incredible filmmaker, that everybody knows because of Memento. But if I bring in this wackadoo, and if I pull together some amazing actors, why for this? It's only because of like favors and stuff like that. And yet these guys are coming in – Michael Shannon, Michael Fassbender, John Malkovich, and Megan, I just couldn't be happier. They're giving performances that are unreal to me. I look at what Michael Shannon did, and I was just like oh, thank you God! It's like a godsend.
So you were responsible for bringing in a lot of these guys? I remember you said 'If I could get Malkovich in this script!"
Brolin: I'm not going to say solely, but I was on the phone a lot. Oh, did I say that before? It's true! It's true. I talked to John. And the other thing is, we're not making this for a lot of money. That's another way to entice people – you say hey, I'll give you three million bucks to come and do this thing for three weeks, and people go yeah, ok. I can figure out the character without even reading it. But you say hey, I'll give you a third of your price, will you do this with me? This is what I think it could be if we really get together and really create something wonderful. Then you know they're doing it out of some kind of inspiration.
Haven't you worked with some of these people before?
Brolin: Shannon, this is my third time [working with him]. Fassbender I know through my agent, we have the same agent, and we hung out a bit – me, him, and Sean in Toronto for a couple of nights. And I saw Hunger, I thought he was just phenomenal. And who else? Malkovich, I've known as a friend for quite awhile.
You mention that you're a big geek. What are some of the franchises that you're really into?
Brolin: Not franchises. I just love movies, man. I've always been a huge [fan]. I remember when I was living on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, and we were one of the first people – just because my dad had access to it – to get a VCR. And we had Grease, we had Saturday Night Fever, and we had The Warriors. I've seen The Warriors 65 times.
Whose your favorite character in The Warriors?
Brolin: Probably Ajax. Ajax or Swan. I like Swan just much. Ajax is kind of an idiot.
How do you feel about the remake? Would you like to be involved in that?
Brolin: I would love to, man! Walter Hill, is that who is doing it? Tony. Right, right. No, I thought that might be an interesting thing to do, but ....
What's next? What are you going to go on to from here?
Brolin: I'm going to go to London, and I'm going to do the Woody Allen thing. I was doing to do a Martin McDonagh play, but I don't think I can do that now. I think this has really kind of taken it out of me. We're working crazy hours and all that, so I think I'm going to wait to do that, and just spend time with the family. We're developing a lot of things. I'm much more in producer mode now. We've got The People Speak that's coming out, that thing that I'm doing with Matt Damon, and Howard Zinn. So we're developing a lot of interesting projects. One is John Brown, with Mark Gordon. Mel Gibson and I are talking about doing Under and Alone. There's a lot of good possibilities. I'm very happy.
Were you a producer on this?
Brolin: On this? No. I should be, but I'm not! But in the future, if we continue ....
What's this about the John Brown project?
Brolin: John Brown is a great project. A great, great project. The script was already out there, I read the script, and I loved it. It would be a very tough character for me to play. I'm going to do some tests, once I'm done with this. I'll be like the new prosthetics actor. But it's a great script, a great story. Somebody that I know because of the Howard Zinn project, and I know the character really well, and Mark Gordon and I had a conversation and we said let's do this, let's get this thing done. People have been wanting to do it forever, and there's a lot of directors that would love to be involved.