Korean cult film of the same name, which opens Wednesday, November 27. He plays an alcoholic ad exec who is inexplicably kidnapped and imprisoned in a hotel room for 20 years, then just as mysteriously released. The film, directed by Spike Lee, calls for Brolin to go through a range of emotions during his captivity as he finds the will to survive and get to the bottom of his bizarre predicament.
Moviefone sat down with the actor (whom we last interviewed for his tough guy role in "Gangster Squad") about getting in shape for the film's iconic fight scene and why it's the weirdest movie he's ever made.
WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead! (If you haven't seen the original, that is.)
Moviefone: Was this the most demanding role you've ever had?
Josh Brolin: No, it's demanding in a very different way. Physically demanding, emotionally demanding, but "W" was very demanding. I was just terrified to play that guy. This was more demanding experimentally, because you're not really sure where it's going to go or what's going to happen. Spike sticks you in a room and puts an 11-minute mag on the film camera and just says, "Go!" Sometimes it was embarrassing and sometimes it was funny. Sometimes it worked and sometimes you'd cry and sometimes you were really laughing hysterically. It just got weird. I think it's the weirdest role I've ever done.
You had seen the original and you were a fan?
What kind of trepidation did you have, doing a remake?
I had no trepidation, once I asked Chan-wook Park [the director of the original "Oldboy"] if he would give me his blessing. He said, "Look, I like remakes or reinterpretations of a story." We started talking and he said, "I would love to see one story done by five or six different directors. It would be interesting, the change in perspective." Once he didn't have a problem with it, I didn't have a problem with it. I love the challenge. Somebody before described the movie as "being dragged by Spike in a truck over glass and gravel," and I liked that metaphor, because I think it's fairly accurate. And at the end of the day, you hope that you have a good movie. And that's the hope.
Has Park seen Lee's version yet?
No, he's seen the trailer and he wrote me an email and said he liked the trailer very much, but he has not yet seen the film. I'm curious to see what he thinks. Once he gave us the go-ahead, that was all I needed. It's a different movie. I hope he judges it as a film and not as the film that was done to mirror his film. It's just the same story, done very differently.
You have an extended fight scene where you're armed with just a hammer. What kind of training did you do for that?
Longer than I wanted to and still didn't have long enough. When we started the fight -- we did a couple of fights, but the long fight -- it was daunting. I could only get through maybe about 25, maybe 30 seconds of it without gasping for air. And then, finally, every week I got a little bit better, a little bit better. I trained twice a day -- we got up at 4:30 in the morning and trained and then we'd work and then I'd train at night. So by the time I did it, we thought we'd have to have 25 or 30 minutes between each take and it only ended up being like 6 or 7 minutes.
How long did it take to film the whole hammer fight sequence?
A day and a half. It was over a 2-day period. I think we did it 8 or 9 times.
Was that the toughest scene to film?
That one, and some of the hotel stuff. It just got wacky. It was like taking a hit of acid and just hoping for the best. Which I've done, by the way. [Grins]
Joe is a rotten father, a terrible salesman, and an all-around jerk when he's kidnapped. Would you say he deserves his imprisonment?
Well, no. No one does. Okay, that's not true, some people do. To that extreme? I don't know. Because he's got a big mouth and he told somebody and they had a big mouth and they told some people. He's dealing with a psychotic. Not necessarily because he opened his mouth. You open your mouth because you see this horrible, horrible thing happening. I don't think his intentions were very good. This is an extreme version of what we should all experience, which is cause and effect. You do something, there's a consequence. And if the consequence is big enough and actually hits you viscerally enough, are you going to change that behavior? Are you going to look at people differently? Are you going to have more compassion for somebody? Are you going to be more sympathetic? Those questions were what was interesting for me in this movie.
You and Samuel L. Jackson have one really crazy scene in this. What's it like working with him?
He's one of the guys that I'm in awe of and have been for a long time. Just to work with him is fun. The only distracting thing is, his voice is so distinctive that the minute he opens his mouth, you're like, "God. That's Sam Jackson! That's from 'Pulp Fiction.' I know that dude!" But he was great. He didn't have a big role and he came in and really did a lot with it.
Sharlto Copley is pretty over-the-top. Was that also distracting?
It's a massive choice, what he did. You don't know if things are going to work or not and you see the film and you go, "It worked." The guy walks a fine line, a razor's edge.
You and Elizabeth Olsen also have some tough scenes. Were those hard to film?
She's one of these girls... she's basically an adolescent and she shows up and she's a kid. But the minute that camera roles, something happens, and I don't know what it is and I haven't seen it with many people, where you couldn't see the transition, it just happened. She had tears and this and that... she has such an emotional depth that I haven't really experienced with a lot of actors. It was a real pleasure to work with her.
You're fed dumplings every day for what's supposed to be 20 years in this movie. How many would you say you ate?
Is there a food you'd want to eat for 20 years straight?
No. Lemon meringue pie, maybe. I could do that.
Spike Lee's "Oldboy" hits theaters (like a hammer) November 27.