More often than not, actors will have a go-to answer for the majority of questions thrown at them by journalists. For instance, when speaking about the Coen Brothers, the duo’s numerous collaborators often call them ‘whacky’, ‘incredible’ and like 'one minds in two bodies’. In all fairness, the hyperbole does make a nice headline, but it’s not as revealing as some fans would like.
Luckily, Josh Brolin has had enough. Having worked with the pair on numerous projects, including Hail, Caesar!, No Country For Old Men, and True Grit, the actor has told the press enough ‘bullsh*t’ about the creative pair. Instead, he wants to set the record straight.
In an interview with The Independent to promote the DVD release of the aforementioned Hail, Caesar!, Brolin spoke candidly about the Coen Brothers - Ethan and Joel - detailing the moment he “died in his own bullsh*t” talking about the directors on live TV and how the pair work on set.
Also in the phone interview - which took place while Brolin was doing research for his upcoming film Granite Mountain - he praised Marvel (“Why can’t bigger movies be well acted?”), revealed minor details about the George Clooney directed, Coen Brother written Suburbicon, and said how uncomfortable he feels being an actor. Read the full transcription below.
You’ve worked with the Coen Brothers numerous times now - Hail, Caesar!, No Country for Old Men - what makes you click with them?
Maybe the absurdity factor. I just really enjoy their sensibility, I get it. I don’t know why. You wouldn’t think, because we come from extremely different backgrounds, and charismatically we come from very different backgrounds. But I think, I just get it. What they chuckle at makes me chuckle. Even this new movie, Suburbicon, which we’re going to do for George [Clooney] which Jo and Ethan [Coen] wrote, he called me and asked if I’d be interested in doing a few scenes and I already knew it was a yes, because I knew it was written by Jo and Ethan. But then I read it and I’m laughing out loud, and it’s not very often you laugh out loud at their stuff. Also, there’s almost a mentorship in our relationship because they see in me the ability to play things, so they trust me to find my way through a role, that I wouldn’t necessarily pick for myself. No Country, maybe not, but True Grit, we came up with something a little different for that. And with Hail, Caesar! we came up with something different. It’s fun to create with them. I feel like all of us are on the ground with a lot of play-doh.
Sounds like a fun environment to work in.
Exactly, Lego and Play-doh. We do what we feel like doing. Just look at the movies they’re doing, like The Big Lebowski. Not even a hit when it first came out, they just made their money back. Everyone was satisfied, but then 20 years later it turns out to be a big cult hit, so you never know with their movies. I remember seeing Fargo and not quite getting it. Then I saw it three years later and thought it was the most brilliant movie I had ever seen. There’s something about when you know someone is doing movies that aren’t pandering to anybody but their own whimsical natures, there’s something wonderful about that. Confusing but wonderful.
When other actors have described working with them, they’ve said they’re like one mind in two bodies. Is that the feeling you have working with them?
Yeah, but you have to understand I’ve done years of publicity on them. We all play up this thing - George does and I do - we all play up this thing about how weird and f*cking strange they are, and quiet, and all this stuff. But it’s really not. Like, Ethan said ‘I saw you on a talk show the other day when we were coming out with Hail, Caesar! and I felt so bad for you.’ Because there was a moment where I didn’t believe my own bullsh*t anymore. You tell the press things like ‘they’re really weird and they’re like one mind in two heads’ and [the press] are like, ‘one mind in two heads, that’s a good soundbite’, or whatever it is. You just lend yourself to it and you know you’re doing it. I just caught myself, in an interview in front of millions of people and I died in my own bullsh*t for a couple of seconds.
The truth of the matter is, they’re the most pleasant, collaborative, incredibly creative guys I’ve ever worked with. There’s nothing I would say no to. It could be horrendous and I’d still say yes. They could say ‘we’re going to do a Walt Disney story about pornography’, and I’d be like ‘great, let’s do it’. I don’t care. I just get it, it’s fun being with them. And it’s not necessarily fun, I’m not on the set laughing the whole time, but I very much appreciate their level of discomfort and what I think makes them great writers. That’s all they have you know.
Films to watch in 2016
Films to watch in 2016
1/30 Hail, Caesar - 5 February
The Coen brothers' latest film might be their most ambitious yet. Telling the story of a Hollywood fixer struggling to keep A-listers in line, it has a movie within a movie, an amazing cast, and, judging by the first trailer, some luxurious visuals
2/30 Deadpool - 12 February
Comic book superhero movies have been getting slowly more self-referential and self-parodic lately, and Deadpool looks to be taking itself even less seriously than Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man. It looks as though fans will finally be getting the comic book-faithful, foul-mouthed version of the character they wanted, but it remains to be seen whether Deadpool will actually be funny, or just descend into toilet humour
3/30 Zoolander No. 2 - 12 February
Zoolander's return was derailed somewhat by backlash over a trans/gender fluid character played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The long-awaited sequel will no doubt do well at the box office, but I'm not sure if the fashion industry is as fertile for satire now as it was in 2001, and the trailer relies too heavily on honouring old gags rather than creating new ones
4/30 Knight of Cups - 4 March
A new film from Terrence Malick should have been a huge cause for celebration, but Knight of Cups has been swimming in post-Cannes purgatory for months now. In March it will finally get a theatrical release. Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, it sees a man return home from New York and get sucked into the hollow hedonism of LA, fighting to extricate himself from it
5/30 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - 4 March
Based on journalist Kim Barker’s 2011 memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, this dark comedy sees Tina Fey play a foreign correspondent reporting in the Middle East during Operation Enduring Freedom, where she develops a weird relationship with a fellow journalist played by Martin Freeman
6/30 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - 18 March
The wind seems to have gone out of the sails of the Man of Steel series in spite of the addition of a new Batman, and there's a more palpable anticipation for Suicide Squad (which arrives later in the year)
7/30 Everybody Wants Some - 15 April
Coming off the back of multi-Oscar winner Boyhood, this Richard Linklater film looks a lot like Dazed and Confused if it was set in the 80s, albeit pitched more towards comedy
8/30 The Jungle Book - 15 April
Disney is trampling on its own hallowed ground with this live action remake. Elf and Iron Man director Jon Favreau is a fairly safe pair of hands though, and Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito and Bill Murray are all on board
9/30 Money Monster - 13 May
'Financial TV personality Lee Gates, who offers up stock advice on his hit show "Money Monster," is held hostage by a viewer, Kyle Budwell, who lost all of his money following a bad tip from Lee during his show'
10/30 Snowden - 13 May
Platoon director Oliver Stone takes on a very important and timely story. But can he make it entertaining the way The Big Short did with the financial crisis?
11/30 X-Men Apocalypse - 27 May
2016 will see a ninth X-Men film. Ninth. Every cast member you would expect will be back to collect their paychecks, which might require a crane
12/30 Finding Dory - 17 June
The Finding Nemo sequel will focus on Ellen DeGeneres' forgetful blue tang fish. It's expected to have an anti-SeaWorld message, which should make it strike a chord with parents as well as children
13/30 Independence Day: Resurgence - 24 June
Will Smith isn't in it. Moving on
14/30 The BFG - 1 July
There's still a lot of love for Roald Dahl's stories, and this one is being adapted by none other than Steven Spielberg. There hasn't been a huge amount of buzz around it but it's early days, and Mark Rylance is an interesting casting for the titular Big Friendly Giant
15/30 La La Land - 15 July
There's a lot of expectation on director Damien Chazelle's shoulders following the success of Whiplash, one of the smallest films ever to have been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. La La Land will certainly be different, a musical comedy-drama about a young pianist and an actor played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone respectively
16/30 Ghostbusters - 15 July
This is something of a question mark. On one hand, it's landed a cast of incredibly funny actresses, but on the other, another reboot? Really? There's also thought to be a very meta all-male version in the works from the creators of Jump Street, set in the same universe as Men In Black no less
17/30 Star Trek Beyond - 22 July
If you thought Abrams' Star Trek films were bad, feast your eyes on the trailer for the next one from the director of the Fast & Furious franchise. Expect major face-palming from Trekkies in July. Hopefully the new TV show will offer something a bit less action-orientated and a bit more cerebral
18/30 Untitled fifth Bourne film - 29 July
The Bourne series completely went off the boil with Jeremy Renner as its lead, but now both Matt Damon and original director Paul Greengrass are back to steady the ship. This might well be Jason Bourne's last outing, so I hope they send him off in style
19/30 Suicide Squad - 5 August
Harley Quinn was one of the most popular Halloween costumes this year, despite the holiday falling months before the release of the film she's in. That says a lot about the hype over this comic book adaptation, which revels in the villains rather than the heroes for once and sees Jared Leto step into Heath Ledger's size 58 boots as the new Joker
20/30 Sully - 9 September
Friendly-looking dad named Chesley Sullenberger who saves a plane load of people? Tom Hanks is your guy. Clint Eastwood will direct this biopic, about an airline captain who was hailed as a national hero in the US after successfully executing an emergency water landing on the Hudson River off Manhattan
21/30 Bridget Jones’s Baby - 16 September
It's 2015 and Bridget is now pouring her soul into an iPad rather than a diary. This sequel might perfectly skewer the frustration of growing up in an increasingly youth-orientated world, or it might just serve to tarnish the originals like with Sex and the City 2
22/30 The Magnificent Seven - 23 September
I'm not convinced there's the demand for Westerns that Hollywood seems to think there is. We'll find out in September with Antoine Fuqua's remake of 1960's The Magnificent Seven. Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke are among the gang
23/30 Masterminds - 30 September
Based on the 1997 Loomis Fargo Robbery in North Carolina, this comedy comes from the man behind Napoleon Dynamite. Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis form a strong cast, but there are no trailers to go on yet
24/30 The Girl on the Train - 7 October
That book everyone was reading on the commute inevitably makes it cinemas in October, with Emily Blunt playing Rachel Watson, an alcoholic whose husband left her for his mistress, and who witnesses a murder and starts to realize that she may have been involved in the crime
25/30 Doctor Strange - 4 November
Doctor Strange might not have been the most obvious character to take to the big screen, but by this point Marvel could make $1billion at the box office from a comic an exec once scrawled on a piece of toilet paper
26/30 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - 18 November
J.K. Rowling makes her screenwriting debut adapting her own book here, with a film that takes place in the Harry Potter universe but is well removed from Hogwarts
27/30 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - 16 December
Disney is releasing a Star Wars movie every year between now and 2020. This first standalone 'anthology' film centres on a Death Star heist, but may prove to just be filler while Star Wars 8 is in production
28/30 Passengers - 21 December
'A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers. As a result, a single passenger is awakened 60 years early. Faced with the prospect of growing old and dying alone, he eventually decides to wake up a second passenger'
29/30 Jumanji - 25 December
Is nothing sacred? Everyone is so pissed about this remake of the Robin Williams cult hit that it will be a miracle if it escapes a critical drubbing
30/30 Silence - sometime in 2016
Martin Scorsese's next film doesn't have a mafioso or corrupt banker in sight. Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield star, playing two Jesuit Portuguese Catholic priests who face violent persecution when they travel to Japan to seek out their mentor and spread the teachings of Christianity
Almost every time you hear about the Coen brothers, it really is always how ’strange and amazing’ they are, but it just sounds like they are just nice people to work with and good fun.
They are, just very pleasant. And now I don’t expect anything. I think, in the beginning, it was a little tougher because a lot of directors are feeding you a lot of stuff. They’re telling you - I don’t get this very often, but I know this is a general feeling - you either get yelled at or manipulated into a certain performance of what they think they’re manipulating you into, over-directing. Or there are other people who don’t really know what they’re doing or feeding you lots of compliments thinking that will help. But Joel and Ethan don’t do either. They just do the job. They’re pleasant while they do it, but many, many, many times have I finished a scene and then looked for their approval, but they’re already moving to the next set because we’re done. That’s the point, we’re done with that scene. There’s no point being like ‘Oh my God, Josh. You’re amazing. You’re incredible. Thank God we hired you.’ There’s none of that, ever. There was one thing that they did say, and they didn’t say it to me directly, but they did say ‘you’ll be under-appreciated for this movie [Hail, Caesar!]’, which I appreciated very much.
How did that get to you?
Because somebody told me, who I trusted. They said that, even though the character is a very big character, he’s a through line, and there’s a lot of extreme personalities and caricatures that come at me. Like Tilda [Swinton], who - even though she’s a real person - it’s naturally a very heightened tone. Even the way Eddy [Brolin’s character] speaks, all that sh*t that he does, it’s still toned down compared to most people in the film. Tilda is big. George [Clooney] is big. Even Alden [Ehrenreich], who I thought was the best person in the movie, even he is big.
I was having this conversation with a colleague earlier, because the other actors in the film are big, yet, you’re always quite understated and relaxed. In other films, you often have this edge. Was it different to be this all round nice guy, compared to those other roles?
It was necessary for me to do. It just came at the right time. I was tired of all the intensity. Seriously, people in my life don’t understand because they say 'you’re so not that guy sitting there brooding’. That’s not why I did the movie, but I’m at a point and an age in my life where I’m interested in trying other things. I feel like I’ve been respectfully accepted by the art world and that’s wonderful, and I’m very grateful for that, and the movies I’ve been chosen to do, like Hail, Caesar! or Inherent Vice, or W. Some crazy, f*cking weird ass movies. But at the same time, I’m interested in expanding, and I don’t know what that looks like.
One thing that Marvel has done that I really appreciate, even though we’re doing this Marvel movie - and it’s one of the reasons I’m doing it - what I love is that… Who is the Incredible Hulk? Just say that, ‘The Incredible Hulk’. You can’t help but smile because you’re talking about The Incredible Hulk. But Mark Ruffalo is the Incredible Hulk. That’s f*cking cool. That’s amazing. All these actors that are coming up for Marvel, I’ve got to hand it to them and their movies are doing so well. Whether you like the movies or not, that’s beside the point, people are coming in and acting these roles well. And I think that says a lot for people like Marvel. Why can’t bigger movies be well acted? Why is it only the small art movies that nobody sees that are well acted, or at least that’s the perception. I like the idea of expanding and having other directors as well. We’re doing a follow-up to Sicario and it’s not going to have the same director, but I’m excited. A lot of people are coming out of Europe, a lot of great people.
The contrast between Marvel and something like Hail, Caesar! is quite interesting because in one you’re this big blue guy in a floating chair, Thanos, the other a regular guy trying to get by in Hollywood. You go from one end of the spectrum to the other, and if you feel comfortable doing that, that’s great.
But I don’t feel comfortable. That’s why I’m doing it. I don’t feel comfortable doing any of this stuff for the most part. Hail, Caesar! is comfortable for the most part, as it was. But it’s a hard thing, an unnatural thing. You try walking around talking in an accent, or before you do a scene - it’s hard to get your voice down there because I don’t smoke anymore. So you’re going ‘Yellow letter, red letter. One. Two. Three. One. One.’ And you feel like an idiot. It’s a fashion of humiliation. At the end of the day, which is all that really matters, when the movie comes out you hope that people are going to enjoy it and think that what you do is the easiest thing you can do as a profession.
What sort of role would you feel comfortable in?
There’s not a role. There is no comfort in it. I know people who were in high school plays who are like ‘Oh my God, isn’t this so fun’, and I never got that. I wanted to, but I never got it.
Then why do it?
Because I’m fascinated. I’m fascinated by the process, I think going around - traveling to all these places - I think that’s great. In what other profession do you get to do that? I just went to Arizona to learn about firefighting, and I get to completely saturate myself in that sort of stuff, which is totally great. Then I’m going to go play some 50s guy who runs a studio. Then I’m gonna go play a guy who is dealing drugs on the US-Mexican border.
Hail, Caesar! is available to own on Digital HD now and on Blu-ray & DVD from 11th July, courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK).