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.
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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.
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).
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