Set Visit: Interview with Josh Brolin about Jonah Hex
He's Josh Brolin. He oozes cool. Even when half his face is covered with prosthetics. I got a chance to visit the set of JONAH HEX back in May, and, despite the reshoots and rumors, I've got to say, it looked pretty amazing. I hadn't read the comic, and in case you haven't either, here's the deal: He's a scarred, former Confederate (sort of) bounty hunter with revenge on his mind. And he's raising an army of undead.
And before you ask, no, Megan Fox wasn't on the set and even if she had been, I wouldn't give her your phone number. But Brolin does talk about her. Well, Fox and how much the makeup sucks to wear (he suffers for beauty), stunt work and being a bad ass. He was a complete gentleman, laughing with us throughout the interview (covering the hole in his face to smoke). I wouldn't have been nearly as nice with that crap on my face. There would have been blood.
You did and can I just say the makeup looks amazing. It looks great on you. How is it to wear?
It sucks man. It does because we didnt want to do the CGI thing and because of a certain movie that I thought it was extremely distracting for me personally. I said we have to go practical with this but so you know I have a piece of tape here, I have this thing that hooks in the back. I have this thing behind my ear so it pulls my face back, then we put a facial prosthetic on, then we put teeth in with wires going up here. So we had these teeth, so this thing holds back my lip and then we do another prosthetic over here and then we paint the face, so its a lot of work.
But for you as a performer, does it put you in the right place by the time you hit set are you revved up and ready?
Yeah, I mean usually Im telling jokes on the set and I havent really got time and Im like walking around here just like growling at everybody. I dont know why. I think its because of this, I dont know. Yeah, it does. It helps for sure. For sure it helps. I dont like it personally but professionally it works, I guess.
Would you have hesitation about doing it again if this a success; they wanted you to return to the role, would the prosthetics ?
Yeah, but I know what happens. I do have hesitation, honestly. Were half-way through it now and Im like never again, never again.
Never go through it again?
Yeah, but were talking about doing JOHN BROWN 2 which would be absolute full prosthetics, you know? It starts at 56 years old, so were talking Im becoming that actor, you know? Like the Lon Chaney.
This is right after W.
We had prosthetics in W also. Not this massive. But you know what happens with when you finish and if youre really proud of the job and all that and then you go why not? you forget. Its like having a baby I guess from what I heard from my ex-wife. You know shes like oh Im never doing it again and then 2 months shes like want to have another one? So its that kind of a thing, I think.
Had you heard about the character prior to hearing about the film?
A little bit. I wasnt a big I read comic books and stuff but I didnt know a lot about it. I wasnt one of those graphic novels freaks, you know, who and I dont mean it negatively, Im just I didnt do that. I read a lot of Ray Bradbury. I read a lot of that kind of stuff, you know Isaac Asimov and things. But no, I didnt know a lot about it but I liked the idea of it and I liked the idea that it wasnt a huge success. Do you know what I mean? Theres not a lot of expectation and I love that. It makes it riskier for us. It allows us to do things that you wouldnt normally be able to do and being loyal to Comic-Con people. Yeah, were going to be loyal but the guys who write JONAH HEX now came on the set and they were flipping out. They were like this is unbelievable and they were truly feeling that, you know? And we wanted to make them happy but at the same time we have a luxury to kind of do what we feel like doing because its not a failed comic book necessarily but its the comic book that just wont go away. It has its loyal audience. People like it existing. Its not WATCHMEN but they love that it exists because they need it. They need the guttural visceral primitive thing always. So its kind of a law of balance right nowlaw of averages where we have all these superhero things and wheres the other guy whos sort of a protagonist but hes kind of an antagonist and hes a drunk and hes kind of curmudgeon-y and then so are the other characters, so whos the good guy, whos the bad guy? I like that, you know?
Its like the spaghetti western. It wont die.
You were talking about how westernsmodern westernsa lot of them dont have the same kind of cojones or the same sort of gravitas to them, what are your favorite westerns? What are the ones that are touch stones for you?
I mean theres a lot of them. Theres a lot of them. Theres things that I saw recently and there was a director and I dont mind saying so that we were trying to get Chan Wu Park, who did OLD BOY. There was a Japanese director, cant remember his name right now, who did ITCHY THE KILLER that I liked very much.
Oh Mike, sure.
We talked to Sergei Bodrov who did MONGREL who I thought was incredible. There was a lot of people whove done a lot of things that I really appreciate and then you go back to the Italian spaghetti westerns that our spaghetti westerns were based off of so Ive seen everything. Everything. I dont have a favorite I like and then Ill go and watch DAYS OF HEAVEN and I go how beautiful is that. So I think, at least my idea, was lets bring something again thats primitive and guttural but then lets also do something beautiful where youre outside and this isnt a typical western setting. Its lush. Its green. Its beautiful. So I dont know, to me I love that the studio is like we dont have a model for this. We dont know. They dont know whether to be supportive or angry or anything and I like that. Its good. So if it works well have created something original that other people can copycat, other people can splinter from and try to make their money based on what we did. Thats my hope. Who knows if itll work or not but thats my hope.
So many of the characters youve played recently have been guys who it seems you as an actor have to find a way to make them empathetic to an audience to a certain extent despite everything about them from George W. Bush to doing MILK and things like that. Youve got to find a way to make the audience follow you along. I mean with HEX what is that to you? What do you present to the audience? Obviously hes not a character who has his hes Superman with his big heroic arc, I mean its a different kind of thing.
No, but he has a past you know? The fact that his mother was a prostitute. The fact that I mean thats why I like the relationship between Lila and Jonah because Lila and I said this to somebody yesterday, I was like well youve got to have Megan Fox in your movie because everybody wants Megan Fox in your movie. No, we were looking at a bunch of different people. We were looking at people like Melissa Leo at a certain point. And we really went through the gamut and I woke up one morning and I was like it has to be Megan Fox. If I can get a performance out of her it has to be Megan Fox because to me this whole beauty and beast thing and then you also have Megan surrounded by these toothless whores and shes the most beautiful and yet shes the most broken, you know? And I like that. Its like everything is not thats my understanding of life. What you perceive. You might be an interested guy, an interested reported then I get to know you and then I know youre this also and youre this also and you may hide it in a certain way. Thats what I love. Its like the Dan White thing. Dan White was a good guy. It wasnt that he was a bad guy. He was a good guy who just snapped. What creates the snap in somebody? So thats why I like the contrast between what youre perceiving cosmetically and whats going on underneath. To me, Lila is the most broken character of all. Jonahs probably next, you know? Turnbull is probably the craziest. Hes caught up into this romanticism and revenge factor of losing. He refuses to lose. Anyway it goes on and on and on.
You had a relationship with John Malkovich prior to this. How is it working with him where you guys are head-to-head in so much of the movie?
Its great. Its Malkovich. um .Josh I was like He does this whole thing. Its fucking great and blah, blah, blah anyway. To me hes a genius. I mean he really is. And when I saw him do, what was it, BURN THIS on Broadway he was one of the reasons why I did TRUE WEST on Broadway. I didnt want to do it because Phil and John had already done it and I knew it was doomed. Vin Vrantely already told us it was doomed because he didnt want to continue but you look at John and you go how can I not do this great play. Look at what he did with it. Im curious what Ill do with it you know? So hes been a huge inspiration for me and he became a great friend and I called him about this and it was like will you please do this? Yes, Josh Id like to read it and see how I feel afterwards and then Ill ring you afterwards or whatever. I just think the guy is freaking fantastic.
And then the studio they have an idea of somebody or John plays all the crazy people and I was like no, man. We started going through a lot of really wonderful actors and I said you know the thing about those actorsand I wont say who they areis because theres a lot of rage in the part is that I wont mention any actors but usually with these certain actors they feel rage and it comes out straightforward. It comes out Im trying to do you guys a favor by not looking at you too much .but it comes out straight, you know? John, he feels rage and he may pick up a poodle and start petting it and reciting a poem or something, which to me is far scarier than somebody whos just screaming at you, you know? So John always does something very interesting and eclectic and I dont think forcefully. I think maybe when he was younger that was a force thing. I think John is truly eclectic now. I think hes become what he was aspiring to become.
How much action and stunt work do you do personally in this?
A lot. My stunt guy, whos my guy and comes from movie to movie, Mark Norby, when I broke my collar before NO COUNTRY he was the happiest guy on earth because he knew I wouldnt be able to do anything. Theres a lot of stuff for him to do on this. He was the coordinator on W, you know not a lot of stuff to do but hell do a lot of stuff on this. I would prefer to do pretty much everything but this movies freaking killing me. I mean it is. Everyday is like if you saw me wake up in the morning and walk to the bathroom, its a joke. I mean Im limping. I jammed my finger yesterday before yesterday I can move that better now this one I cant bend very much. I have bruises everywhere.
When youre breathing heavy in like an action scene, are you able to breathe properly with that on?
Yeah, I just slobber a lot. I do. I was going to incorporate the thing but Ive gotten used to it now because we have different ones I use for different times, so more action stuff I can talk better now than I can usually talk. But I was trying to incorporate like a little thing that I held in my belt loop and I would do that but then that was too Malkovich-y because thats something that Malkovich does. So I decided to do away with it.
You talk about some of the other filmmakers who you were sort of inspired by sort of when you came into this. What made Jimmy sort of the right collaborator for you on this?
He wrote me a brilliant e-mail. A brilliant e-mail. It was one of the best. And Im an e-mailer and I do a lot of my enticing through e-mail and Im a decent writer so I guess Im sort of good at that and I read his e-mail and I was blown away. It was extremely passionate, extremely intelligent, extremely knowledgeable not of the character necessarily but technically. You cant take away from the fact that the guys worked for a company that cant fail. They just dont fail and at Pixar youve got to be good man. Its like Apple. They just keep they just challenge after challenge after challenge. And Jimmy knew the comic book really well. He had a first edition of the comicthat I dont think he went out and bought after he knew we were going to meet. I think he had that. And there was a great new adolescent energy to him, you know?
And again, theres no expectation. Theres the opposite. And theres no reason why he cant make a phenomenal film even as a mistake. He has the vision. He has the fashion. You look at Quentin Tarantino, when Quentin was working in the video store, you would never say oh lets get that guy to direct a great filmyou know a big filmand this is a big film but its not a huge film. Were talking abut you right now dude. Hes incredible to me and if he pulls this off, hell have an amazing career and we dont have weve got in the 30s or something as a budget. This is going to look this is huge scope. Big, big, big scope. And it may be ridiculous at times but it doesnt matter because thats the genre. We can do that. Thats what I like about it. A mistake maybe an asset to us in the future so, yeah Ive never done anything like this. You know me Im just like I get into all the complicated characters and shit. To me this is not what this is. Its very simple. Its very linear. Its very straightforward. My big thing was to get somebody like him, if we werent going to get Danny Boyle we were going to get somebody like him and then at that same time was to get brilliant actors. That was my thing and thats where I came in and I called Malkovich. I called Fassbender. I called Megan. I called..who else is in it?
No, I didnt call Will.
Michael Shannon. There we go. Thank you. Jesus. Who I think is just, I mean and I dont say it lightly when I say it, he cannot do to me he can do no wrong. I mean he is such a brilliant presence and I like that. I want to be surrounded by that.
I was just going to ask you quickly about you guys are shooting this anamorphically.
And could you just talk a little bit about that?
2:35 man. Its hard. Its hard for the camera peoplethe operatorsto hold everything because its so thin and its so wide.
You have to be aware of it in a different way, dont you?
A totally different way but if you can pull it off, again, when you see it in the theatre its going to be a whole a genius experience. And then thats when you bring the kind of (inaudible) feel into this, you know what I mean? Its not like youre doing a thingoh it looks like the 70s. I dont want that. I dont wantoh it looks like a low-budget B movie in the 70s. Even Jimmy will say God this looks so 70s and Im like no, I dont want to hear that. And I dont want it to look crisp like what we have now. I want something in between.
Youve had this incredible run of filmmakers youve worked with recently and an amazing set of films youve worked on. Sounds like youre very involved in making this one happen like you were a big driving force in this. Is that something that youre bringing these experiences to each film now and you really see yourself kind of driving the material that youre going to be doing?
You either want to live up to that or you dont and I was very, very lucky in that the studio said to me do you want to helm this in finding the most appropriate director, at least for you, who you deem to be the most appropriate person and I said for me I know thats usually bullshit. Youre going to jerk off the actor to make him feel good but ultimately youre going to make the decision yourself and they were very honest with me and straightforward and they said we want to be in business with you and were going to let you do it. Obviously they have the final say, which is just obvious but they gave me a lot of range here, you know? And its not if it doesnt work again I dont feel like a total failure. You do what you do man and it turns out you can come out with a perfect movie and it just doesnt hit the pulse of society at that moment. Or you can come out with a movie thats OK and it just works at that time when you release it. Everybody wants that. They want to embrace it. So between this and between the people speak, yeah Ive been in much more of a producer mode and well continue with that. JOHN BROWN with Mark Gordon is a possibility right now. PITS AND JOE is a thing Ive written that Im probably going to direct in the next couple years and well see what happens, man.
John mentioned that you guys were from what John said it seemed as if you were crafting your performances with each other in mind. He seems to be the almost, from the scene we saw, a Shakespearian type orator where it seems like and he mentioned youre quite the laconic protagonist.
Thank God, man. Yeah, .look at him. Hes so careful. (laughter) I could watch that guy forever, man. Yeah, I think that happens unconsciously. I mean we got together beforehand and we were talking about what we wanted to do with accents and the southern thing and how far we wanted to go with it or if we wanted to stay generic and just very typical talks and finding out the tone of the film. Not really actor talks but more how is this going to affect the big picture. And then now you just do your thing and when you have an actor like that or I would never assume that Im this type of actor but I know that I can look at somebody when Im acting and even though were in the scene and were and Sean is a perfect example were still figuring out and looking at each other. Its almost like a boxing match. Youre hitting each other but you dont hate each other, so its technique. Its all this stuff and seeing what works, what doesnt work and where youre going to get your best punches in but you dont want to kill the guy, you know what I mean? Thats kind of what I feel with John. Its a great ballet. With Sean it was a ballet, with John its more of a boxing match.
Is there a reason why Jonah Hex that you feel still wears a Confederate uniform?
Because those are the only clothes he has. I dont know. No, because its a comic book, thats why. Yeah. Thats what I feel. Is there an emotional reason? I think thats what he represented. He doesnt want to not represent what he grew up being and yet at the same time you can do that and like what he says in this movie he says look, it turned out that I think you should always strive for your country but we were 2 countries but none better than the other. So I realized that at one moment so he went and turned himself into a Union post to sit out the rest of the war in a prison cell and it ended up backfiring on him and killing a lot of his, you know, compadres. But I do, I think theres a pride that you have. My mom was like that -and not Confederate - but a southern girl and she carried that wherever she went, even though I know she could have lost the accent, she could have done that. She carried that with herself. She had that pride, but then she also never wanted to go back to the south, do you know what I mean? Its that kind of a feeling. Anyway, thank you guys.