It’s safe to say Academy Award-nominated actor Josh Brolin has never played a role like the title character in “Jonah Hex.” Based on the DC Comics series, Jonah Hex is a disfigured bounty hunter who must stop Hell from unleashing on earth.
Brolin, who started his career in Hollywood in the classic adventure movie “The Goonies” in 1985, has since starred in a number of memorable films including “No Country for Old Men,” “In the Valley of Elah,” and “W,” where he portrayed President George W. Bush. In 2008, Brolin earned his first Academy Award nomination for his role as former San Francisco supervisor and Harvey Milk assassin Dan White in Gus Van Sant’s “Milk.”
During an interview with me, Brolin talked about the theme of revenge, his initial thoughts about the script, and why you could count him in if a sequel to “The Goonies” ever happens.
Were you able to identify with the character of Jonah Hex in any way?
I don’t think I identified with the character at all. He’s a very sad character who is broken and very angry. He’s a massive drinker and someone who has trouble making romantic commitments. I did have a lot of fun playing him because there are not a lot of consequences to his actions.
So, what does it take to immerse yourself into a role that is nothing like you and based very much on fantasy?
You do a lot of research and read a lot of things and watch a lot of different movies. I made sure to watch a lot of Robert Mitchum and Charles Bronson movies. The characters they played were somewhat serious but they also had the ability to have some levity and give some great one-liners. “Jonah Hex” comes from a premise that is very dark. But we also wanted to have some fun and make this revenge tale come together.
The theme of revenge in “Jonah Hex” is something many films, of course, have tackled in the past. Do you think vengeful tendencies are something that is inherent in all of us or is it just something fun to explore in movies?
Look, we’re not all sociopaths but I think we all have that thing inside of us where jealousy creeps into envy or vengeance creeps into sociopathic tendencies. But I think we’re all fairly able to deal with our own anger. At the same time, we’re not dealing with someone who is taking our family [like Jonah Hex].
I guess it all depends on the type of person you are whether or not you would seek out revenge.
Yeah, different people have different abilities. The thing with a revenge tale is that it’s not real. I think we can all identify with where that comes from, but now we are making it into a hugely dramatic situation that is completely blown out of proportion. I mean, this guy lives in this constant purgatory. It makes it totally fantastical. But then, even if you’re riding your bike down the street and some guy throws a rock at you most people will want to stop the bike and do something about it. Normally you don’t because not everyone is a bully like that. “Jonah Hex” is a manifestation of those wants and needs.
Jonah Hex is unlike any character you’ve played before. What was it about the comic book world that made you want to be a part of it, especially after MTV quoted you saying when you first read the script you thought it was “awful?”
I said awful because I thought it was really gimmicky. But once I started imagining different actors in it and all the possibilities of what we could do that became really interesting to me. It seems to me – in hindsight – that the movies that I decide to do are the movies I react to the most. I said no to Oliver Stone three times for “W.” There have been some movies that I haven’t done because I couldn’t see myself doing it. Sometimes it takes the confidence of somebody else telling you that you can do this and that they can see you doing it. “Jonah Hex” is a type of movie I’ve never attempted before. The risk became very interesting to me. It was fun to make although it was a pain in the ass to deal with those prosthetics. But at the end of the day you want to be able to look at the movie and say, “I’m really glad I did that” no matter what hardships you go through.
You’re not just an actor. You’re involved in all facets of the movie industry. Does that hinder or help you when you’re on the set? Do you try to go beyond your responsibilities as an actor?
Yes, but I’m always respectful of directors and studios and producers. I respect the creative process. John Malkovich brought in a lot of ideas [to “Jonah Hex”]. I try to bring in as many ideas as I can. Even if I’m doing something like “No Country for Old Men” I’m trying to think of the entire story. I try to not be narcissistic and think, “How can I look good in this” and instead think “How does this lend itself to the story and the big picture of everything.” There’s no particular reason why I’m like that. It’s not like I want to be like that or force myself to be like that. It’s just my natural perspective.
“Jonah Hex” director Jimmy Hayward said to play the title character you needed this “badass attitude.” Is that something you have to maintain even when the cameras aren’t rolling?
Nah, man, we try to have as much fun as we can. I’m constantly thinking about what we can do better. I’m sure I have “that look” on my face whatever “that look” is because of the prosthetics and because of the intense heat and humidity of Louisiana or the fact that I had three layers of wool. That definitely lead to whatever scowl I had on. I think if we [had shot the movie] at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles it wouldn’t have been the same character.
Producer Richard Donner recently stated that a “Goonies” sequel was “a definite thing.” If that is true, would you like to be a part of that project?
I’ve talked about it with them off and on about the possibilities of that. I saw Steven [Spielberg] in the street a couple of months ago and I asked, “What’s the reality of this, man? Is there a script? Are we going to do it?” He told me there’s been a bunch of different scripts and we’ve talked about it, but nothing has come up that we want to really fasten ourselves to. But, yes, I’m loyal to [“The Goonies”]. That was the beginning of my career and it was an incredible shot that they gave me. I feel the same about Richard and Steven as I do about the Coens. To me I love them as filmmakers and I would probably do anything they wanted me to be involved with unless I thought the role was ridiculous.