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Country discomfort

Josh Brolin plays some really tough guys in his two new movies “American Gangster” and “No Country for Old Men,” and after a confusing encounter in the hotel lobby when I did a double take and he may or may not have misinterpreted it, I wasn’t about to begin the conversation by saying that I saw him one night in the parking lot of a fish and chips place on Martha’s Vineyard with Diane Lane clinging to his arm. And certainly I wasn’t going to break the ice, as I had planned, by asking what Thanksgiving Dinner was like at the Barbra Streisand/James Brolin place. Also nixed, questions about “The Goonies” and licking armpits in “Flirting With Disaster.” So instead the interview started softball style like this. And even then he I thought he was getting a little pissed off.

PK:  So you had the screening last night, I guess?

JB:  Yeah. We were literally just making these screenings because we would fly and we’d do the interviews during the day, and then we’d land and we’d go right to the — well usually the planes were delayed and…

PK: Where have you been?

JB: All over really. I went to New York to the “American Gangster” premiere with my son, and my sister goes to the Berklee School of Music here so…

PK: Oh really?

JB: Yeah so I went to my son’s school — he’s in his second year in Ohio. So I went from New York to Ohio, went from Ohio to Chicago, Chicago to here, tonight from here to DC. DC to Austin, Austin to Dallas, Dallas to San Fransisco, San Fransisco to Santa Rose. Back to San Fransisco, Seattle, LA, New York, LA.

PK: What a memory! You never muff a line I’d guess…

JB: [Laughing] Not that much dialogue to muff up.

PK: How did it go over with the audiences?

JB: Oh, really well. I liked the questions that they asked, you know. It’s a hard movie to watch, at least from what I’m getting. A hard movie to watch and get any questions afterwards you know? I mean other than the obvious ones that I can’t really say. Yeah, there were some really intelligent questions, you know? Which is fun. And then at the end just try to make a joke out of everything.

PK: Must be hard to keep all the movies straight because you have what? Four movies this year alone?

JB:  Five. “Grindhouse,” “The Dead Girl,” “[In the Valley of] Elah,” “American Gangster” and this.

PK: So is this the breakout year people keep saying it is?

JB:  Ok.

PK:  Does that annoy you?

JB:  It doesn’t annoy me. I would never want to negate the amount of work that I’ve done, you know? Because I appreciate the work, I appreciate the people who have given me the work. I appreciate the diversity that people have given me the opportunity to explore, you know? So no, I didn’t just show up. But the movies are being seen. That may be the difference.

PK: After 20 years or so…

JB: Yeah, a little bit longer.

PK: What do you think is special about this year?

JB:  Well, they’re established, iconoclastic filmmakers, you know? You have Ridley Scott, who has… you just look at “Thelma & Louise,” “Bladerunner,” and all that. I mean it’s just an amazing resumé. And the Coens, more than anybody I think, from the beginning just established that they want to make their own personal films, and they don’t want to be controlled by anybody, and to be involved with people like that is a dream come true for me, you know? Just to be involved with people like that, I would have been fine being a photographer on set or anything else you know? Just to be a shadow and watch them do their work.

PK:  So you’ve had your eye on working with them for some time…

JB:  No I’ve appreciated them for a long time but I could never imagine myself working with them, no. Never, never. Maybe a small part somewhere in some comedy that I could do a fun thing in, but that was about it you know. And I auditioned for this part. I sent in a tape that Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarentino and I did. They saw the tape — it was a beautiful looking tape. [Laughing] It was ok, the acting wasn’t so bad. But they saw it and they go “That’s not what we’re looking for but thank you very much.” So they didn’t really know what they were looking for.

PK:  So they rejected you in the first place?

JB:  Oh yeah. Yeah. Very clearly. It was my agent who kept calling them. And I think that they were basically doing… I think they were sick of hearing my agent but I know that they were having a last casting call and they were going to choose I think one of four people. And they called at the last moment — I mean they literally couldn’t have called later, the night before, and they said “You know what? Fine. Let him come in. We’ll be happy to see him and spend a moment with him Here’s six scenes. Have him remember those.” And then I came down and I met them and I had it.

PK: Enigmatic, aren’t they?

JB: Very. Very. Even when I left the room I thought “This isn’t going to work out.” Because I talked to Ethan — we were having a great time talking about his book of poetry and his book of short stories, and I had read them both. And we really didn’t talk about movies. We talked about the character, did some scenes. And Joel just sat there the whole time like this — he didn’t move. And then I did something that I’ve never done. I said “Hey listen, you know I spent some time in the country, even before I left, I’ve never done this. I spent some time in the country and you know I think I have a handle — I might not now but given the research and the time I think I could pull it…” and Joel said “Stop. Stop. Don’t do that please.” And I go, ok.

PK: Joel’s the silent one.

JB:  Yeah. Joel’s the taller one. Joel’s the older one. And he stopped me in my tracks. I felt really embarrassed. And I shook their hands and I walked out the door and said “Well that’s not going to work out. That’s too bad.”

PK:  We don’t know when they’re putting you on either.

JB:  They don’t really put people on, no.

PK: What about the article when they asked why they hired you and they said that they really wanted your fater James and made a mistake?

JB:  Well that’s me and Ethan, you know. That’s just us having a good time together, you know? A lot of people believed that article which is kind of phenomenal. But that’s ok — it got a lot of press.

PK:  So your last thoughts as you were flying through the air after you crashed your motorcycle were, ‘I missed my chance to be in that Coen brothers movie?’

JB:  Exactly. I was just talking about it outside. She asked me how my collar bone was healing and I said good — perfectly. It was tough, man, it was right after I got the role and I was driving down and I was going from one wardrobe fitting to the other and the car was just there. I mean, I’ve never been in a street accident ever — a lot of dirt bike accidents but never a street accident. And I fancy myself as someone who can get out of that stuff pretty quick, having raced dirt bikes and all that. I was just there. I could do nothing. The skid mark was like that long. You know, and I hit it, and I knew something was going to be up. I was just very pleased to hit the top of the car. I probably would have broken both my legs.

PK: What was your hang time?

JB: How long was my hang time? I would imagine a good four seconds. One, two, three, four. I was in the air for about four seconds. I was in the air for a long time man.

PK:  Was it exciting? Or depressing?

JB:  No. It wasn’t depressing or exciting. I hit- I heard the snap you know. That wasn’t exciting. I didn’t even think of it because I imagine I was starting to go into shock at that point. It was a big blackout there. They wanted me to apologize to the woman, which I didn’t really understand. I just wanted to fight. It’s just- the whole thing was fucking weird.
    The driver said it was my fault! You’ve got to be insane. How could it be my fault? I was going in a straight line and you turned in front of me. It was blind. I understand how you did it, but I think you hoped that there was nobody in the third lane, you know? She just kind of sneaked — the cars were stopped on this end so she was just kind of sneaking, and then she punched it. So very obviously her fault, but that’s ok. I don’t blame her for it, I mean she didn’t try to hit me. She didn’t like chase me down and try to run me over, or shoot me, or any of it.

PK: Actually this would probably be good preparation for your role because the film is kind of like trying to cheat death.

JB:  Right.

PK: You, with Javier Bardem’s character as Death. What? you’ve got this, like, glum look on your face…

JB:  No no no. I agree with you. I agree. I haven’t heard that actually- cheat death. Yeah, I think that’s good.

PK:  The Bardem character is kind of like a death figure.

JB: Right.

PK: Did you draw on this for your character?

JB: Did I draw on my accident?

JB: No. Not at all. Not in the least.

PK: So this is my interpretation of the movie: it’s the same as “The Seventh Seal,” but instead of playing chess with death you shoot at him with a shotgun.

JB: Seventh Seal was with uh…

PK: The Bergman movie.

JB: Haven’t seen it, yeah — and I’m a huge filmophile, but I haven’t seen it.

PK: It’s a good one.

JB: I’m sure.

PK: It’s another film about death.

NEXT: Enough about death already.

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Peter Keough tosses away all pretenses of objectivity, good taste and sanity and writes what he damn well pleases under the guise of a film blog.

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