Josh Brolin Talks INHERENT VICE, Working With Paul Thomas Anderson, How His Character Resists Change, and Playing Thanos In AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

     December 14, 2014


Josh Brolin plays Detective “Bigfoot” Bjornsen in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s newest film, Inherent Vice.  More than just an odd couple pairing for Joaquin Phoenix‘s Doc Sportello, Bigfoot is a wonderfully rich character that represents just about everyone from the 1950’s that resisted the social changes of the 1960’s.  I recently sat down with Brolin, along with a few other journalists, to talk about the role.  We also discussed what it was like for him to work with Anderson and touched briefly on the plans for Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.

Inherent Vice is now playing in limited release before going wide on January 9th.  It also stars Katherine WaterstonOwen WilsonReese WitherspoonBenicio Del ToroEric RobertsMartin ShortSasha Pieterse, Joanna Newsom, and more.  I heartily (and respectfully) disagree with Matt’s review and urge you to see it ASAP.  Hit the jump for the interview.  A few mild spoilers await.

inherent-vice-josh-brolinQuestion:  You’ve worked with every great director there is, pretty much.  Spike Lee recently, Oliver Stone, the Coen brothers.  For Paul Thomas Anderson, what was it like to come on and work with him?

JOSH BROLIN:  Great!  Better than great just because he’s a guy that creates and ambiance of possibility.  You choose a story like this.  When you see There Will Be Blood or you see raining frogs in Magnolia, you’re like, “Okay, he’s willing to go in a totally different place.”  He has a perspective that I think is interesting, personally.  It has nothing to do with how successful he is or how this or how that.  Is this a fun theater piece to do?  Who else is doing it?  Joaquin.  Okay.  Well, that’s a given so why would you not do it?  Then you get involved.

I knew him through the award circuit, when I was doing No Country he had There Will Be Blood.  So I knew him a little bit but I knew him with Daniel so it was a little untouchable.  I was like, “This guy works with the greatest actors out there.”  And that’s it.  Even seeing The Master, I just thought it was amazing.  When I saw it the second time and a third time, I thought it got better and better and better for me.

So, in my mind – wherever that is and wherever I perceive myself at the moment – you just kind of don’t sound like, “Oh I’d really like to work with Paul Thomas Anderson.”  It’s just like, “That’s probably something that’s not gonna happen.”  And then you get a call saying, “Look, I think I may have some work for you.”  Which was the line, and then it works out.  Then you’re on set with this guy and he’s like your brother.  And I don’t mean your bro, I mean actually like your brother, and you’re like, “Oh, we grew up together, we understand the same things, we have the same references.  We appreciate a lot of the same absurdities and we see the humanity in those absurdities.  Cool.  Alright, so what do we do?  Let’s try this, let’s try that.”

Even though I’m there to see his vision through, there was never any kind of – it reminds me of the Coen brothers working together.  There’s never an argument, there’s misunderstanding, differences of opinion but never any, “Why?  Why do you want to do that for?”  It was like, “Let’s go here.  Great.  What about this?  Great.”  There was a scene that we did on the bluff, it’s not in the movie but it was a stationary scene and I said, “What if you got in the back of the car with the camera and we were just going 40 miles an hour down the fire road?”  He’s like, “Cool.  Let’s do it.”  Then Joaquin, Doc, tries to jump out of the car while we’re doing it because that’s what Doc felt like doing.

He’s holding on to so much.  I read the character as, in the end he’s relinquishing the weight of the 50’s and entering the 60’s as the 60’s are ending.

BROLIN:  Yeah and he doesn’t want to.  It’s not only a generation behind, he’s like a generation and three quarters behind.  Because he refuses to let go of that right stuff image he has of himself and how life should be and yet he’s not intelligent enough or impactful enough to understand, “Hey, you have to be valuable with the times.”  And you actually get more out of Doc by getting rid of all that kind of racist, civil rights violating – you know what I mean?  And quit being such an idea of yourself.

I said it in the other room, inside he’s a kid having a tantrum.  He wants his Fruit Loops and he’s not getting his Fruit Loops.  He doesn’t know how, he doesn’t understand that the tantrum’s not working.  He gets more frustrated because the tantrum isn’t working instead of being smart enough to go, “If I’m maybe really nice, maybe that will work next time at the grocery store.”  But he doesn’t get that.  Because of that, you see him at home being so severely emasculated by his wife.

inherent-vice-joaquin-phoenix-benicio-del-toro-josh-brolinI thought the way the character responded said volumes about him because the version of the character I’ve been watching in the movie until that scene, I was expecting you to be like, “What the hell are you doing?”  He just rolls over.

BROLIN:  Totally rolls over.  He folds.  Where he doesn’t fold, who is more so his wife but in a weird way – and I don’t even know how I mean that – is the phone call he has with Joaquin, where says, “He’s gone, man.”  And he’s doing his best hippie thing.  That’s the most intelligent he is the entire time.  Because he’s like, “What does that mean, man?”  And he goes, “[sigh] She’s gone.”

You and Joaquin are both very transformative actors.  Could you imagine the roles being flipped?

BROLIN:  Totally, totally.  It would be like our Othello, I would do it again in a second.  Oh my god, it would be great, and especially like Bigfoot, it would be awesome.  I never thought of that.  That’d be amazing actually.  I would love to do something like that.  There are certain people that you work with that who are really gracious and amazing and electric, emotionally electric, and he’s that.  I like that, some people don’t.

I know actors that hate improvising – not that we improvised a lot in this.  I think we emotionally improvised, behaviorally improvised but some people don’t like that.  Plus, by the way, I like to learn a script before I start.  I know the whole script before I start the movie.  But knowing that Paul may rewrite and this and that but I know the foundation.  I don’t feel like I can work on what I want to do unless I know the whole thing.

Other actors may come in and they know the characters, they just don’t know the dialogues or they peek at the dialogue before and they like it to be elusive.  Because it’s more human for them, stretching for it and then reaching for it.  I hate that.  I hate that, I want to know that I have the foundation and then I can go off on a tangent if I want.  I always have that foundation to go back to.  So, it’s just different strokes for different folks.

Kind of internally do you know when he’s just messing around or when he’s being overtly serious?

BROLIN:  No, it dictated itself.  And that was kind of what was unnerving about it but also really gratifying when you watch it, is that you didn’t necessarily know.  You know the scene, you know the character.  And you think you know the character and then you’re in a situation.  I mean, the banana thing is a perfect example because the banana thing was the beginning of the scene actually.

Was that scripted?

BROLIN:  What?

The frozen banana.

BROLIN:  The frozen banana was.  Yeah, that’s in the book.  The frozen banana but not what he does with the frozen banana.

inherent-vice-image-josh-brolin-joaquin-phoenixDid you all find that on the day?

BROLIN:  Oh, I found that.  And then Paul laughs and then I know it’s working.  Not because he laughs because there’s a lot of things that he laughed at that we didn’t use.  But it was that moment that it just made sense.  I remember doing that, we ate like 44 bananas that day or something because that was the beginning of the scene where I ate two bananas.  When he’s doing it, that scene doesn’t work without Doc.  He couldn’t be driving by himself, it would’ve been funny still but without Doc sitting there wondering what he was doing.  So, you need that but when I was eating the banana, it just started dawning on me, “Why does he like bananas so much?”  I didn’t think about it, I mean I did, but I didn’t come up with anything.  And I thought, “Oh.”

What did you think? 

BROLIN:  I don’t know.  It could’ve been a latent thing, it could’ve been a guy who comes across as so masculine, it’s like, “Is he that masculine?”  Because being that emasculated by his daughters, there’s some weird latent thing that’s trying to manifest that he refuses to acknowledge.  That’s when those boundaries start dissolving in a big way and you think it could very much be that.  If you have any psychological knowledge whatsoever, or behavioral knowledge, it could very easily be that.  Does it mean anything?  No.  Does it lend to anything?  No.  It’s just there.  It’s just more specific.

I thought it was maybe a cue to the love story between him and his partner. 

BROLIN:  I have the chills right now.

What were you actually eating at the end of the movie?  

BROLIN:  I don’t know what it was, it was like some kind of, you know those kale chips?  I think it was that and something else.  It was that which that’s great to eat like a half of bag of and then you get sick of them pretty quick because they’re too severe.  And we did that a lot, we did that all day.

You eat a lot in this movie.

BROLIN:  I know but that’s what I was saying, I think I mentioned it before, where he’s like, he’s a guy who presents himself as being so super masculine but he’s obviously got this massive gap in him that he’s trying to fill with something.  I mean, with big black bananas.

inherent-vice-paul-thomas-andersonThe narration talks about losing a partner and losing a buddy and the narration lands on a shot of you and Doc.  Do you see this as sort of a buddy cop movie even though Joaquin is not technically a police officer?

BROLIN:  Oh, totally.  That relationship is such a marriage, as any cop relationship.  And Bigfoot’s partner has died in the movie and it’s kind of the anger that he’s died and I’m sure that was a marriage in itself.  He’s replacing it with the opposite of what you would think you would replace it with.  There’s a total marriage there.  That relationship is a total marriage; it’s much more than he and his wife.  It’s much more functional than anything else he’s doing, even though he’s totally dysfunctional.  But yeah, it’s a definite relationship, that’s the basis for the whole thing.

Is there more stuff with Bigfoot’s family that was shot?

BROLIN:  Bigfoot’s family?  No.  More other stuff but not that.

What excites you about bringing what you do as an actor into this sort of new world of the motion capture?

BROLIN:  Wait, wait, sorry.  They scene with the kid, he was never supposed to pour, he was just supposed to be sitting there.  And then he poured the Tang, it was Paul’s idea, the Tang which I loved.  Then I thought, “Why doesn’t he slide it across?  Once he’s done, the camera is here, we’re here, the kid’s here, so slide it across so it kind of wipes frame and ends up in the perfect spot that it started in.”  And the freaking kid was so good and he took it.  I said, “Why don’t you try sliding it?”  And he says, “I hit it that way?”  And I said, “Yeah.”  He puts it in the thing and it’s perfect the first time.  I looked at Paul and was like, “Oh my God!  Amazing!”  But that’s more defining of how Bigfoot wants things to be, anyway, sorry.

The thing you like to do as an actor, what excites you the most about bringing into that motion capture world?  Next time you play Thanos for a Marvel film, translating what you do into the high tech…

BROLIN:  It’s just different.  I don’t have a thing of I only do smaller films, I always do this, I only want—I want to do that.  It’s just like I read a story and I go, “Wow.  That’s cool.”  Not, I want to get into this genre, I want to get into that genre.  Thanos came around and I had a good friend Louis D’Esposito who was a first AD, who’s now the co-President of Marvel, and he and I used to trade together.  We did Hollow Man together and he called me and we started talking about this thing.  It was nice because I could intimately talk to him about it.  What I liked, what I didn’t like about the whole idea of it.  I loved the idea of Thanos and ultimately it’s Thanos against everyone, so why wouldn’t you do that?  I don’t know.  It’s a strange thing.  I was more nervous doing that than I think I’ve been for a long time.  I mean, I was in front of 32 little cameras and I had a face spray painted with iridescent paint and all of that.  So, it was very, very different but I like it.   It’s fun, it’s different.

Is there an excitement to take on that huge physicality?

BROLIN:  When I saw what they did, that was exciting.  Even though it was only a minute or two minutes or something, not even that.  It was really exciting of the possibilities of what it could become, not as an idea, not as a blockbuster, but as just something different.  It’s a character mentality, that’s just a different character.  It’s fun.  It’s all fun, man.


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