Josh Brolin Explains How Choosing Hollywood Roles Is Like Picking Stock

Actor Josh Brolin has re-teamed with Joel and Ethan Cohen for the third time in Hail, Caesar!, following his critically acclaimed performances in No Country for Old Men and True Grit. The new comedy mystery, which is on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD as of June 7, explores the Golden Age of Hollywood with a star-packed cast that includes George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton,Ralph Fiennes, Frances McDormand, and Alden Ehrenreich (who will play the young Han Solo in the new Disney Star Wars spinoffs).

Brolin plays a fictional variation of real-life Hollywood “fixer” Eddie Mannix, who worked at MGM Studios during the 1950s and was in charge of keeping celebrities out of the news when they became involved with scandals. The movie takes a “day in the life” look at the backstage shenanigans of stars, directors, and executives when the world’s top star, Baird Whitlock (Clooney) is kidnapped in the middle of shooting a swords-and-sandals epic.

Crave: What do you feel separates a Cohen Brother’s picture from any other movie project you’ve worked on?

Josh Brolin: Well, it’s the same thing that separates any other project from any other filmmaker that works on it. I’m very lucky because I get to work with filmmakers with very different sensibilities, with Gus Van Sant or Woody Allen or Oliver Stone or Ridley Scott. You know, people like that.  They have definitive styles that they’ve built through the years and defined. What I love about the Cohens – which is a lot like these other guys — is there’s not much of a pretense, and there’s not a lot of pandering going on. They just make the films that they feel that’s the story that they’re interested in right now. It’s like going to the bookstore and saying, “What section do I want to go to. Do I want to read a biography?  Do I want to read a fiction?  Do I want to read non-fiction?  Do I want to read sci-fi?” They’re very much respectful of their own whim.

What are the challenges for you as an actor playing a character like Eddie Mannix, who’s a fictional amalgamation of several real Hollywood executives?  

You do your research, and you find out who he is, and then you see how that works within the tone of the film. Joel and Ethan see it a certain way. I see it a certain way. They trust most of what I bring, and not some other things. They’re like, “No, don’t do that.” So you start to cultivate an idea, you start to germinate what this guy is. Do you want him to be as severe as he was?  Well, no, he was a pretty violent guy. I don’t want that to come across. I don’t want people to feel like he’s going to rip their heads off all the time. That’s a different guy, maybe that was more like the guy in American Gangster. We always felt this incredible danger, and I didn’t want to feel that coming from Eddie — even though that was more the real Eddie. So then you put a little (Irving) Thalberg in there, you put a little (Louis B.) Mayer in there, you put a little (Howard) Strickling in there.

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What was really important for me personally was the religious aspect because I liked how he kept going to this place and saying, “Am I doing the right thing?” He was always keeping himself in check, which I love that aspect of him. And then the fact that he had so much integrity around pleasing his boss and keeping things running smoothly while he had this offer from elsewhere that said, “Look, you don’t have to do half the work, you’re going to get paid three times the amount of money.” He’s like, “Yeah, but where’s the integrity in it?”

The real Eddie Mannix is also well known for his meticulous ledger that he kept.  Was there anything in the research that you did that really stood out during his MGM days?

Yeah. It was the amount of control. It was the violence and what he would use. This was a guy who ran Palisades Park for Nick Skank and he was head of security, and he had Mafia connections and all that. When Clark Gable got in his car wreck and allegedly killed somebody, that just went away. So when you talk about what was written and what was purposely kept out but eluded to, there was a lot of strong-arming going on.

What was it like stepping into Hollywood’s Golden Era setting where fixers didn’t have to deal with 24/7 social media and the Internet tabloid coverage of celebrities today?

It was great because it was something that I remember. I don’t remember back then, but I remember my own version of it in the ‘80s when you didn’t have a phone with you at all times and there were no cell phones, and it was great. It was just a different time. It was a much more personal time. There was a thing called boredom, real boredom, and you had to use your imagination to get out of it. I remember we used to go to our ranch even later on, and we had no Internet and we didn’t have cell service. Like it’s hard to even get a TV channel on 3, 6, and 12, but it came in blurry. So you spent a lot of time outside with the horses and a lot of time riding motorcycles, or putting another motorcycle together from a junkyard or whatever. And it was just a lot more face time then. I was on a plane yesterday. We came back from Tucson, Arizona yesterday and I looked over as the plane was landing and every single person was looking down at their phone, every single person. And by the way — including me. I never take myself out of that thing, but I am one if my battery goes out, I’m stoked. I’ve got a great excuse, you know?

Even when I go to the gym it’s retarded because I got this guy that I’m paying to work me out for this next movie and all that. And I show up and there are seven parking spaces that go right up to the window of the gym and when I go there I wait 20 to 25 minutes writing emails and making calls before I go into the gym and get half the workout because I was on my fucking phone the whole. It’s horrible, man. It’s horrible.

I would love to see Eddie Mannix talk about Instagram or what it means to him or whatever, but it’s a different time. And I don’t think it’s bad. I just don’t think we have any discipline around it, and that’s what I love about Eddie. Eddie had incredible discipline. And these little brats that he was dealing with, their social media was debauchery, sex, drugs, and whatever else.

You’ve played a lot of interesting characters thus far in your career and given your background with day trading, are similarities between picking a good role to bring to life and picking a good stock to invest in?

Yeah, because you don’t personalize it. You end up personalizing a role, but the greatest thing my buddy Brett Markinson ever taught me about trading is it’s not emotional. The minute you say, “Hey, I have a feeling about this stock,” don’t play the stock because there is no feeling.  There is no instinct. Everything you need to know is right in front of you. It’s all in the math of it. And it’s all in the emotions of people playing it, fear and greed, fear and greed, fear and greed.  So you see people react to news, but the news isn’t real. So, therefore, there’s an anti-reaction to the reaction, and all that stuff. So you’re watching the behavior of something and then you’re watching the actual facts of something, and it was interesting because that was around the same time that things kind of changed for me.

I don’t think it’s because of that. I think it’s partially locked in all that stuff, but when I choose a role now, it’s more about, “Hey, does this resonate for me, does this work within the thing that I want to create right now, and can this sustain me?” 

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures.