Listening to Josh Brolin talk about working as a Hollywood actor is listening to a man openly admit his own contradictions.
Acting is “a profession of humiliation,” Brolin says. Making a movie is “torturous,” he says. “It’s weird shit we do.” Still, Brolin readily adds that he’s “extremely grateful” for his 32-year film acting career, work he still pursues “because it’s elusive. It’s not something you can master.”
About 100 people connected with the NYS3 The Meisner Conservatory for the Southeast in Woodfin heard all that and more during an intimate 90-minute interview on Saturday. The crowd, and Brolin, braved one of the worst snowstorms in Asheville’s recent history to come together for the NYS3 talk. In recent years, the acting school has hosted other luminaries, such as Bryan Cranston and Zach Galifianakis, for similar Inside The Actors Studio-style talks.
Richard Handy, co-founder of NYS3 and a veteran actor, director and teacher himself, led the wide-ranging interview with the 47-year-old Brolin, who has been in the Asheville area for several weeks to film an independent movie called The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter with Danny McBride.
Brolin, the son of actor James Brolin, grew up in California and won a role in The Goonies after creating “a bullshit resume.” He went on to play everything from a skateboarder in Thrasin to Dan White, the man who shot Harvey Milk, in Milk, a role that earned him an Oscar nomination. But it was Brolin’s role as Llewelyn Moss in Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2007 No Country for Old Men that turned heads and elevated Brolin’s career.
“I was suddenly perceived as a different kind of actor,” Brolin said.
Last year, Brolin starred in Everest, about mountain climbers stuck in a fierce blizzard, and Sicario, a film tracking government agents’ fight against Mexican drug lords. And later this year, Brolin will once again star in another widely anticipated Cohen brothers film called Hail, Caesar!
Here’s more from Handy’s interview with Brolin:
On filming The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter around Asheville
“I like Asheville. I’m glad I like Asheville, because I feel like we’re never going to leave,” Brolin joked, noting that the movie was supposed to be shot a year ago.
In his interview with Handy, Brolin called the movie a mix of comedy and drama, with a bit of the absurd thrown in for good measure. Filming for long periods in the rural Western North Carolina mountains left him feeling “feral,” Brolin said. To ground himself, Brolin said he visited Malaprop’s bookshop, grabbed a book (A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn or something by Kurt Vonnegut) and sat on the floor to read.
Brolin said he’s working alongside a boy (Montana Jordan) who had never auditioned before and landed the part. It’s been a joy, Brolin said, as he’s helped coach the young actor “to be 100 percent in the moment.” The child actor is “the purest human being and the best actor I’ve ever worked with, for sure,” said Brolin, adding that he’s also “like the only person on the planet who’s never seen The Goonies.”
On working with the Coens
“It’s a very trusting relationship that we have,” Brolin said. “They trust that I will come up with something that serves” whatever character he’s playing, he added.
Brolin joked that “I’ve never been told anything positive by them,” something that resonated with Brolin. “I thought I didn’t need that (reassurance), but I did,” he said. But after working with the Coens, “you start to not trust the petting” that other directors so often give, he said.
“If you’re not failing, you’re not reaching far enough,” said Brolin, who sprinkled in few self-deprecatory comments about some of his previous, less success films.
But the work “is always fascinating. That’s what keeps me going,” he said. “To me, there’s no right way. You have to have conviction. And did you serve the story. I just try to be as present in the moment as I can be.”
When working on a movie set, “you become a laborer. Are you a creative laborer? That’s the elusiveness of it and that’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes it not boring,” Brolin said.
“I want to be that actor that’s so free-flowing. I would love to feel that once. But for me, (acting is like) building buildings. You’re aware of it. It’s all so weird.”
Brolin said he studied with renowned acting coach Stella Adler and “it changed my life. You learn to make your way through the labyrinth of the human condition.”
Asked what makes a great director, Brolin responded: “They’re perceptive, and they have an honest interest in the human condition, because not all do.”
Photos courtesy of Marc LeMauviel and Litewerk Photography