Josh Brolin is a face you've seen somewhere. You know he has been in movies but can't name many of them. You hear he's the son of the actor James Brolin, best known perhaps for the leap he made into deep space to marry Barbra Streisand in 1998.
He's done a lot of television and a bunch of films that have not given him much lift, and at 39 he's no tyro. Yet it is now, in 2007, that we see him unfold before us with range and substance. He appears in four wildly different movies released this year, which in order of his work in them are: "Grindhouse," "No Country for Old Men," "American Gangster," and "In the Valley of Elah."
Nowhere is he more impressive than in "No Country," a violent film from a violent book by Cormac McCarthy. In it, he plays Llewelyn Moss, a Texan down on his luck who stumbles onto a drug deal gone bad and walks off with $2.4 million in cash. As a major character in the film, Brolin holds his own with Tommy Lee Jones, who plays the local sheriff, and Javier Bardem as the psychotic killer stalking Moss for the money. (Brolin slips in and out of lethal impersonations of both men.)
One look tells you Brolin could only be an American. He reminds you of Jeff Bridges in presence if not features. There's the solid build, shock of dark hair, easy smile, easy physicality. He belongs with Bridges somewhere in "The Last Picture Show," Peter Bogdanovich's great film from the early '70s about a small, dying Texas town. Brolin has the bloodlines. His mother was from Corpus Christi.
Married to actress Diane Lane, he is a rare bird among actors. He works the other side of his brain in business just as hard as he does a script. When he's not acting, Brolin is a swing trader in the stock market (in for hours, days, weeks) and owns with his business partner a company called MarketProbability.com that provides 3,000 market indicators of stock movement over the past 25 years to sharpen investment strategy. He says he makes far more money from his market trading than he does from his movies.
In town recently to promote "No Country," he fields questions about his movies and his life.
Q. Who is Llewelyn Moss?
A. He's an innocent, a very loving family man who is poor, runs into some money, and decides to take it. Because of having done two tours in Vietnam, he feels he has what he needs in order to prevail in any circumstances. He doesn't think for a moment that the grim reaper is going to show up around the corner.
Q. Is he dumb or unlucky?
A. He's not unlucky, because everyone is unlucky. Eventually you die, and I think that's Cormac's whole point. I don't think he's dumb. He's poor. I don't know how he'd ever come across as dumb. I don't know anyone who has understood poverty who wouldn't take the money. I don't know anyone I grew up with who wouldn't do it, and I don't think they're all dumb. I think the reason he takes the money is that he can make a better life for him and his wife.
I love characters like this where you pigeonhole them in the beginning. You make your decision of who he is right off. I did a movie called "Flirting With Disaster." I'm an ATF agent. Bang. He's got the glasses, he's got the suit. Not only does he turn out to be bisexual, he has a fetish for armpits. He's got tattoos all over his body, you know what I mean? I like that. I like being able to take someone's perceptions and cut away because it makes audiences go back onto themselves and say, "Why did I draw that initial perception?"
You see a Texan and his wife [Kelly Macdonald] with this particular, incredibly loving relationship going, but they don't look at each other. They're watching TV. All that can come across as very dim, because not only do you have a trailer park vernacular but you have a guy who's talking in an accent, whereas you may be very different.
(Brolin notes that I'm a journalist from Boston. He learns I went to Harvard. He pauses and says, "I've known a lot of dumb journalists.")
Q. How hard was it getting the accent right?
A. There's a western accent, and then there's a very special Texas accent. I love the pressure Tommy Lee Jones put me under for it.
"You know your character is from San Saba [pluperfect Jones bark]?"
"Yes sir, I know."
"Have you thought about your clothes?"
"Personally or in character?"
He just nailed me and nailed me, and I think it was just to play with me, but he put me on an anxious trajectory to make sure I got the right sound and all that. The accent more specifically comes from a guy I met at a pizza joint in Texas. Greatest accent I ever heard.
Kelly Macdonald has the strongest Scottish accent I've ever heard. I couldn't understand her literally 70 percent of the time, and she was just flawless [with her Texas accent].
Q. Did Javier have anything done to his nose for the movie? It's so prominent.
A. No. And if I ever said anything about his nose, he would kill me. He would literally kill me, and I can't even tell you why.
Q. What was distinctive about the Coen brothers' direction?
A. The quiet. The lack of conversation during filming. The prework is relentless. It's very specific. The anxiety over the casting choices is pretty big for them, but once they have what they want, they know exactly what they're going to do. . . . They don't feel a need to hold up their end of the conversation. It's like pulling teeth, and it's not an affectation.
Q. What was Charlize Theron like to work with in "In the Valley of Elah"?
A. She's a brilliant actress. She's so beautiful, and she's so funny. She has the worst mouth I've ever heard in my life. I adore Charlize. My wife knows this.
Sam Allis can be reached at: email@example.com