The performer, who has embodied a swaggering masculinity in such movies as
"It was fun at first and then it just got to be a little too much of —" he pauses as he contemplates the right word, then settles on an "rrrrr" cave man growl.
Still, Brolin, 45, can't seem to escape the archetype. To prepare for the part of an extreme mountain climber in a new adventure film called "Everest," he's been scaling daunting peaks, first in Switzerland and then in Northern California.
And this holiday movie season finds Brolin once again exploring the sharp topography of two new masculine characters.
With their "man-cornered" premises, the films offer an actor twofer of sorts. Both suggest Brolin as desperate and tightly coiled, relying on keen animal instincts that, one senses, are as likely to get him into trouble as they are to get him out of it.
But the parts also offer different views into the male psyche. A tenderness rumbles beneath his "Labor Day" character as Frank develops a relationship with Winslet's depressed romantic. "Oldboy's" Joe, on the other hand, is all grit and hard-boiled rage, the character's emotions volcanically bursting through even when he's trying to take the proper family-man course.
The differences were especially felt during the production, Brolin said.
Calling "Oldboy" "probably the hardest movie I ever had to shoot," Brolin notes that he lost more than 20 pounds in three weeks to play the part and also cites the role's intense physicality that, particularly in the captive sections of the film, had him alternating between states of manic anger and focused determination.
"Labor Day" required Brolin to ratchet down the intensity, at times maintaining a stillness he called "really uncomfortable" and even performing a scene that has him baking intimately with Adele in what serves as a kind of pie-themed equivalent of the sensuous potter's wheel moment in "Ghost."
"I had an older woman come up to me at a screening the other day and say, 'Thank you for helping me restore my libido.' I think that may have been a first," he said and chuckled. (Incidentally, Brolin said he's not the baking maestro the movie suggests, though he can get busy with a mixing bowl if pressed.)
"Oldboy," on the other hand, is unlikely to prompt a run to
The roles mark the latest turn for an actor who has seen more peaks and valleys than some of the terrain he's recently been climbing. After a breakout as a teenager in the treasure-hunting classic
His fortunes changed drastically about six years ago when the
Brolin said he feels on surer footing these days, though still finds himself facing unexpected challenges. A few months ago, he was approached by a man, an apparent panhandler, who pulled out a knife and stabbed him. (His wound wasn't serious.) Though sounding almost like a larger-than-life tale from one of Brolin's movies, the experience shook him up, causing him to question his ability to read situations accurately.
In the meantime, he is offering his own kind of unpredictability on the screen.
In addition to "Everest," from the Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur, and a new
"These new ones are still manly roles. But there's also more vulnerability," Brolin said. He added with a small laugh, "There's a trajectory here. A little bit of one, anyway."