Josh Brolin plays an escaped convict who reawakens the sensual side of a withdrawn single mother (Kate Winslet) in Jason Reitman’s lovely romance, “Labor Day,” which will play a one-week awards qualifying run starting Dec. 27 before opening in theaters Jan. 31. Over a leisurely lunch, Brolin, one of Hollywood’s great interviews, talked about the role and its challenges and being considered for “Batman.”
Reitman says he had to “re-learn” his filmmaking process for “Labor Day,” moving from relying on talk to an emphasis on stillness.
Do less. More still. That was constant from him. There were frustrating moments. I’d make a small movement with my hands, normal kind of stuff. And the next take: “Don’t do that with your hands.” I’m wondering: “Is this a control thing? Is this a character thing? Is this personal?”
You played a man of few words in “No Country for Old Men.” This was different?
Yeah, you do a laconic guy like that and even though there are few words, there’s just this kind of Coen brothers absurdity and humor that I appreciate. With Jason, it was a stillness that was hard for me to wrap my head around. As an actor, it was like all the crutches were just violently swiped away. It’s just you and your presence, and that’s it. It was challenging because what surfaces is a fear of being boring.
Which is any actor’s great fear ...
I’ll never forget a review I got from [New York Times theater critic] Ben Brantley when I was doing “True West” on Broadway. It was the worst review I ever got in my life, so personally lacerating. And it had to do with being boring. “John Davidson boring” is how he put it.
I didn’t know John Davidson was the standard by which boredom was measured.
Right? I loved him on “That’s Incredible!” I miss that show. But ultimately, the point is, not as a victim thing, but that review was an amazing thing because it was tackling the idea of what boring is. And now, had I gotten the same review, it would have been meaningless. But then, it was the ultimate insult.
You’re able to ...
Hold on — [Brolin takes out his phone, looks up John Davidson.] 170 episodes of “Hollywood Squares.” “Love Boat.” “Fantasy Island.” “Love, American Style.”
How many actors in the ‘70s had that hat trick?
[Laughs] At least 50. My brother just sent me an episode of my dad doing “Batman” when he was like 26. He was a cop and he was going to give Batman a ticket. I laughed my ... off!
Wasn’t your mom a casting director on “Batman”?
That’s where they met. My dad’s manager was a friend of my mom’s and said to my dad, “You should meet this chick.” And 12 days later, they were married — 12 days!
Geez ... that’s another reason you should have been Batman.
Yeah, I didn’t even put that together. That whole thing was weird. You read stuff like, “I wish Ben Affleck would die.” It’s Armageddon because he’s going to play Batman. What’s happening? You can’t listen to any of it. It’s like a kid in a cereal aisle screaming, “I want Froot Loops!” You just let him have his tantrum and scream it out.
Were you interested in the role?
What I liked was the logline: “An older, grizzly Batman ...” That was interesting to me. I haven’t seen that. They’ve taken the one age and elongated it and franchised it as much as possible. Forget the director, I like the idea of this being a grizzled, wiser mentor type. Then it became not interesting to me. But I’ll still watch it to see how grizzled Affleck turns out.
Who knows, you could still play a get-off-my-lawn Batman someday.
Yes! I’m waiting to play the really grizzled old Batman when I’m 70.