Josh Brolin interview
Series newbie talks sci-fi, comedy and working with Barry Sonnenfeld Discuss this article
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Believe it or not, it’s been a decade since Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones last donned those black suits and set out to protect the universe from unspeakable alien evilness in Men in Black II. No one expected a third film, and naturally the stakes are high this time: can they really recreate the magic and smash MIB II’s US box-office takings of QR70 million? To keep the format fresh the team has thrust Smith’s Agent J back to the ’60s, where he meets a younger incarnation of Jones’s Agent K, played by Josh Brolin. We’re more used to seeing Brolin portraying heavyweight characters such as former American president George Bush (in W) than taking part in sci-fi silliness, so what can we expect? We chat to 44-year-old Brolin ahead of the film’s GCC and Qatar release this month, and celebrate the start of an epic season of movie blockbusters by looking back at some of the films that made him who he is today.
How did you end up in Men in Black 3?
I’d done No Country for Old Men, and [MIB director] Barry Sonnenfeld was close with [No Country… directors] the Coen brothers. Then when we were doing press for that film, I was giving an award at the Director’s Guild Awards for the Coens. I write my own speeches – I think they’re funny and decent – but I got up and nobody really knew who I was. I had a really good speech, it was well received, and Barry saw it and said, ‘I had no idea he was funny! And look at his head! His head is enormous!’ I remember we went out to dinner and I was doing Tommy Lee Jones impressions. When this [the young Agent K role] finally came to fruition I know some names were put out there, but Barry immediately said, ‘Josh Brolin is the only person that can do this.’
Is it hard to play a character that was previously played by Tommy Lee Jones?
Yes, for a lot of reasons. First, it’s one of the greatest characters ever. It was a novelty when the movie came out, a fun, interesting character. It’s not Tommy, it’s K, but he has a ‘K-ness’ to his voice that’s very difficult to do. It’s a vernacular and a language that’s absolutely Tommy. And K. I really was frightened beyond belief. Once I said yes to the role and I started studying it, I went, ‘Boy, I said yes, what’s the matter with me? I’m trying to sabotage my career! What am I doing?’ But I think that always happens with me. I get scared, and the fear motivates me to work harder.
What do you think is the appeal of the Men in Black concept?
I grew up reading Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov books, and the people I talked to, like Guillermo del Toro, all had a similar need for extreme imagination when we were kids. I lived in my head the same way, and as a kid I wrote a lot. To me, Men in Black is imagination unhinged. But it’s based on something very solid: a relationship between a young rebel who can’t be told what to do and has a problem with authority, and an older gentleman who always had a problem with authority, and now is in an authoritative position himself. Agent K recognises himself as this young kid, yet knows that by trying to manipulate him just a little bit into a more mature and responsible place, they can both do the job that needs to be done. Does that make sense? [Laughs]
And then when I come in, you see Agent K when he was younger. So you expect him to be more rebellious, which he is, but at the same time what’s nice about him, what’s fresh about him for this film, is that he’s softer. He has more heart. He has a different reason to get up in the morning than he does in the first and second films. That’s what’s attractive about this one. Older man, mentor; younger man, kind of lost. This person can help this person, and there’s a very heroic feeling at the end of it. Forget what happens with the monster, saving the Earth and whatever; on a personal level there’s something very heroic in it. I love that, man. I love that behaviour! That’s why, when we did [George Bush biopic] W, we thought: do we want to smash the guy?
Bush has already been smashed and doesn’t really need more smashing, so let’s [instead] find out why he’s there in the first place. You know what I mean? That’s the way I like to think.
And it’s also about making good movies…
Exactly! George Clooney said that recently. He’s such a sweet, wonderful, spectacular person – I love the guy. We write emails back and forth… I heard him in an interview, and they said to him, ‘We heard you collect awards.’ And he was funny about that. He was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what I do, I collect awards for a living.’ And then he said, ‘You don’t do a role for an award, you do a role because you hope the movie will last years and years.’ The ’70s was the best time. I think back to 1976 – what was up for Best Picture at The Oscars? Network, Rocky, All the President’s Men… all five pictures were amazing. You can still watch those movies today, and they are still as amazing as they were back then. That’s what you hope to create.
Do you remember the Oscars nominees from last year?
Nope, and I was there, man! [Laughs] Javier [Bardem] and I presented. Not that the movies weren’t good – I had a movie that was nominated last year, and I can’t remember it! [Laughs] True Grit… I don’t know why I’m talking about my other movies here…
MIB 3 is in cinemas this month. Check local cinema listings.
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