Bridget Fonda (remember her?) once said she was determined to prove her own mettle as an actress and not trade on her famous family name. It’s been the lot of many a Hollywood star from Nicolas Cage to Jaden Smith – with varying degrees of quality, obviously.
Brolin is another name weighted with the legacy of history, with 45-year-old Josh’s dad James famous as famous for his long history in American soaps as he is for being married to Barbra Streisand.
But aside from a slight resemblance to the younger James, projects from ”No Country For Old Men” and ”Milk” to ”True Grit” and ”Planet Terror” have put Josh on his own very solid footing. We were prepared to wither under his steely gaze as the star sat down in LA to talk about his role as antihero Joe Ducett in Spike Lee’s ”Oldboy” redux, but he couldn’t have been more charming.
How much of a fan were you of the original Oldboy?
Any special thought process behind revisiting something so beloved?
No, no. [screenwriter Mark Protosevich] did. I didn’t because to me a film is a film and it’s a different rendition. It’s like Springsteen singing Jersey Girl. That was written by Tom Waits but nobody knows that because they’ve experienced Springsteen making it his own.
We had the blessing of Chan-wook Park and I went out to him and said ‘how do you feel about me doing this? What do you think? Are you cool with this?’ That was the only thing I needed, his blessing. He said ‘don’t make the same movie’, and I guaranteed him, if it was up to Spike, Spike can only beat to his own drum. I don’t think it’s even possible to make a mirrored version of that movie.
So based on the blueprint of that story, whatever liberties we took we hopefully made a good story out of it. It’s weird, when you make a story with Spike it’s so experimental, you’re always asking yourself how it’s going to turn out? Once you make the decision, once you’ve done all the preparation it’s just throwing clay against the wall and seeing what form it takes.
How long was the hammer sequence to prepare and shoot?
The fight sequence?
Yes, the hammer fight.
Right. I always get confused, because I know I hit a guy in the head with a hammer somewhere else.
There sure was a lot of hammering.
There was a lot of hammering. But the fight scene took five weeks of prep, and it was difficult to say the least. I’m an active guy but I’m not that active.
The fight is probably at least three times longer than the fight in the original movie and it’s on different levels of the warehouse. I was having a really tough time in the beginning and I panicked, so I started working out a lot, two hours in the morning and two hours at night between a twelve-hour day.
So I wasn’t sleeping a lot, which I think it helped the movie because I was more emotional, I was more on edge. I felt more exposed and vulnerable. But then we did it in seven takes, and the seventh take was the one. I walked away after that and had a little moment to myself and had some tears. And was just happy that a 45 year old did it. It was my geriatric moment.
When Joe looks at the octopus in the tank at the restaurant there was a palpable rise in adrenaline in the audience. Was there ever any talk about doing what Min-sik Choi did in the original [eating a live octopus]?
There was but Mark didn’t write it into the script. I brought it up at one point, but again we’re doing a rendition, you have to ask yourself how much do want to do what they did and how much do we want to do our own thing? So we thought it was just a fun tongue in cheek moment just looking at the octopus and walking away.
The performance was pretty emotionally raw. It looked like you were going over the edge, as you said. Did that happen a lot during the film?
Totally. All the time. Still actually when I look back on it, I wonder if went far enough. Is that organic? Is that acted? You’re constantly going through that. I mean that’s the whole point, is you just kind of throw up all over everything and then hopefully there’s that chunk in there you can make a nice narrative out of. My job is to embarrass myself in the extreme and then have Spike work it out in the end.
The plot had you eating a lot of Chinese dumplings. Can you not stand the sight of them anymore?
I probably ate 200. But I’m known for that. I ate chocolate covered frozen bananas doing W. I ate 18 sandwiches in one scene. So I seem to be the food guy.
Because there was also quite an amazing physical transformation as Joe tones himself up while he’s in captivity.
Yes, that’s all me, no CGI. I like the idea of theatre, if you’re going to do it, do it. I gained 28 pounds in 10 days. And then I lost 22 pounds in 27 days. I’ll never do it again because it killed my body, going through that and all the cramps of that. I was rehearsing at the same time, which was not smart. So I pulled a lot of muscles and stuff that I’m still dealing with now.
You’ve worked with some great directors. What makes Spike Lee different?
He brings Spike. He thinks his way through a story at the beginning and then when you’re there it’s more reactionary.
Paul Thomas Anderson is the same way. He’d say ‘let’s do this with no dialogue. Let’s do this with charades. Let’s whisper this one. Let’s take out the five pages in the middle, do it as three pages and see what happens.’ Looking for that most organic moment.
Spike and I knew each other before as well, so there was an absolute mutual respect and trust that I question a lot until I get on the set.
So there was lots of room for improv?
Definitely. Nothing against Mark, but especially in the hotel room.
Being a fan of the original do you have to try and forget it exists or keep it in mind while you do a remake?
No, you know it exists but you’re having this experience? It’s like swimming in the ocean and you’re getting tired and you don’t know if you’re going to make it to the buoy and back. It’s just one of those things that you get so consumed by that you stop thinking about film geeks and whether they think this movie should be made or not.
Where do you have to put your thinking for when you find out the truth about Marie [Elizabeth Olsen]?
We played it in a lot of different ways, mostly because at the time I wasn’t sure of the right thing to do. There were pages that were still being approved that I didn’t care about because I just wanted to go with the emotion of it and see where that would take us.