Josh Brolin Talks 'Inherent Vice' and Why Acting is a Humiliating Profession

Inherent Vice Josh Brolin movie

Josh Brolin admits to having done some humiliating things for the camera including an outrageous scene for Paul Thomas Anderson’s drug-fueled 70s story, INHERENT VICE, but he’s revealing he often doesn’t mind going into that “uncomfortable zone." The actor is also talking about working with Anderson, Joaquin Phoenix and eating 44 bananas in one day for one of many awkward scenes.

Joaquin Phoenix is sporting some serious sideburns as detective Larry “Doc” Sportello who’s investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend in INHERENT VICE with the help from a colorful cast that includes Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Martin Short and Maya Rudolph. Brolin’s character is no hippie as a rigid, civil rights-violating LAPD officer who goes by the name of Bigfoot.

Q: You’ve worked with great people and you’re consistently good, but does it really matter if the movies do well or not? I’m shocked Sin City just dropped like a stone.

JB: I’m shocked too. I heard something that Rob is such a rebel and this and that but I don’t think that keeps people from seeing movies. I don’t think anything keeps people from seeing movies. I’m learning more from reading The Fixer about Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickland and what was going on in the studio system back then than from anything. It’s always been this debaucherous, crazy bubble. Power struggles and all that. And it’s probably less now than ever before, but you can’t keep people from seeing films. There’s a film that cannot get promoted at all and it comes out and it’s nothing, it’s whiplash, but then there’s word of mouth and everyone wants to see it.

Q: But it happens. So with Inherent Vice, did Paul call you up and say…

JB: I have some work for you. That was the line.

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Q: What year was this? Was this before The Master?

JB: He has had this for a while. Since The Master he has been working on it. This was a year and half ago, right after I finished Sin City. He called me and said that. I had been working so much and I actually pulled out of a couple movies and I was going to go to Costa Rica to take a vacation and I said “can I see you when I get back?” Which I can’t believe now. He said “No. Can I come down tomorrow and give you the script?” So I read the script, which was useless and then I got together with him and we started breaking it down. I love him, I always loved him. I knew him through the awards circuit when we were going through No Country and There Will Be Blood and I just have a real respect for his perspective.

Q: You’ve worked with great people, but now people can say “I’ve worked with Josh Brolin.” What is it you bring to these roles?

JB: I’m very moved by you saying that, I don’t really know how to answer that. That idea is amazing to me for how long I’ve been around and I don’t know if I can speak for anybody else. I do know I’m very professional, I like what I do, I used to be embarrassed by it but I really love it. I love the art of storytelling and being with people involved in that aren’t egomaniacs. It seems the better people I’ve worked with have a real understanding of what they like, they want to see their vision through, they have final cut, though that can be a bad thing sometimes. But the people I’ve been gifted enough and fortunate enough to work with just want to tell a story. I’m working with Joel and Ethan right now and it’s  literally like going to their house for a home cooked meal. It’s uneventful, nice, and mellow. They say I have to do a scene, I do a scene, they look at me and go “I think we got it.” There’s none of this “Oh my god! You were incredible! I can’t wait for tomorrow!” But thank you for saying that. I don’t know what it is other than that I’m open to lots of things. I like the idea of getting into an uncomfortable zone to be able to represent behavior I think is interesting.

Q: Like being able to perform felatio on a chocolate covered banana?

JB: Whatever it is! It can be that far out because what we did with this film is as far as I’ve ever gone out on film. Not on stage, but on film. But what you see is the tamer version of what we did. We went to places that were inappropriate. But then I saw American Psycho last night, which is a very simple straight forward story, and incredible story, and I was extremely moved by it. Then I look at Inherent Vice and I go yeah, I get it.

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Q: He’s gorging himself thought this whole film.

JB: He’s filling a hole.

Q: How did that work as an actor? We hear about vomit buckets and stuff and you’re really putting this stuff in.

JB: We had one scene we didn’t end up putting in the movie where in one day I ate 44 bananas. It maybe have been more, I think we clocked 44 and stopped there.

Q: Did you throw up?

JB: I didn’t throw up. But I had quite a day the next day.

Q: That was a great restaurant scene though.

JB: It’s a fun scene and figuring out the scene while we were doing it of what’s tonally right, you start doing things. That’s what’s great about the three of us doing what we did. If an instinct entered the room, the instinct was usually manifested.  Whether it worked or not was a completely different matter. But that kind of dangerous electricity of anything goes is wonderful to have in this venue. You don’t really need it in another venue, but in this venue the boundaries kind of dissolve and that can get really unnerving but it can be fun too in hindsight.

Q: What’s Joaquin like to work with?

JB: He’s wonderful. One of the most gracious actors I’ve ever worked with. I know there’s a perception of him, it’s almost mythological at this point. What’s he going to bring? It’s totally unpredictable. I work with very few people that are that gracious and that un-encumbered by their own self obsession.

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Q: Why were you embarrassed by your profession previously?

JB: I always said it’s a humiliating profession and that’s something… I remember hearing a story about Gandolfini that the Coens told me about how he used to make chicken noises before each scene. It made perfect sense to me. I get it because when you’re in front of the camera and there’s nervousness. You’re necessarily thinking “oh millions of people are going to see this”, but you’re putting yourself in a position where you’re hoping not to get limited by your natural human embarrassment. If you’re gonna get up and do something or drop your pants or you’re in Bird Man and you’re Norton’s character and you’re naked on screen, it’s like before you do that you’re thinking the whole time “what if he decides to do a frontal shot? What does that mean? Should I ask for a prosthetic? Should I this? Am I embarrassed about my penis or not?” All that stuff is going on. That’s not natural, man. There’s nothing natural about it. I don’t mean to say that in a derogatory way. I mean to say that in feeling, just pure human emotion. What I was embarrassed about before was working with film makers that understand how to piece something together in a way that’s tonally dynamic. You’re willing to go even further. But I’ve done movies where you watch it and you asked “What happened? That’s so not what we did. Why did you use that?” That was a bad moment that I was willing to go to in the hopes that you wouldn’t use something that was inappropriate to what we were doing.

Q: I thought you were embarrassed about being an actor, but it’s the process of acting.

JB: And it’s my own thing. I just did an NPR thing where it was like he never thought he was good enough or whatever. You know there’s judgment out there and I’m lucky because I’m at an age now where “oh, judgment is hollow. Wish I knew that when I was younger.” So all those nerves about judgment are coming out now and now it’s more about being good enough to do justice to somebody’s vision. It’s a different nervousness, a different embarrassment.

Q: How did you do those shots where you’re carrying Joaquin and jumping on him?

JB: First of all you’re working with somebody that you know can take it. Secondly, that’s what I’m talking about. That was our first shot,  that was the first time we had ever worked together. We saw each other on set and were like “hey, man, how you doing?” And that was a dialogue scene that took place with me in the car and him outside, and that was it. It was a simple scene. Then Paul said “why not say no dialogue, confront each other, and dance your lines? Any time you want to talk, make a dance move.” I think some of that is in the movie, at least a moment of it. So that turned into something violent.

INHERENT VICE opens in movie theaters December 12.


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