Josh Brolin still remembers the advice that executive producer Steven Spielberg gave him as a nervous young actor on the set of “The Goonies.”
Rather than focus on fancy techniques such as the Stanislavsky Method, Spielberg suggested, “ ‘Why don’t you just act?’” the Oscar-nominated actor recalled. “He sat down with me and he said, ‘Don’t worry about that (stuff). Just get in there and do it.’ And he was right, actually.”
Josh Brolin will speak Saturday about his experiences making the beloved 1985 family film at a special screening of “The Goonies.” The movie, about a group of kids who set off in search of pirates’ treasure in hopes of saving their homes from foreclosure, will be shown as part of a coming-of-age screening series sponsored by the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival and MidAmerican Solar.
The Santa Monica-born son of actor James Brolin, best known as the star of TV’s “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and “Hotel,” and late wildlife advocate Jane Cameron Agee, Josh Brolin moved to Templeton in his infancy, attending Templeton Elementary and Templeton Middle School. He returned to the area as an adult and currently owns a ranch in the Templeton-Adelaida area.
“A lot of people ask me if I’m from Texas, and I always find that funny,” Brolin, 46, said. “Paso’s one of the only places, especially in California, that has a twang. You’re not even aware of how strong it is.”
Brolin, 46, doesn’t try to hide his Central Coast roots. In fact, he sported a Templeton High School Eagles jacket in his breakout role in 2007’s “Old Country for Old Men” as a Texas pronghorn hunter who stumbles upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong. He takes $2 million from the crime scene, only to run afoul of a merciless assassin (Javier Bardem).
2008 brought more high-profile roles, as Brolin played former President George W. Bush in the biopic “W.” and Dan White, the man who murdered San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in “Milk.” He received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor for the latter.
More recently, Brolin appeared in “True Grit,” “Gangster Squad” and “Labor Day.”
This summer, he played a private investigator in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” and appeared in “Guardians of the Galaxy” as the voice of intergalactic emperor Thanos. Upcoming projects include Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1970s crime mystery “Inherent Vice,” and Denis Villeneuve’s drug cartel drama “Sicario”; he’s also set to reunite with “No Country for Old Men” filmmaking team Ethan and Joel Coen for their Hollywood comedy “Hail Caesar.”
Brolin talked with us recently about his movies, career and bond with the Central Coast.
What keeps you coming back to the Central Coast?
I have a nice little piece of property over there (in Templeton) that’s really private. I love it. It’s something that’s been in my family since 1978. So I don’t feel like such a newcomer there. I feel like part of the community. I like being part of the community.
I sold my ranch because I couldn’t afford it any more. I wasn’t making a lot of money. And then I bought the same ranch back five years later when I started working more.
There’s something that really resonates (with me). It’s where I raised my kids. Our little creek ... is where my kids learned how to swim. I have a lot of history there — with my parents, with my mom, especially. My kids (spent) their whole childhood there.
I love the community. There’s still Sunset Drive-In, there’s still Hoover’s Beef Palace in Templeton. There’s still things that I don’t ever want to go away.
When (I’m) in the rat race, in Los Angeles or New York or wherever I am, that’s fine as long as I know that I have the ranch to go to. I experienced it without having the ranch to go to and that’s really difficult.
How did growing up in the North County shape your decision to enter show business?
When you don’t have a lot around you have to resort to your imagination a lot. It’s the same way the Coens grew up. They grew up kind of in the middle of nowhere, and I remember us talking about having to resort to your imagination a lot. My nearest friend was a mile away. I had two buddies growing up; one was a mile away and one was three miles away. I went to school, but nobody came out there because it was too far. At least then.
You were left writing and you were left with memory. We had a VCR. I remember when VCRs came out, we had “The Warriors,” we had “Saturday Night Fever” and we had “Grease.” I saw “The Warriors” 66 times, probably. (Laughs) So I think that shaped me more than the country did.
How old were you when you decided that acting was what you wanted to do as a career?
I wanted to be a lawyer. That’s what I was studying in high school. It was always very interesting to me, and obviously acting is about as close to that as you can get.
There was no way I was going to become an actor because I saw my (actor) father have money and not have money, work and not work. There was no security in (acting) whatsoever. That was not attractive to me. ... The idea of becoming a lawyer was much more secure.
Then I took an acting class in high school, and I was really hit by the idea of improvisation and being able to psychologically get into characters and what that meant. I never knew what (acting) was before that. I thought it was about celebrity. I didn’t realize the sociological and psychological elements of it, which were really fascinating to me.
Did your dad try to dissuade you from entering acting?
No. (He was) like I am with my daughter (actress Eden Brolin), very supportive. The only thing he said was to have a backup, because there’s about 1 percent (of actors) who make a living off acting. The odds are not great.
People love the idea of doing (acting). They’ll go their whole lives just for the idea of being able to work with somebody wonderful and do what they love to do. It’s wild.
What did it mean for you to land the role of Brand in “The Goonies”?
That was a total anomaly when I landed that role, because I had been told so much that I was bad. I’d been told that maybe I might want to find a different profession. I was very green. I knew what I was doing in high school theater, but that doesn’t really mean anything (in the movies). It just motivated me. It made me want to do better. ...
The longer I’ve been at it — 30 years now — having cast and having directed plays — I realize (casting) can sometimes not be about the acting. Sometimes the person has the right look, and you feel that they’re open enough and malleable enough that you can probably get a pretty great performance out of them with time. Or they’re nervous, and with confidence comes a freedom. They’re not shaking and they’re not holding their voice inside their throat.
There’s a lot of factors now that I didn’t know about then. But I just seemed to work for them (the filmmakers), for that part at that time, and I was extremely grateful. That was one of the great experiences in my life.
What did you glean from the experience of making ‘The Goonies’?
It was a great experience because I was with people who were veterans, or kid actors that had been around for a while. Getting to work with (Steven) Spielberg and (director Richard) Donner ... was just like winning the lottery.
I thought the rest would be like that, and it wasn’t. Then came reality.
Your career has had its share of ups and downs. Do you feel those down periods have helped you as an actor?
Yeah, actually ... the downs helped because when you do work you’re like, “This is what it is. And it’s going to change.” It also helps me in not believing a lie, which is “I’m the guy.” If I’m sought after right now, that’s wonderful, but how can I take advantage of it? Meaning, how can I keep my head and still do roles that I know I’ll be proud of later on, instead of just going for the buck. It allows me to keep a level head, I think. ...
I’m really grateful for (my career). I never say that just to say it. It’s one of the reasons I do supporting roles, too. It’s because the aspiration is not to be the biggest actor out there; the aspiration is to work as long as I possibly can.
Character actors have longer careers then leading men.
Much longer. And there’s no peaking. I love doing the leads that I’m able to do.
You mentioned you’re drawn to certain roles. What was it about Llewellyn Moss in “No Country for Old Men” that attracted you to that character?
Sam Shepherd had told me about (Cormac McCarthy’s) book, and I went out and bought the book the next day. I read that book long before I knew it would be done as a film. ... That was the hook there that attracted me.
I had an idea what the character was, especially growing up in Paso before the wine got there. It was really a farming community, a rural community.... I knew it fairly well, and I knew a lot of guys that were like that. I based it off of them; that was kind of a no-brainer.
These days, you seem to be working constantly. How normal is this schedule for you?
The whole reason I got out of TV before TV was amazing and well-written as it is now (is) it just became too consuming. What I loved about film is that you could go and give three or four or five months to it in prep, then do the film; you only had three months where you totally had to saturate yourself, and you were done. ...
I’ve decided to work more in the last few years (and) I’ve been given the opportunity to work more. I say I’m going to take a break and another wonderful director comes along and I go, ‘Well, I really want the opportunity to work with this director while it’s still there.’ It’s a whole new first-class problem. ...
When you work with people like the Coens or Paul Thomas Anderson, the pay’s not going to be nearly as good as if you were to (work) with someone who’s not necessarily as talented but his pictures are more popular.
Why is it worth it for you to take that pay cut?
It’s just so gratifying personally. The outcome isn’t always gratifying, but the experience is amazing. It’s hard, it’s stress-inducing, but it’s more fun. ... It’s something that I really enjoy personally. I like the feeling of (that) more than I like the feeling of having money.
That’s always been the case, even when I didn’t have any money. Right after “No Country For Old Men,” I got offered a big, big, big movie. It just didn’t feel right to me.
Then something like Marvel comes along. We did (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and it felt perfect. I still feel great about that project. I like what it represents.
What do you mean by that?
The (career) trajectory. It’s very difficult for me not to look at the whole trajectory. The minute I get pigeonholed as some art-house guy, I love the idea of doing something different. It’s not the genre I’m going for. It’s not the title I’m going for. It’s the role, or the type of director.
I think (“Guardians” director) James Gunn is so amazing. (When) I met with those Marvel guys (Marvel Studios co-president Louis D’Esposito and president Kevin Feige) I just loved seeing them and what they were about. They’re really just kind of geeks (for) story. They love story and they don’t try to hide it under any kind of coolness. “This movie’s going to make a lot of money” or “This is going to do something for your career” — there’s none of that talk. ...
The Coen brothers are the same way. P.T. Anderson is the same way. So I don’t really see any difference between my conversations with Marvel and my conversations with P.T. Anderson.
What unites those directors? Their passion for their craft and their love of storytelling?
Yeah, and also they’re iconoclasts. Marvel finds people that they don’t have to tell what to do. P.T. Anderson, you’re not going to tell what to do. The Coens, you’re not going to tell what to do. I find that there’s so many office voices, ninthfloor voices, in the creative act now that it gets confused. You don’t have a singular vision, or at least the vision of a small community.
Everybody wants to be involved in making a movie, and I don’t blame them. It just takes a very strong director to say, “No, for better or worse, this is what I want to do. And if you’re willing to finance me, I’d really appreciate it. But this is what I want to.” It’s not easy to do, because people start thinking, “Well, what if I don’t get the next movie?” or “What if word gets around that I’m difficult?”
Where does critical acclaim come in?
You never know when you’re doing it. You really don’t. When it comes out you’re always pretty surprised that, “Wow, that really resonates.” ...
With something like “No Country,” people see it again and again but they’re saying how much they hate the ending — but they’re still seeing it two or three times. (Chuckles) That’s a wonderful thing because it becomes interactive. People start taking the movie personally. It’s a lot of fun to see.
They’re engaged in the experience.
Yeah! That’s what I want to be, personally. I also like entertainment. And that’s why (I did) the Marvel thing, because it’s hugely entertaining. But also the stories are very well-told.