Movie News & Reviews

From Templeton ‘ranch kid’ to Oscar-nominated actor: Josh Brolin on his Hollywood career

Josh Brolin stars as CIA officer Matt Graver in “Sicario.”
Josh Brolin stars as CIA officer Matt Graver in “Sicario.” Lionsgate

Josh Brolin is a country boy at heart.

Although his busy shooting schedule often takes him away from home, the Oscar-nominated star of “No County for Old Men,” “W.” and “Hail, Caesar!” is always eager to return to his bucolic ranch on the Central Coast.

“It’s rural living. … It’s in your blood,” said the actor, who grew up in the Templeton-Adelaida area and still calls it home.

The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival will honor Brolin as a hometown hero on March 18 at the Fremont Theatre in San Luis Obispo. Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges plans to present Brolin, his “True Grit” co-star, with the festival’s King Vidor Award for Excellence in Filmmaking; an on-stage conversation with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz and a screening of “No Country” will follow.

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Past recipients of the King Vidor Award, named after the Oscar-winning director of “War and Peace,” include Bridges, Ann-Margret and Morgan Freeman.

“This is not an award you can give to an up-and-coming star. It’s got to go to someone who has proved themselves for many years,” festival director Wendy Eidson said, praising Brolin’s “long, impressive career.” “We are honoring someone who is not only worthy, but is a nice, down-to-earth guy who is proud to say that he’s from SLO.”

Brolin, who sports a Templeton High School letterman jacket in “No Country” and bought Templeton Feed and Grain caps for his fellow cast members in a Broadway production of “True West,” readily acknowledges his North County roots. “I don’t have to lie when I say this: I’m from the area,” he said.

The son of actor James Brolin and wildlife advocate Jane Cameron Agee – his stepmother is singer Barbra Streisand – Josh Brolin was born in Santa Monica but moved to Templeton as a baby, attending Templeton Elementary School and Templeton Middle School. Later, his family moved south to Santa Barbara.

Despite his show business roots, Brolin, 49, originally considered a career as an attorney.

“There was no way I was going to become an actor because I saw my father have money and not have money, work and not work. There was no security in (acting) whatsoever,” Brolin told The Tribune in 2014. “The idea of becoming a lawyer was much more secure.”

But an acting class in Santa Barbara High School opened his eyes to the power of the craft. “The sociological and psychological elements … were really fascinating to me,” he recalled then.

Brolin made his big-screen debut as older brother Brand in 1985’s “The Goonies.” He next starred in the skateboarding movie “Thrashin’” and appeared in a handful of television series, playing Wild West folk hero “Wild Bill” Hickok on “The Young Riders.”

Although Brolin had a few successes during the following decade – 1996’s “Flirting With Disaster” was a highlight – he struggled during that era to find satisfying roles. “I was basically what I called a blue-collar actor” willing to take any job offered to him, Brolin explained.

To make ends meet, “I was doing a lot of stock trading. I had to make money somehow,” Brolin recalled.

In 2004, despite the objections of his family, he sold their Templeton ranch. (He bought the property back six years later. “Paso was always screaming at me to come back,” he said with a chuckle.)

Things truly turned around for Brolin when he nabbed the lead role of Llewelyn Moss in 2007’s “No Country for Old Men.”

“Everybody was so confused about why the Coens had hired me” to play a Texas hunter pursued by a merciless hit man, Brolin recalled. But Ethan and Joel Coen, who wrote and directed “No Country,” clearly recognized something special in the actor.

“What I love about the Coens is they hire for the role instead of the (perceived) value of the person,” Brolin said, adding that the movie, which won four Oscars, including best picture, “changed the perception of me” in the industry.

The success of “No Country – coupled with appearances in “American Gangster” and “In the Valley of Elah,” which came out the same year – ushered in an era of rich roles for Brolin.

In 2008, he starred as former President George W. Bush in “W.” and garnered an Academy Award nomination for his turn as Dan White, the troubled San Francisco supervisor who shot gay rights activist Harvey Milk, in “Milk.” “What he did was monstrous,” Brolin said of White. “(But) we didn’t want to portray him as a monster. We wanted to portray him as a human being.”

Brolin followed those successes with a series of provocative choices, appearing in films ranging from the serious (“Gangster Squad,” “Labor Day”) to the silly (“Men in Black 3”). (He also dabbled in directing, helming the short film “X” in 2008.)

“I turned down a lot of bigger movies. I turned down a lot of money during that time,” Brolin recalled. “A lot of people told me I was stupid for not taking advantage of what I should have and I was OK with that,” he added, because it allowed him to work with filmmakers such as Spike Lee (“Oldboy”), Woody Allen (“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”) and Paul Thomas Anderson (“Inherent Vice”).

He joined forces with “W.” director Oliver Stone once more for 2010’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” and reunited with the Coen brothers for their 2010 Western, “True Grit.”

The Coens brought Brolin back to play Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix in show business comedy “Hail, Caesar!” in 2015. That same year, Brolin played mountain climber Beck Weathers in disaster film “Everest,” shadowy CIA agent Matt Graver in drug cartel drama “Sicario” and even made an appearance as intergalactic baddie Thanos in comic-book blockbuster “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” (He’ll reprise the role of Thanos in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” and return as Graver in this year’s “Sicario” sequel, “Soldado.”)

Throughout his career, Brolin said, he’s fought hard to avoid being pigeonholed. While he was once relegated to the same types of roles – “There’s the boyfriend or husband you would hate” is how Brolin puts it – he’s now free to pick projects based on how much they challenge him.

In “Granite Mountain,” opening in theaters in September, Brolin will play the leader of an elite firefighting crew that lost 19 men while battling a blaze near Prescott, Ariz., in 2013. And he’ll star as a father struggling to bond with his son in the comedy “The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter,” premiering this Christmas.

“There’s something very nice about being able to walk into a room and … hear people say, ‘I love the choices that you make,’ ” Brolin said.

Asked which factor guides those choices these days, the actor replied succinctly, “Fear.”

One project that frightens him, in a good way, is the 2018 biopic “George and Tammy.” He’s taking voice lessons to prepare for his role as country star George Jones, opposite Jessica Chastain as Jones’ wife and duet partner, Tammy Wynette. “I’m not a singer. I’m a screamer,” Brolin joked.

“George and Tammy” has a personal appeal as well, Brolin said, noting that his mother, who died in 1995, was a “country western fanatic.” “We had George Jones and Waylon Jennings and Charley Pride … coming out of the speakers as far back as I can remember,” he said. “It’s engrained. It’s in (my) DNA.”

Given his rural roots, Brolin said “it’s cool” to be officially recognized by the San Luis Obispo film festival.

“It’s really an honor to be some ranch kid who was feeding horses and riding motorcycles and suddenly be honored for a profession that I (initially) didn’t want to do,” said Brolin, who sits on the festival’s board of directors. “I love the idea that in our bucolic little town anybody can do anything.”

King Vidor Award ceremony

7 p.m. March 18

Fremont Theatre, 1035 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo

$20, $15 students and film society members


Awards after-party

9 p.m. March 18

King David’s Masonic Lodge, 859 Marsh St., San Luis Obispo

$50, $40 students and film society members

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