Josh Brolin on Goonies 2, Jonah Hex and falling in love with Austin Butler on Dune

The 56-year-old screen legend looks back at the highs and lows of his career with Yahoo for Role Recall

Josh Brolin speaks with Yahoo about some of his best work from Marvel to Dune: Part Two. (Marvel/PA Images/Warner Bros.)
Josh Brolin speaks with Yahoo about some of his best work from Marvel to Dune: Part Two. (Marvel/PA Images/Warner Bros.)

Josh Brolin came out of the gate running back in 1985 when he made his screen debut in The Goonies and he hasn't stopped since, working in TV and film to quickly become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

He's worked on countless hits over the years, from No Country For Old Men to Milk, W. to Deadpool 2, and for decades served as Thanos — the Marvel Cinematic Universe villain — a role he performed so well no bad guy has been able to top it yet. Suffice to say the actor has a lot of work behind him, but he also has a lot ahead.

Watch: Josh Brolin looks back at his incredible career

Brolin's newest project is Dune: Part Two (in cinemas and IMAX from 1 March). Denis Villeneuve's sequel to his Oscars-conquering epic that rounds off his adaptation of Frank Herbert's iconic sci-fi novel. In it, Brolin portrays Gurney Halleck, one of Paul Atreides' (Timothée Chalamet) key allies in his fight for Arrakis.

Reflecting on what it was like to be part of the project, and how he feels looking back at some of the highs and lows of his career thus far, the 56-year-old screen legend reveals all as he sits down with Yahoo for Role Recall.

Josh Brolin "didn't love thinking about" The Goonies for years after making it

USA.  Josh Brolin  and Corey Feldman  in a scene from ©Warner Bros. film: The Goonies (1985). Plot: A group of young misfits called The Goonies discover an ancient map and set out on an adventure to find a legendary pirate's long-lost treasure.  Ref:  LMK110-J6911-271020 Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only. Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Media outlets.
Josh Brolin started out his film career strong with The Goonies in 1985. (PA Images)

Brolin's first film was, of course, The Goonies, in which he played Brand, Mikey's older brother who follows along with the Goonies in their search for One-Eyed Willy's treasure. While the actor looks back on the project fondly now, he admits that for a time it was frustrating that it was his "only film" people wanted to talk to him about.

"There was a moment that it was the only film I did that anybody had any interest in, even though I was doing other films," he explains. "There was quite a long period, I think there was a movie I did called Flirting with Disaster [in 1996] which I was very proud of, but it was a tiny movie and so people still didn't talk about it. So it's only The Goonies, The Goonies, Goonies.

"But it was such a profound experience, it was my first time on film, I had never done anything before [so] I thought that's how everything was and I was wrong. The Goonies was one of, [and] still stands as one of, the greatest experiences of my life, and that's actually the truth."

He adds: "It's funny, there was a 20-year period I didn't love thinking about it because it was the only thing, especially after like 15 years, but now it's a really fun memory."

Ke Huy Quan, Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, Jeff Cohen,
Josh Brolin admits he found it difficult how people would only want to talk about The Goonies during his early career. (PA Images)

But while talk of a sequel has been bouncing around for some time, Brolin is ready to temper fans expectations on the matter because, he feels, it just isn't necessary. The actor wonders "why" a sequel should even be made as the film works well, and continues to work well, on its own merit, and a follow-up may only hamper that.

"The movie exists in a really wonderful way, generation after generation I get to see that," he admits. "I just got a text the other day of a guy who had showed his daughter the movie for the first time and then he kind of regressed into seeing it for the first time, it's so wonderful.

"I mean, it's such a wonderful thing that exists that you get to see affect people, and why do you need to weigh it out with something else? Tell me, what would it be like?"

Despite his reservations he admits that plans were in place for some time for a sequel, saying: "We've been talking about it for so long, and I know that [Steven] Spielberg had a couple of scripts and Chris Columbus had a couple of scripts that they felt weren't good enough, and now it's far enough away that I don't know if it would ever happen."

Josh Brolin's casting in No Country for Old Men made directors 'want' to work with him

Josh Brolin worked with the Coen Brothers on No Country For Old Men, and because of it he was more in demand than ever, the actor says. (Miramax)

Brolin has worked with the Coen Brothers on three occasions — 2007's No Country For Old Men, 2010's True Grit, and 2016's Hail, Caesar!— but the actor admits it was the first that put him on the map with certain directors.

"I think people were so confused why I got No Country that other directors were like, 'yeah, I want him too then'," Brolin says, as he reflects on how busy 2007 was for him with the release of films like American Gangster, Grindhouse, Planet Terror and In the Valley of Elah.

"I still had to read for American Gangster, I read for American Gangster after an all night shoot on No Country and my son played Denzel's part, at 16, then I sent that in on iMovie or something. So it was still a chore but doing those [films], they were incredible.

"Working with Denzel and working with Russell, and working with Ridley Scott [on American Gangster], and working with Paul Haggis at the time [for In the Valley of Elah], and then working with Robert Rodriguez before that [for Planet Terror].

<p>The Coen Brothers’ Oscar-winning thriller based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel was brilliant for a number of reasons. Not only did it properly introduce mainstream audiences to Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem, but to the latter’s tremendous bowl haircut. Credit: Miramax. </p>
According to Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem was "depressed" all throughout the shoot but they developed a great friendship. (Miramax)

"Not that it was the only time that it happened, there's other times things like that have happened that are really special. But that was definitely the first, other than The Goonies, [a] wonderful milestone that just doesn't happen to people, it's not lost on me."

Making No Country for Old Men was a unique experience, and it was the first time that Brolin had the chance to work with Javier Bardem. The film was Bardem's Hollywood breakout, and earned him an Oscar for his portrayal of killer Anton Chigurh, but it also marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship between him and Brolin.

"Javier was incredible, incredible," Brolin reflects. "He was really depressed during that time, though. He goes, 'I don't like violence, I don't drive' and [he didn't like] his haircut, and I remember I would go to his apartment and be like, 'let's go out' and he'd be like, 'no, I don't want to go out'.

"And so there was a lot of coercing during that time, but I love him, I continue to love him. We stayed friends, [and] the first scene that we ever had was actually in Dune recently together. I ended up doing two other movies with the Coens, and it was a profound moment in my professional existence that I'm very appreciative of."

Milk helped Brolin portray the "awfulness of what a 'man' is"

Josh Brolin earned an Oscar nomination for his performance in Milk, in which he played Harvey Milk's assassin Dan White. (PA Images)

One of the actor's proudest moments is working on Milk opposite Sean Penn, the 2008 biopic of gay rights activist Harvey Milk that won him an Oscar nomination. Brolin portrayed Dan White, the politician who assassinated Milk in 1978.

For Brolin it is "always important" to tell "any story that puts a mirror up to society and current events" like Milk did, saying "that's the whole point of storytelling, poetry, and movie-making". He adds: "I thought about Milk yesterday, like literally just lying in bed it just hit me about it being Sean Penn's, probably, greatest performance and how he allowed himself to become so vulnerable.

"Knowing him personally, it was an amazing transformation. I thought he represented really well, I thought I represented well that awfulness of what a 'man' is and the kind of evil that exists. Not wanting to think outside your own paradigm that you're used to, what people tell you is appropriate. Anytime we can go against that, I'm all for it."

Brolin ultimately lost the Oscar to Heath Ledger, who was given the award posthumously for his portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight. But the actor reveals he and his fellow nominees always knew that the award was meant for him.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 22:  Actor Forest Whitaker (L) and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Sid Ganis announce the nominations for the Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Josh Brolin for 'Milk', Robert Downey Jr. for 'Tropic Thunder', Philip Seymour Hoffman for'Doubt', Heath Ledger for 'The Dark Knight' and Michael Shannon for 'Revolutionary Road' during the 81st Academy Awards Nomination Announcement held at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on January 22, 2008 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
Forest Whitaker (L) and Academy President Sid Ganis announce the nominations for the Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in 2008 (Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)

"Being nominated was amazing, but I knew Heath so it hit me, all of us, so profoundly, that it wasn't about like [crossing fingers]," he says. "That is exactly what should have happened, and his parents getting up there, his dad getting up there, so I was happy.

"It was me, Michael Shannon, [Robert] Downey [Jr.], Heath, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. All people I've known for a very, very long time, so it was such a great family to be supportive of what was very obviously Heath's, not because he died because it was one of the most incredible performances ever."

Jonah Hex was a flop because “the studio took it and made it a much worse movie”

Josh Brolin's 2010 comic book adaptation Jonah Hex was savaged by critics and flopped at the box office (WB)
One lowlight of Josh Brolin's career was 2010 comic book adaptation Jonah Hex, which was savaged by critics and flopped at the box office. (WB)

The actor has had some difficult experiences in his time too, one notorious box office flop was Jonah Hex, the 2010 adaptation of the comic book of the same name by Jimmy Hayward. Brolin took on the title role, and even got a Razzie nomination for it alongside Megan Fox, but looking back he admits he's been too hard on the project in the past.

"It's funny because I've always spoken about it in a way that I think is disrespectful to the director. I don't think it was the director's fault, I think he did his best," Brolin reflects.

"I think it was a piece of s*** film but for many different reasons, and I'm included in that too. But you know we can't win them all, it happens. I mean I brought in a lot of really good people, I brought in [John] Malkovich, I brought in Megan [Fox], I brought in [Michael] Fassbender who hadn't really hit yet —He'd done some great work, but he hadn't really hit yet— I brought in Michael Shannon, but he was cut out."

JOSH BROLIN and director JIMMY HAYWARD watch a playback on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “JONAH HEX,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. TM & © DC Comics.
Josh Brolin with Jimmy Hayward on the set of Jonah Hex. (Alamy)

Brolin looks back at the experience with a sense of humour, adding: "I don't know what happened, but it happened, just careened a little bit, hit a couple cars, everybody survived. But I don't think it was Jimmy Hayward's fault, I think that's a misconception. He was a big Jonah Hex fan, we gave him a shot.

"He directed a pretty good movie and then the studio took it and made it a much worse movie. I've seen that happen a couple of times — once you get into pandering, [into] what you think the audience wants based on a cosmetic understanding, or at least a pretend understanding, of what you think an audience wants, which nobody ever knows.

"That's why it's good people like [Villeneuve] where you just do the movie that's most powerful to you and then release it and hope for the best."

Josh Brolin originally turned down Sicario

Prod DB © Black Label Media - Thunder Road Pictures / DR SICARIO de Denis Villeneuve 2015 USA avec Josh Brolin et Denis Villeneuve sur le tournage
Josh Brolin began working with Denis Villeneuve in 2015 for Sicario. (PA Images)

Brolin's onscreen collaboration with Dune director Villeneuve began with 2015's Sicario, which Brolin reveals he "said no to" to begin with because of the size of his role as Matt Graver. He explains: "It was a tiny part and he said something that I've heard directors say that I've never believed, it's always proven to be untrue, which is 'we're going to grow this part so if you just say yes, you'll be happy that you did it', but it was true with him.

"It was finally [cinematographer] Roger Deakins who said 'quit being an a*****e and get down here', and the fact that Benicio [Del Toro] and Emily [Blunt] were involved."

Brolin goes on: "We tweaked that story a lot, we wrote a lot of stuff and Taylor Sheridan had written that script and it was a really good script. He wrote a really good script but just because of the nature of what we were doing, and where we were, we just tweaked it.

"It was a very incredible collaboration, and then Denis and I just became fast friends and we work well together, and we have fun together personally, it's just an easy thing with him."

Thanos felt like a 'new and a big experiment' for everyone at Marvel

Josh Brolin as the villain Thanos in 'Avengers: Infinity War'. (Credit: Disney/Marvel)
Josh Brolin as the villain Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, which he said a great 'experiment' for him and for Marvel. (Disney/Marvel)

What many people will know Brolin for nowadays, though, is his multi-film run as Thanos, the big bad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe until Avengers: Endgame. The actor appeared in eight films and became one of the greatest movie villains of all time with the performance, which he happily admits he "loved" making.

"I came in with a certain idea and then the Russos maybe complemented that with a contrasting idea, and was like, 'why don't you incorporate a little of this and that'. So you don't know how it's going to turn out, it's all kind of new and a big experiment to everybody, including myself, but then also to [Marvel boss] Kevin Feige and also the Russos," he says.

"They have big hopes and then it comes out and it works, and people are moved by the character as opposed to just 'oh, it's a great bad guy'. Darth Vader was kind of the same thing with Star Wars, there was something that made you lean into him even though you know you hated him and what he represented was bad, there was something super attractive about him, and you never saw his face.

The Thanos actor revealed details of a scene where his character comes face to face with the Avengers including Captain Marvel.
Josh Brolin said he was delighted by how viewers connected to his character, likening it to the draw of Darth Vader in Star Wars. (Marvel)

"You're looking at this guy who's a 700lb purple dude but there was something very human about him that was great. I thought they did an incredible job, I was happy to be a part of it."

The character is long behind him though, and Brolin admits he likes to think of each film as an "isolated" project rather than think of what could come next: "I feel that about everything I've ever done, professionally.

"Even though I knew they were doing two movies, when we were focused on Infinity War I was like, 'oh, yeah, we have Endgame'. Deadpool is the only one, when we finished Deadpool 2 I was like, 'yeah, I think that's going to stand by itself' with me."

Josh Brolin 'fell in love' with Dune: Part Two co-star Austin Butler

Josh Brolin in a still from the trailer for Dune: Part Two (Warner Bros.)
Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck in Dune: Part Two, and on set the actor developed a strong friendship with Austin Butler. (Warner Bros./Legendary)

Brolin's current focus is Dune: Part Two, and the sequel saw a number of new cast members join including Austin Butler who stars as villain Feyd-Rautha.

Despite Butler's dark persona onscreen Brolin admits he "fell in love" with the actor on set, coming to share a close friendship with him from the moment they met. "I remember [people on set] were like 'have you met Austin? You're gonna love him'. And then finally, [I thought] 'Oh my God, I gotta meet this guy' and weeks went by and I hadn't met him, and then finally our trailers were next to each other when we were still in Budapest.

"I knocked on his door and he opened [it] and I was met with this pasty bald guy with no eyebrows, and a big smile on his face, and that was a three hour conversation. It was just easy from the first words out and [we] talked about our mothers and talked about all kinds of things."

Austin Butler in a still from the trailer for Dune: Part Two (Warner Bros.)
Austin Butler and Josh Brolin chatted for three hours the first time they met, and the latter was especially impressed by his 'work ethic'. (Warner Bros.)

"And then I saw his work ethic on top of it and just fell in love," he admits. "[The] guy never stopped working, never stopped. You could tell he was off thinking about scenes or he was doing moves to the fight scene that he had to do, and I just appreciate that kind of work ethic."

Brolin also describes lead Chalamet as a "super raw talent", adding: "A lot of times you say 'I've seen his work', but you hadn't really seen his work, but I was a big fan of his already. The idea of doing something bigger I think he was more in awe of, and I think he was vulnerable about [things] — He'd come up and be like, 'how do you do this?'

"But I was excited to work with him like I was excited to work with Austin. When you see new actors there's definitely a judgement, having been around for a while, of like 'are you the real deal? Do you just want to be famous, is that your deal?'

(L-R) Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Zendaya as Chani in Dune: Part Two. (Warner Bros./Legendary)
Josh Brolin also described Timothée Chalamet as a 'super raw talent'. (Warner Bros./Legendary)

"And then you see people [going through] what Paul's going through in the movie, with the ability or inability to confront themselves. People worked very hard during this movie, some harder than others just because of what they had to go through — Zendaya in the desert and Timothée in the desert.

"I think that it takes a special kind of person [to do that], but everybody was incredible I have a lot of respect for everybody."

Having worked with Villeuneve four times now, Brolin also says he's "definitely seen him grow" as a director. The actor adds: "He continues to challenge himself, and his imagination, the financial aspects of the movies that he chooses to do, and the sizes of the stories — he's able to meet those challenges with his talent and his childlike nature without losing that. I think [that] is what makes him super special."

Dune: Part Two is out in cinemas and IMAX on Friday, 1 March.

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