It makes perfect sense for Josh Brolin to star in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, director Robert Rodriguez and co-director/writer Frank Miller’s sequel to the 2005 original, based on Miller’s noir comics about the dark, dangerous, rotting metropolis known as Basin City. After all, Brolin is one of modern film’s most rugged and earthy actors, which makes him instantly authentic in any kind of “tough guy” role. In A Dame to Kill For, he somewhat surprisingly plays a younger version of Dwight, the private investigator portrayed in the first film by Clive Owen.
In the new movie, Dwight is the lead in the title story, one of Miller’s most famous Sin City tales. Recovering from his tumultuous relationship with his great love Ava (Eva Green), the newly sober Dwight is pulled back into Ava’s orbit when she begs him to save her from her horrific marriage to the wealthy Damien Lord (Marton Csokas). But nothing, of course, is what it seems in Sin City and the betrayals and turnarounds come thick and fast in a story that also features returning characters Marv (Mickey Rourke), Gail (Rosario Dawson), and Manute (Dennis Haysbert, taking over for the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan).
The always busy Brolin is also starring this fall in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice and raised the roof at Comic-Con in July when he appeared onstage during the Marvel panel to not only confirm his casting as Thanos (he appears briefly in Guardians of the Galaxy) but to meaningfully wave a toy Infinity Gauntlet at the hyper-ventilating audience. With that classic story rumored to be the basis for The Avengers 3 in a few years, we sat down with Brolin to pry any Marvel info we could out of him, under the pretense of an interview about Sin City.
Den Of Geek: This is the second time following Men in Black 3 that you’re playing a slightly younger version of a character we met in the previous film, this time played by Clive Owen. How do you approach that? Did you look at what Clive had done before?
Josh Brolin: No. And I don’t know why. I think like when I did Men in Black 3 it’s a very different thing and it’s a lot younger version of Tommy (Lee Jones)’s character. I watched Men in Black so many times. I was watching younger movies with Tommy and I was doing all the research that I could and I realized that nothing was working and I was just like in a panic, full panic mode. And I started watching just the first Men in Black and I realized that he had kind of created his own cadence beyond what he normally does, which is almost unfollowable. I remember Tommy’s assistant said she thought that Tommy had dubbed me, which I thought was like the greatest compliment I could get. But with this I knew the first one really well but I didn’t go back and watch it again. I didn’t want to. I just wanted to go in there and just kind of clean slate it. I didn’t even ask why Clive wasn’t doing it. I still don’t know. So I just went in and treated it like it’s a brand new character.
He’s no saint but he’s also one of the few characters that has some humanity left to him.
That’s why it was interesting to me. I remember when Benicio (Del Toro) did the first one, that was the most interesting character for me. He was a tough guy and all that kind of stuff but then he’s gotten shot. He’s basically dead but he’s not dead but he knows he’s not going to last. And there was something totally absurd about that character that I loved because there was always a sense of desperation in him. And I liked the idea.
Maybe it was where I was at in my life too — there’s always some parallel. You don’t want to sit there and choose a film based on where you’re at in your life, but I always thought this is really interesting. This guy has had this thing in his life that he was obviously obsessed over, this woman, and she went and left him for somebody who was richer and more wealthy or whatever. Then he’s been spending the next four years pushing down all the shit that was so destructive to him that came out of that. And yet if she calls on him, all he has to do is look at her eyes and it all starts to manifest again. So you see this guy kind of unravel even though he has a conscience.
That’s always interesting to me. It’s kind of like the character in Milk, Dan White. He’s a guy whose basically has it all, he’s the big fish in a small pond in his community and then suddenly he’s the small fish in a big pond and he has no idea what to do with it. So he just slowly unravels. And that’s why I like the ending of this, at least to my segment, because you don’t see it coming.
Does that happen often, that you realize the part you’re playing maybe has some sort of echo in your life?
You don’t even know if it’s ever true or not. It just comes out of fear. Can I identify with this? How can I identify with this? Is there something in my life that’s happened that I can make this more real or personal to me? And then you’re acting and then it’s not personal at all because you’re acting a cadence and a vernacular that’s not real at all; it’s very comic book-ish. So you have to keep that in mind too.
I think that was a big thing I had with Robert where I went, look, I want these lines to sound like you’re in the graphic novel. They’re not supposed to sound like they’re coming from me. They should sound like when you read the graphic novel. When you read lines like “Don’t let the monster out,” there’s something kind of hyper-absurd and stylized about it, which is great. That was the thing I was most happy about when I watched the film. I thought I pulled off lines that as an actor you don’t even want to say if it’s a naturalistic movie. But I wanted to lend myself to that style and see if I could pull that off in a way that’s loyal to what Frank heard in his mind.
Robert is famous for shooting in a way where the actors in the scene aren’t always even on the set together, but please tell me that you did the scenes with Eva Green.
No, no, no. All my stuff with Eva was with Eva. Thank God for her and she’s so sweet man. I still don’t know her very well because she’s so shy. She was nervous and all that stuff so I think a lot of my internal whatever came out and was like, “It’s okay and we’ll treat this with respect.” She was very vulnerable and yet she was playing the opposite, which I understand. If I’m ever doing comedy I’m very serious on the set. When I’m doing something serious I’m always being the guy fucking around because I can’t be in the mindset of what I’m doing because then I don’t have any perspective.
But no, all my stuff was with her. Mickey I didn’t see though. All the stuff I did with Mickey…
You never saw him.
Nope. But I know Mickey outside of that.
So how does that work? What are you playing off of?
You know it’s funny man, because I was one of those people that was like, if it’s not tangible, if it’s not tactile then how can you do it? There’s no connection, there’s no biological connection — isn’t that what it’s all about? But then when I see something like Sin City and I see that the chemistry is all there and yet they weren’t with each other. So how is the chemistry there? So that to me is like a testament to the actor’s imagination because that’s ultimately what it is like.
It’s funny because I’ve been going through this thing lately. I almost feel like I’m doing acting 101 again. I don’t know why, it’s just like it’s hit me all of a sudden. I’m like, how do we go to that next place and how do you let the imagination take over and not be thinking of your lines all the time in that practical place and is this working or not working? With this it’s because the more conviction you have in your imagination apparently (the other elements) are not needed or I’m learning that at least.
So where did you get that toy Infinity Gauntlet that you wore onstage at Comic-Con during the Marvel panel?
They gave it to me.
Do you realize how important Thanos is to the Marvel universe?
I do now.
How many pictures do they have you signed up for?
I do know but I don’t know if I can say. I don’t know which ones they are except maybe for one, but I’m not even sure about that. The Thanos thing is really — I’m so happy about that decision, not because people are so into it but that people are so fanatical about it, which I love. I love that especially, and I didn’t really even know this until I was there.
Robert (Downey Jr.) and I have known each other for a long time, I know all of those guys. Except for Chris Evans I knew everybody up there. And Robert and I talked for a long time before we got on stage just about the reality of doing something like this. Then we got onstage and played out that little thing that was loosely constructed, loosely, except for eating the rose. That just happened. It’s like, why am I eating a rose? And I remember somebody saying in a blog or something, “He understands Thanos, which is proven by him eating the rose.” And I was like, “Good, awesome, I’m glad I know it because I didn’t know it.”
But it’s a huge thing and I’m really happy. Having turned down a lot of those bigger movies for no reason other than “I would be a fan seeing it but I’m not interested in doing it right now,” I’m so glad it’s this because it means a lot to me. I love those guys at Marvel. I love what they represent. I know some guys from before and they’re just a bunch of film geeks man. It’s just that simple. There’s very little pretense. And when I talk to Kevin Feige and when I talk to Louis D’Esposito who I knew as a first AD 15 years ago, it’s like these guys are just lovers of film and lovers of story. And then you see the Comic Con reaction to it, which is f**king brilliant. I was amazed.
I’m just rereading Infinity Gauntlet now.
It’s great stuff. I mean I’m really excited about it. Honestly. I’m excited. I’ve done a lot of art films that I’m really happy with, working with Paul Thomas Anderson this year and working with a lot of the great people that I’m very, very grateful to have worked with. But it’s a different thing. It’s like…let’s try a different genre, let’s try this and let’s see if we can create a great character within that genre, which I think is happening more and more. That’s why you’re getting people like Ruffalo and that’s why you’re getting people like Jeremy Renner. It’s fun. It’s really, really fun. The timing could not be more perfect. I’m very lucky in that way.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is out in theaters this Friday (August 22).