Movie stars

The softer side of Josh Brolin in ‘Oldboy’

 
 
Brolin
Brolin
Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images for BFI

Josh Brolin is a little tired of being thought of as a “man’s man” type of actor. But he scaled Mt. Shasta anyway.

The performer, who has embodied a swaggering masculinity in such movies as No Country for Old Men and True Grit, is growing weary of the macho tag. “It was fun at first and then it just got to be a little too much of” — he pauses to contemplate the right word, then lets out a caveman growl.

Still, Brolin, 45, can’t seem to escape the archetype. To prepare for the part of an extreme mountain climber in a new adventure film called Everest, he has been scaling daunting peaks, first in Switzerland and then in Northern California.

And this holiday movie season finds Brolin once again exploring the sharp topography of two new masculine characters.

In Oldboy, Spike Lee’s remake of the Chan-wook Park blood opera, Brolin is Joe Doucett, an unrepentant jerk inexplicably held captive by mysterious forces in a motel room for two decades. Upon release, he seeks answers and revenge while looking for reconciliation with his grown daughter.

In Labor Day, Jason Reitman’s ethereal adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel arriving in theaters Dec. 25, he stars as Frank Chambers, an escaped convict who forcefully takes refuge in the quiet suburban home of single mother Adele ( Kate Winslet) and her adolescent son one holiday weekend.

With their “man-cornered” premises, the films offer an actor twofer of sorts. Both suggest Brolin as desperate and tightly coiled, relying on keen animal instincts that, one senses, are as likely to get him into trouble as they are to get him out of it.

But the parts also offer different views into the male psyche. A tenderness rumbles beneath his Labor Day character as Frank develops a relationship with Winslet’s depressed romantic. Old boy’s Joe, on the other hand, is all grit and hard-boiled rage, the character’s emotions volcanically bursting through even when he’s trying to take the proper family-man course.

The differences were especially felt during the production, Brolin said.

Calling Oldboy “probably the hardest movie I ever had to shoot,” Brolin notes that he lost more than 20 pounds in three weeks to play the part and also cites the role’s intense physicality that, particularly in the captive sections of the film, had him alternating between states of manic anger and focused determination.

Labor Day required Brolin to ratchet down the intensity, at times maintaining a stillness he called “really uncomfortable” and even performing a scene that has him baking intimately with Adele in what serves as a kind of pie-themed equivalent of the sensuous potter’s wheel moment in Ghost.

“I had an older woman come up to me at a screening the other day and say, ‘Thank you for helping me restore my libido.’ I think that may have been a first,” he said with a chuckle.

Steven Zeitchik

The Los Angeles Times

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