Josh Brolin: 'The Rejection Factor Was Always The Big Thing For Me'

click to enlarge Josh and Edin Brolin - Courtesy
Josh and Edin Brolin

While driving through Beverly Hills and longing for a road trip through the desert, something sparked in Academy Award-nominated actor Josh Brolin's (Milk) mind that made him pull off to the side of the road and begin writing the script for his 2008 short film X, which would become his directorial début.

In X, a convicted felon (Vincent Riverside) escapes from prison and takes his teenage daughter (Eden Brolin, Josh's real-life daughter) into the desert in search of the body of her slain mother so they can give her a proper burial. The San Antonio Current caught up with Josh and Eden last month to talk about their short film and what it has been like for Josh to watch his daughter pursue acting as a profession.
X will screen at the Alamo City Film Festival on Friday, Sept. 11 at 3:30pm during Short Block B, which includes nine short films. Tickets for Short Block B are $7.

Josh, as a father, what was your initial thought when you found out Eden wanted to be an actress?

Josh Brolin: We talked about it and we still talk about it. It's one of those things you can never fully accept. I had spoken about it with my dad (James Brolin) and he was like, 'Why do you want to be an actor? Be a lawyer.' I heard his dad say that to him, too. The rejection factor was always the big thing for me. It wasn't because I didn't think I would succeed, but I didn't like the idea that someone was going to tell me that I needed to go find a new profession or that I wasn't very good at it.

Eden Brolin: The conversation we had makes sense now, especially coming from a parent who is an actor. Parents who aren't actors will say that acting is not necessarily a job or that you can't succeed in it, but it makes sense why an actor would have a conversation with somebody young that wanted to become an actor.

JB: Yeah, why do you want to go through the torture, even if you are successful? Child actors is not really something I advocate nor would I specifically wish on my daughter, even though I had the greatest time on The Goonies and all those kids were really amazing and on point.

What led you to directing? Was it something you always wanted to do?

JB: I was supposed to do a movie called Poker Face that [filmmaker] Robert Rodriguez was going to help me produce. It was a really good idea, but it became too complicated and too big for my first movie. One day, I was driving through Beverly Hills, which I don't care for very much, and had this idea. So, I pulled the car over and wrote this father-daughter [script] in a couple of hours on the side of the road. Like every good director, I selfishly – and whatever my beliefs before were totally thrown out the fucking window – thought about [casting] my daughter. That's exactly what ended up happening. I would love to be able to do some kind of sequel to it with Eden and I.

Eden, do you remember when acting became something you wanted to pursue?

EB: I really don't know why I wanted to do it. I remember being on set with my dad was always really excited. I didn't get to do it a whole lot as a kid. I think every kid who watches another kid on TV is like, 'Whoa, that looks like a really good time!' I wanted to do it because it looked fun. Thank God I was put on hold for a long time. I did a little bit of acting in middle school and high school and did some musicals. Then I got an agent and was like, 'You know, I'm going to try this.' It's true that there is a whole lot of rejection, but it's still very cool. So, there wasn't a specific moment for me where is said, 'This is what I want to do with my life!' It was this sort of fascination with [acting] that was always there.

What sets do you remember spending time on with your dad?

EB: I think Hollow Man was definitely one of those set where I was like, 'Whoa!'

JB: (Laughs)

EB: But there were definitely those little standout moments where it was like, 'Oh, there's dad with a moustache' or 'There's dad with his tattoos covered up.' There have been sets that have been unreal with so many great people.

JB: I think that was always the case. It was never about what film was better than the other. It was always great. That was always great about our family. We never saw ourselves as exclusive. It was always a very familial thing. It felt very mafia.

Josh, do you think all young actors just starting off in the industry need to pay their dues? I mean, you see actresses like Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong'o break out of the gate fast and never look back. Do you think there need to be some growing pains in the process?

JB: I used to think that, but I'm older now. My opinions change and they keep changing and then they change again, which is always fascinating to me. I don't think you need to go through hell to value something. I think that's just in your persona or it's not. Or you'll get it slapped into you at some point by life. You see a lot of people who are successful and then 10 years down the line something happens. [Mike] Tyson is a great example. He's not an actor, but he had incredible talent. I know in my experience, even after 22 years of struggling in the business and feeding my family and doing all this stuff, there were sketchy moments before No Country [For Old Men], American Gangster, and Milk happened. Suddenly, after 22 years, people were like, 'Oh my God! What happened to you, man? What did you do? What pill did you take?' I was always like, 'I wasn't that bad before.' (Laughs) I worked my ass off and my kids and I were having a great time and there was nothing horrible happening.

Do you see that same work ethic in Eden?

JB: I look at Eden and I see her doing plays and tech work and acting. She works her ass off. That's just something I really appreciate about her. She works hard and she has incredible humility. Now, she's on some road to some level of success, whatever that means. She gets paid as a working actress now, but I don't see any difference in her attitude, which I love.

What have you told her about rejection? How do you put it in perspective as a father and actor?

JB: I just want her to know that it exists.

EB: I don't know that there is really a way to explain that feeling. There's no way to explain the abundance of rejection that's out there. Some people come to LA from wherever and get five auditions and bam, they're there, but that's rarely the case. That definitely wasn't my case. I'll never forget my first few auditions and thinking, 'Why does nobody want me!?' Every time I have those moments, they've gotten easier and easier because [my dad] will tell me, 'Don't forget I had to go on 200 auditions after this project.' Now I know it is all part of the work.

JB: Exactly.

EB: You'll exhaust yourself if you think about rejection in a way of, 'Why don't they want me?' or 'What's wrong with me?' You'll die doing that.

JB: Psychically.

EB: Just go to an audition and fucking – excuse my language – forget about it afterwards. Look at it in a way where you can figure out, 'OK, what can I do next time?' But being able to let it go is such a huge part of it. There really is no way to explain that feeling and that loss and going into a job interview three times a week and having them tell you no three times a week.

JB: You have to be able to learn from it. We look back on our short film and there are things that we cringe about. But I've learned not to comment on that kind of stuff. I remember I did a movie called Thrasin' after Goonies and people will come up to me and go, 'Hey, man, I saw Thrasin' and I go, 'Why are you watching that garbage? It was horrible.' Then they would go, 'Dude, it changed my life when I was a kid! My dad was going through this and my mom was going through that.' You forget that people can be affected in different ways. As an actor, you can't help but be in awe when something like that happens. That's the great thing about storytelling.

What movie affected you as a kid?

JB: The Warriors. I saw that movie 65 times. I didn't really have anything else to do on the ranch except ride motorcycles and watch The Warriors. But now when you watching it I'm like, 'How did I watch this 65 times? It's so campy.' But that was my experience. So, if I ever see those actors from The Warriors, I don't care what they're doing now; I would be in absolute awe.

Eden, what was your dad like on the set as a director and were you able to separate your father-daughter relationship with the professional one?

EB: He was amazing. It was amazing to see him on the other side of filmmaking. I think looking back on my 13- or 14-year-old self, I was very excited because it was my first time being directed on a set. Part of my brain was telling me, 'OK, Eden, time to be the professional actor you want to be.' So, yeah, I think we all treated it very professionally. We had a very fun time as hot as it was. I feel bad because I was so young and didn't know anything. I look at [X] now and wish it we could do it now.

I'm assuming your dad didn't make you audition for the part?

JB: (Laughs)

EB: I don't know. Did I?

JB: There was kind of a thing. I did a kind of camera test with her and Vince. We were outside and we were making it look like the car was moving and improvising some stuff.

EB: Oh my God, that is so funny.

JB: I was a little harder on her then than I was when we got on the set because I wanted to make sure it was going to be OK. I think it was a test to make sure she wasn't going to be like, 'You can't tell me what to do!'

EB: (Laughs)

JB: (Laughs) I wanted to make sure that wasn't going to happen. Eden can be tough. She's not always tough, but she can be tough. She's got gravitas and intensity. That's what's so great about how she carries herself on film and on stage. So, yeah, I tested her, but she's only learning about it now.

EB: Wow. (Laughs) It's hard to remember a lot of it. It's just crazy that I was doing that at 13.

Josh, in the last year we've seen actors like Adrian Brody, Ryan Gosling, Jackie Earle Haley, Russell Crowe and Joel Edgerton make their directorial débuts. What do you think it is about directing that fascinates some actors? Is it something you'd like to try again?

JB: There are so many different reasons. I know when Eden and I did our movie, [filmmaker] Paul Haggis, who was doing very well at that time and was a friend, said he wanted to produce it as a full-length feature and wanted me to write and direct it. I started doing it but then got waylaid by work. There were other things we've developed at Warner Brothers to direct. I've been talking to [CEO of Blumhouse Productions] Jason Blum about directing. He did The Gift, which is the film Joel Edgerton just directed. I think actors can be wonderful directors. There are a lot of contemporaries but Clint Eastwood is someone I always go back to. He's an incredible and simple storyteller. Play Misty for Me, I thought, was such a great directorial début for him at 41 years of age. I think actors can be the worst and best directors.

What makes an actor a great director?

If they have objectivity, I think they can be wonderful. Some actors are going, 'I'm going to treat actors like I wanted to be treated.' So, they'll let actors go off on tangents that are just wrong. Or they'll be like, 'I'm going to keep the camera on his face for 10 minutes because I feel like it!' But that's boring! The truth is, some actors, because of the nature of what they do, they're always thinking about structure and story. When you see that objectivity, you can definitely feel the difference because there's sensitivity. These are people who actually care about the human condition. Then there are people out there who have a cosmetic desire but that's usually pretty short-lived. I've seen a lot of those people come and go. People with staying power are the people that are fascinated by the psychology and sociology of a story.

Eden, when you think about your future in Hollywood, what do you imagine?

EB: I am still figuring it out. I'm really excited for what might come next. I'm really grateful that I've gotten to work with the people that I have worked with so far. It hasn't been a whole lot of work, but it's definitely felt like a ride. I don't know about specific goals right now, but I hope I get to keep learning as much as I can.


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