Josh Brolin on personal connection to firefighting story
Josh Brolin raves about filming Only The Brave, saying cast had to 'man up'
When Josh Brolin was in his 20s, he was a volunteer firefighter for three years in Arizona.
That is why the 49-year-old US actor had a "personal reaction" to the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a firefighting crew that became one of the most elite teams in America and is the subject of the new movie Only The Brave.
He said: "I have been in fully engulfed structures and did some wildland firefighting.
"It was something that resonated with me. I liked the idea of the giving of one's self to preserve something for someone else, even in the face of danger."
Opening here tomorrow, Only The Brave is based on an article that appeared in GQ magazine about a team of 20 "hotshot" firefighters who battled the deadly Yarnell Hill Fire of 2013 in Arizona. The fire had been ignited by lightning.
These men were a municipal squad of men from Yarnell who trained intensively to achieve the designation of hotshot.
They fought fire with fire. They dug lines and cut down trees to establish a border, attempting to first divert the course of the fire before putting it out.
While the Yarnell disaster was widely reported in the news, the big-screen action drama tells of the firefighters' lives, relationships and the bond they developed as brothers in arms.
Brolin plays Eric "Supe" Marsh, the crew superintendent and oldest of the team at 43, while Miles Teller is the rookie who joins the team. The film also features Jeff Bridges, Taylor Kitsch and Jennifer Connelly.
It was something that resonated with me. I liked the idea of the giving of one's self to preserve something for someone else, even in the face of danger. Josh Brolin
We are at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, and Brolin is in the greatest shape of his life.
"I just finished Deadpool 2," he said, referring to his buff physique, required for his role as antagonist Cable in the superhero sequel.
"I don't look as good as I did because I had a few donuts on Friday and Saturday and I had some ice cream," he joked.
"But I worked out 2½ hours a day for six months."
Only The Brave came to Brolin when he was "doing a movie in North Carolina and had gained a lot of weight", and its director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) arranged to meet him.
"I was kind of miserable at the time, so I am sure I was not the greatest company. I was tired and I was sceptical and I was working with a director I did not necessarily love, and Joseph had only done these technological movies. So it's one of those things where you go, 'Do you have the heart to do it?'
"And I don't know why, I believed him. He did not lie to me, he did not say, 'You have great eyes, a deep set of eyes that says it all there', and all of that bull - which people have done, and I would have said no right away," he said with a laugh.
Brolin ended up loving working with Kosinski.
"Not only did he have the heart, but he showed up incredibly. Some of the directors I have worked with in things that are physically demanding have said, 'I want to be there and I want it to be real', and then they get there and they have the cashmere blanket," Brolin said with another laugh.
"I don't like that. If you are going to do it, do it. And Joe did it in a big way."
To prepare for Only The Brave, he spoke to Marsh's family.
Brolin said: "I spent a lot of time with (his wife) and I am still close to her.
"I was upfront with them. I said I will never do this in a way that you will think is right. So all I can do is live in the spirit of what I can find out and what I think he was, and just do my best in creating that kind of person I have learnt him to be."
He explained: "You had to man up for this movie. Complaining did not exist on our show. You just had to do what you were told. It wasn't an issue.
"When you are an actor and starting to do well, it is impossible not to feel some level of entitlement when you have people around you always going, 'Can I get you coffee?' There wasn't any of that on this film. I did not hear my name the whole time. I was only called 'Supe'.
"I don't know half the guys' real names still, I only know them by their character names. That was the way it was, and it was not a forced thing."
Though it was a physical role, and all the actors immersed themselves in a boot camp led by real-life hotshots in the mountains outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, for weeks, the emotional part hit Brolin hard.
He said: "Even doing press, I have tried to harden myself. Because this movie means a lot to me, period."
Brolin is in a good place in his life right now, especially with his new marriage to his former assistant Kathryn Boyd, who is his third wife. The couple wed in September last year.
He said: "I have an amazing relationship with my best friend... I like hanging out with my wife. I had some tries, and it is like baseball. I didn't completely strike out, but I was trying hard and finally hit a home run. I feel lucky and grateful."
He is also shooting the star-studded superhero blockbuster Avengers: Infinity War (2018) in Atlanta, in which he plays the supervillain Thanos in a motion-capture performance.
Brolin said: "I was able to see some of it, which was mind-blowing because it is just next-level. It is me but it is not me, but it is me. I don't weigh 700lb, but it is me, I am looking at me, and it is a very strange thing to do."
What makes him particularly enthusiastic is that the intergalactic despot is nuanced, unlike most comic book baddies.
"The empathetic factor is something that just happened. (Thanos) is not a character you necessarily feel for, and it is just deepening the complexity of the character, which I find really exciting.
"I have turned down a lot of those bigger types of movies, but I really liked this, the baddest dude in the universe," Brolin said with a laugh.
"I am really happy I did it. It is probably the most fun I have ever had on a set. It is just kind of dealing with acting from a different perspective."