Josh Brolin proves to be the perfect younger version of Tommy Lee Jones, handling his mannerisms and voice with real finesse in Men in Black 3. Brolin, a newbie to the sci-fi action comedy franchise, plays the part of a younger Agent Kay who's gone back in time to stop a nasty alien named Boris the Animal (played by Jemaine Clement) from destroying Earth.
Speaking to journalists at the LA press day for the Columbia Pictures release, Brolin described how he was able to channel Tommy Lee Jones and deliver a performance that steals the film from his two MIB veteran co-stars.
On nailing Tommy Lee Jones' mannerisms:
Josh Brolin: "I don't know. A lot of work. That all sounds boring when you say how much work you did and all that but, yeah, a lot of fear and a lot of work and I know Tommy so that’s like you guys, if you have a friend and somebody asks you to do an impersonation of your friend, that’s one thing if you’re drunk at a bar. Then it’s a different thing when they say a billion people are going to see this movie. 'Do an impression of your friend.' It kind of ups the ante. I just studied and studied and made a lot of mistakes, hopefully came out on top."
On preparing by watching Tommy Lee Jones' films:
Josh Brolin: "You know, I did but it wasn’t really helpful. I had known a lot of them, because I’m a huge Tommy fan and I have been for a long time. Where I grew up, Tommy’s considered a saint, in the Central Coast California Republican community. Just the whole country bucolic mentality and all that."
"I saw Executioner’s Song, Coal Miner’s Daughter. I saw movies that nobody’s seen that Tommy’s done. Rolling Thunder’s brilliant, dude. Rolling Thunder is amazing. Rolling Thunder is one of Tarantino’s favorite films. So yeah, I saw all of those but everybody says, and I even think this way, 'You’re playing a young Tommy, you’re playing a young Tommy.' But you’re not. You’re playing a young Kay. Kay is very different than Tommy. If you look at Tommy in JFK, it’s very different. You realize that the guy is an amazing actor. So I realized really after going through all those movies and all the desperate research, you realize that the only thing to do is watch Men in Black over and over and over and over and over, which is fine with me because I enjoy the movie. If it was a movie that I didn’t like, it would’ve been I think much tougher. Tommy is like an instrument that somebody made up, Tommy’s mother. And nobody knows how to play it. It’s a cadence that when I did W, I thought that was difficult until I did Tommy."
On opting not to play a younger Agent Kay in front of Tommy Lee Jones:
Josh Brolin: "No, and that won’t be happening any time soon. Like I said, I grew up with a lot of guys like that. You just don’t do that. He’s seen the movie. I don't think that he would ever give me a kudos for it. Maybe..."
On picking up the right cadence for Agent Kay:
Josh Brolin: "You know, it’s not that they were difficult because I was listening to it on set and I was being one of those iPod actors. The thing was I was trying to decide was when I wanted it to be high Tommy lilt and then go down into just kind of generic normal san saba, because if you make a thing out of it...it’s kind of like the makeup. Everybody says, 'You did the voice really well but thank God you didn’t have any makeup on.' What are you talking about? I don’t look like that. I had a nose on, I had earlobes on, I had a brow on. So I think it was suggestive of Kay, but when you’re doing the voice you don’t want to exaggerate the whole time because then it’s a caricature. The hope was, I don't know how lame this sounds, but the hope was you watch the movie and within 10 minutes you can get into the story because you’re not watching me showboat Tommy. You just believe that it’s a young Kay. That was the hope."
On working with Will Smith:
Josh Brolin: "Well, I know Will extremely well professionally. He’s an extremely professional guy. I think we were all very, very lucky because we decided to do the movie together without meeting each other. I had never met Will, so in all seriousness, there’s not a lot of iconic duos in film. There’s relationships like husband/wife, Boegy/whatever but the Lethal Weapon, Mel Gibson/Danny Glover, Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. It’s parallel. Then they’re going to try and bring me in and ruin my career by severing one of the great iconic duos, which I appreciate that fear. I am looking to end my career. When it doesn’t happen, it’s kind of fun."
"For me, selfishly, this is not answering your question, but for me selfishly I love the idea of looking back and knowing that we did this and that we tried this. That’s a lot of fun. This is all like deathbed stuff. I want to look back and say, 'F***, I did Tommy Lee Jones, that’s crazy.' But the truth of the matter is that he’s amazing, man. I don’t want to dehumanize him but he’s a machine. Comedy’s not an easy thing. It’s a tough thing. When I did Flirting with Disaster, I’d see Lily Tomlin going, 'I’m not funny, I’m not funny, I’m not funny.' I’m thinking this is a genius comedienne. So Will was very into story, he was very into character, he was very into this movie being the best thing that it can be, which I think was appropriate for the time. I think he brings a lot of energy anywhere. He works extremely hard."
"I had a blast with him, but the chemistry was something that just happened and I think was luck. We could’ve recreated it but I think you would’ve felt that it was created. I personally think that, which would’ve been fine. Maybe we would’ve pulled it off but judging from when we went down to Brazil, it was like, 'Okay, how are we going to do on a personal level in front of the press?' Because we didn’t know, because we had only worked together. We didn’t really hang out. So we got down to Brazil and it was all good, and we’re flying high"
On the pressures he places on himself and growing up with a father in the industry:
Josh Brolin: "Growing up in an acting family, you probably talk about acting less than a normal family. Nobody wants to talk about acting at home. Plus, I grew up in Central Coast, California; I didn’t grow up in Hollywood so that was a totally different thing also. I didn’t grow up with an acting mother. I had a father who drove four hours to LA like I do now. It’s the same thing. My kids grew up the same way. You’re not really sitting there going, 'So how do you break down a scene, pop?' I don’t say that sarcastically, it’s just never [done]. So when you’re making acting choices, when you’re starting out, 21 Jump Street was between Johnny Depp and I. Johnny Depp got it. We were in his apartment waiting to find out which was one was going to actually leave on a plane that night. So you have these great stories once you’ve been in the business for 28 years, or however long I’ve been doing it, where it’s your place. You want to just work, man. If it’s an episode of CSI and this and that. Then, the division between film and TV was huge. Now there’s no division. Everybody pops back and forth all the time."
"But I think to answer your question, Flirting with Disaster was the first movie that I had been in other than The Goonies, maybe, that I watched and I was so happy to be in a good film. I started basing my decisions on that. I would rather be in a good film. I want to be able to play a good character, but if it’s a good film, that’s great. That’s great and I got very lucky with No Country and then Milk came along and then W came along and films that I’m really, really proud of. Even Jonah Hex."
On working with another MIB newcomer, Michael Stuhlbarg:
Josh Brolin: "Oh, I love that guy. Man, I really got along with him well. We spent a lot of time together on the set. We talked a lot. He’s one of these guys that asks a ton of questions and drove Barry [Sonnenfeld] absolutely insane. 'But why would he pick the napkin?' 'Because he does! I don't know.' But I loved him as an actor. He’s an incredible, incredible actor and I think what he did, Tommy, by the way, I know he saw the movie and that was the one thing he said to Barry. He said, 'I love that guy, Michael Stuhlbarg,' which I think is a high, high, high compliment coming from him. I do, I think he’s a wonderful actor. There’s a few people out there, man. There’s Michael, there’s Michael Shannon, there’s [Michael] Fassbender, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain. There’s some actors coming out of the woodwork right now that are phenomenal. [...]Ryan Gosling, yeah, who I just worked with."
Speaking of Ryan Gosling, how was working on Gangster Squad:
Josh Brolin: "I play a sergeant who is bringing down Mickey Cohen, and I really enjoyed Ryan because he comes from a totally different kind of world. He’s never taken an acting class and he’s just kind of taught himself. He loves that whole kind of Cassavetes approach, which I think is fun. Being a big Cassavetes fan, I like ad-libbing; I like improvising and he’s big into that. I watched Blue Valentine again the other night, which just makes you feel like sh** for like three days but it’s a really great movie."
On Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen:
Josh Brolin: "[He] was really good, man, I mean really good. Really good. Not only is Sean one of the most talented actors ever, but I love working with him and we’ll continue to work together because we looked for something that we found together. That was something we wanted to do together. Some actors, it’s just an easy dance. I had that with Will. Will was an easy dance. There wasn’t difficulty in figuring out how to do this together. It just kind of happened."
Coming soon: the start of production on Oldboy:
Josh Brolin: "Literally, you say Oldboy and my stomach just goes [wretching noise]. Oldboy will be an experience, man. It won’t be like Men in Black, I’ll tell you that much. I’m really happy about it. We’ve gotten amazing actors. Liz Olsen, who I think is fantastic and we also got Sharlto Copley from District 9 who I think is going to be unbelievable, who just wrote me an e-mail. It was like, 'Look, I’ve got to get this out of the way. Dude, Goonies is my favorite film of all time,' which I thought was really sweet and now I’m going to make 20 years of your life miserable in Oldboy."
"I love Oldboy and I’m close with Chan Wook Park. I e-mailed him a couple months ago just asking for his blessing to do this movie because if he had said no, I wouldn’t have done it. I really respect his movie and we’ll make a little different movie. This whole idea of that more Hollywood version of it, whatever. We’re just going to make a different version but have respect to the initial story and premise. I’m looking forward to it, man. I’m talking about it nervously right now because it makes me nervous."
On retaining the hammer fight:
Josh Brolin: "Yes, by the way, yes. And it’s a hammer, a knife and all that stuff. Then will we keep the octopus, and will we keep the other stuff? There are some changes and all that, but I think it’s really good. It still makes me throw down the script like halfway through. 'Whoa!'"
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Men in Black 3 opens in theaters on May 25, 2012.