By Chad Greene
As did W. before him, Josh Brolin has followed his father into Oval Office.
Back in 2003, James Brolin earned Emmy Award and Golden Globe nominations for portraying President Ronald Reagan in the miniseries The Reagans. But even though they both followed in their father’s footsteps professionally, Josh Brolin says that slim similarity didn’t take him too far in his attempt to understand George W. Bush on a human level.
“I tried to latch onto it,” says Brolin, who’s coming off a career year in which he starred in the critically acclaimed movies American Gangster, In the Valley of Elah and No Country for Old Men. “I tried to go into that and see if it made any difference or not. But the fact of the matter is there are not a lot of people in politics, especially among the presidents, who see their offspring become the president also.
“But there’s a lot of people who were actors, whose sons or daughters or nieces or nephews are actors,” Brolin says. “So it’s a little more common than what you’re dealing with with Bush. That’s what kind of makes his story so fascinating, that he built his own road and did it very differently than his father did it—for better or worse.”
But, as Brolin, director Oliver Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser interpret that story, before Bush built that road to first the Texas Governor’s Mansion and then the White House, he did a lot of wandering through the wilderness.
“Take who he is out of it, or take what his job is out of it, this is a great character,” Brolin says. “There was a lot of flailing going on. He tried on a lot of different hats. Then he had a huge epiphany right around when he turned 40, when he quit drinking and started deepening his relationship with Christ—and became president of the United States.
“That’s quite a story to me. I know people ask, ‘Why are you making this?’ Why wouldn’t you make it? It’s an incredible story,” says Brolin. “And we’re the ones who hired him [to be president], so we have a responsibility to pick apart that life, to pick apart why this man became what he became. [Some people] dismiss this guy as an idiot, as a bumbling idiot. But it’s irresponsible to look at him like that. He’s the president of our country. We can’t write him off. We can’t write off this administration. It would be irresponsible of us, because we’re the ones who hired him.”
The challenge for Brolin in creating the character of “George W. Bush” for W. was to put together a deeper portrait of the president, one which went beyond the impressions of comedians which often enforce that image of him as an idiot.
“I think that was the biggest fear of mine, really respecting a lot of these Bush impressions: how far I wanted to go with it,” Brolin says. “So I put a lot of work into deciding what I was going to do. I read a lot of books, I watched a lot of video, I listened to a lot of audio on him. Watching these comedians—they can sustain that character for 15 to 60 seconds, and then after that, on to the next impression, you know? Because you get bored by it. So I think we toned it down a little bit, but I also think we exaggerated it at times—appropriately, because he’s an exaggerated personality at times.”
The president that Brolin’s father played, Ronald Reagan, was something of a “critic-in-chief”—watching movie after movie during his stay in the White House and jotting his impressions of them in his journals. According to his spokespeople, however, the president that Brolin plays has no intention to watch W. But Brolin, for one, wishes he would—and share his impressions with the actor.
“I would love to know,” Brolin laughs. “I would love to know. There’s nothing that I would appreciate more than that guy watching that movie and calling me and giving me his impressions. On a very human level. I would be very, very interested in where we missed the mark, where we nailed it, what he felt was fair and unfair and what he felt was accurate and inaccurate.
“Because it is a rendition, like if Eddie Vedder does Bob Dylan’s “Master of War,” it’s a different sound and it’s a different tone. He’s still doing the same lyric—it was originated by someone else, but it’s his take on that,” says Brolin. “This is our take on George W. Bush. How accurate is it? I don’t know. He’ll have to tell me.”
To listen to the rest of our exclusive interview with Josh Brolin, click here .