Josh Brolin is making a habit out of going up against his “Milk”?co-star Sean Penn as real-life rivals on the big screen. For their latest team-up, “Gangster Squad,” Penn’s gangster Mickey Cohen is pursued by Brolin’s detective John O’Mara in 1949 Los Angeles.
In our chat with Brolin, we hit on some of his favorite topics, including the lost art of fisticuffs and the importance of being willing to look like an idiot to be a good actor.
METRO: Your John O’Mara is a hard-charging, all-business detective in a fedora. So basically Dick Tracy, right?
BROLIN: That’s not a bad thing. It’s funny because I had problems with the dialogue when we were first going through the script. The decision was made to make him a little more laconic, and I think that was right. It was this kind of Clint Eastwood-ian take on the guy that I think was good. It let Sean do what Sean was doing, which was bigger, and then Ryan [Gosling] do what he was doing, which was more ad-libbing.
Is it less fun to be the serious one in the group?
No, because I have so much fun otherwise. I don’t walk around the set acting like I’m John O’Mara all the time.
You’ve got an impressive fist fight with Sean Penn in this film for which no stunt men were used.
That was a good fistfight. I mean, I like fistfighting anyway. I just think it’s a lost art. I was talking to my dad about this, and I was like, I wonder if there was less violence — less extreme violence — back when people could fistfight … as opposed to you touch me and I touch you and we sue each other. Sean and I both had to get in very good shape; we had to rehearse a lot. And I was really happy the way it turned out. There were a few slips. I’ve got a little scar right here [on my lip]. Occupational hazard.
There’s also the occupational hazard of looking foolish when a punch goes wrong.
You just have to get over feeling like an idiot. People talk about acting, and I go, ‘Look man, it’s a profession of humiliation.’ You feel like an idiot on the set most of the time, you’re embarrassing yourself most of the time, and hopefully you get to some kind of magical moment that the audience gets to see where they don’t get to experience all that embarrassment. The older I get, thank God, the less and less I care about embarrassing myself and looking stupid. It’s very liberating.