Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) © Warner Bros

It’s a steamy summer afternoon in New Orleans. Actor Josh Brolin sits down for a short break between takes on Jonah Hex, an action-adventure western with more than a hint of the supernatural. Brolin plays the eponymous gunslinger, a battle-scarred bounty hunter with one foot in reality, the other in the afterlife.

Brolin’s character is trying to track down the sinister Quentin Turnbull (played by John Malkovich) who once killed off Hex’s family and mutilated him with a branding iron. Turnbull is now trying to assemble army to unleash hell on earth and only Hex can stop him.

Recreating the cult DC Comics antihero was no easy task for Brolin, who had to endure an uncomfortable prosthetic makeup (designed and applied by Oscar-winner Christien Tinsley) that left him unable to eat solid food while filming. But he could smoke, and during this brief cigarette break, the actor shared his thoughts on the project that he once turned down…

What was it about the Jonah Hex script that made you want to do it?

I originally didn’t like the script at all, but there was something about it that I couldn’t stop thinking about. And then I met with the guys who were going to be directing it before [Neveldine & Taylor] and liked them a lot. But I just didn’t see it, so I said no and they went off to look for another actor.

Finally, Warner Bros called and said, ‘You brought up a lot of concerns for us,’ because when I take a script, I don’t just read it and say yes or no. I go through this process of insanity of trying to find what it is about it that I connect to. Is it real, or can make some money on this thing.

Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) © Warner Bros

Nobody is making money on this movie. It will look like a 60-70 million-dollar film but it’s not. Everybody cut their price, the budget; all the people that came with me are probably getting a third of what they normally get paid. So then we started working it. You see that little spark in there and you say, ‘Let’s pull it out and see what it looks like.’ So let’s create a scene with it, and how does this fit with that?

And then John Malkovich comes in and says, ‘Hey, can I rewrite my speech?’ Of course you can, man; let’s see it. If it’s not good, I’m going to tell you from my perspective,’ but he rewrote a speech and it was fantastic.

So Jimmy and I got together when we first decided to do this and I said, ‘Somebody had to be the leader, you’re the director; let’s put this together, but everybody should have input,’ even if  somebody from craft services comes up and says, ‘I think it would be cool if…’  So it’s gotten better and better and better.

Does the prosthetic makeup help you get into the character more easily?

Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) © Warner Bros

It always helps me out. I like clothes, I like walks; I like changing the look. Like with Dan White in Milk, it was about the hair and how bloated I was. I wanted to be bloated during Milk so I was doing things to create that. It just works for me.

I don’t know how to do me. I’m not one of those guys. I know other guys that are great at it; they go out and they’re handsome and they do their thing and the guy is fantastic; I could watch them forever, but I do better when I get away from me, so John Brown is a thing that me and [producer] Mark Gordon are talking about doing next, and possibly another remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which I think would be a blast and something completely different.

But anyway with this makeup, there were a lot of different manifestations, a lot of tries and a lot of cutting of my lip, and a lot of bruising. Basically what we have now is a piece of fabric that is glued to my cheek, and another piece of fabric glued on to the back of my ear. We pull it and hook it in the back so it pulls back my face. We add a major prosthetic and after, that we put the teeth in, which holds back my mouth very solidly. I have wires going up from there to push on my cheek and we have another prosthetic that goes over all of that that. And finally, we paint my face, so it’s like a three-hour process.

Has there been a scene so far that really represents what this movie is all about for you?

Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) © Warner Bros

There’s a scene on a cross- not a cross but an X-where I’m tied up before I get burned. It’s with John Malkovich and it’s not a major scene, it’s a flashback, but it was a really good scene. That was when I realized there was another component to some decent acting. It’s not that we were doing [Brolin exaggerates his voice in a dramatic fashion] but I felt like, wow, we’re actually taking this movie that should be ridiculous, that will be ridiculous in a certain way but we’re grounding it with really good performances.

But there are ‘ridiculous’ action movies that really work.

They work, and they’re fun and they’re funny and this one will be too, but it’s more my humor. It’s like ‘No Country:’ I got that movie and didn’t think anybody else would, but when I watched it I thought, ‘If I wasn’t in it, I would watch this movie over and over!’ That’s how I’m starting to feel about this film too.

What would you tell movie-goers to expect from Jonah Hex?

I have no idea what it is, so we’re where the audience is. It’s still creating itself. I think whoever watches this movie will get something out of it, because it’s filled with so much. There’s a train crash, there’s this huge boat that blows up, there’s me, there’s Malkovich; it’s full, man. It’s a potpourri of insanity and I really love that.

Joe Nazzaro

Joe is a New York based journalist More by Joe Nazzaro