True Grit - Josh Brolin
True Grit - Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) © 2010 Paramount Pictures, Photo by Lorey Sebastian

Josh Brolin, an actor who is not afraid to take on challenging roles, made No Country for Old Men with the Coen Brothers, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2007.  His other credits include Milk, Grindhouse, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, W and Woody Allen’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.

Brolin is working with Joel and Ethan Coen again in his new movie, True Grit. In it he portrays Tom Chaney, an outlaw who kills a man for two gold pieces. Big mistake, as now the man’s daughter, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), is after him, employing a US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), to help her bring him to justice.

In the film True Grit Tom Chaney is a violent simpleton, where do you have to go to find that?

Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) © 2010 Paramount Pictures

It found me, didn’t it? [he laughs] When I came to talked to Joel and Ethan about it in the beginning, they said something like, ‘He’s sort of a dim bulb,’ and I thought, ‘No, he’s more like a broken bulb with no filament at all.’

I liked the idea of doing this duality of a guy who is talked about throughout the whole movie, so when you see him you expect a monster, especially when he turns around the first time, and he’s got that look.

Then he starts talking, and it’s a different kind of guy. He says [to Mattie], ‘So what are you doing here? I don’t understand what you’re doing out here,’ it’s almost conversational.

I liked that better because it’s different than the mythology and what’s been created throughout the movie is ripped from you, whatever pigeonholing that you’ve created in your mind of what a sociopath is.

Then you see it come back when he’s along with her and you see that transition that happens of, I’m not taking this shit anymore, and now I realize I’m out in the middle of nowhere and I have to manifest this rage again. You realize he’s a true sociopath. It was fun to be able to do that.

Was he a difficult character to embody?

I’m not in the movie very much, but what I came in with wasn’t working at all, and we all knew it. There was no damning going on, but we were like, ‘Okay, that doesn’t work, so what do we do?’ ‘I don’t know, let’s keep mixing it up,’ and a little voice came out [of my mouth] and Joel goes, ‘What was that?’ And Ethan goes, ‘I like that.’ And then things started to come together.

The language of the movie is very different, as it’s based on the King James Bible. Was that hard for you?

Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) © 2010 Paramount Pictures

I think a lot of things came together in the rehearsal process, because I don’t think anybody really knew how to do the language in the movie. I thought when I did Tom Chaney’s voice, ‘Oh, this is going to stick out so horribly, it’s too much.’ And then I saw everybody else in the film and you didn’t even notice it.

What kind of research did you do into the time period?

I think being authentic is really important, but authenticity in place of fluidity [is wrong]. It’s like [I’ll see a] movie that’s perfect, and they didn’t do anything wrong and I’m bored out of my mind.

There has to be fluidity there and I think that’s what happens in rehearsal. [When someone says], ‘They wouldn’t have that gun, it’s 1871 and that actually wasn’t issued until 1873.’ And you’re like, ‘Are you joking?’

You have a very intense scene with Hailee by the campfire, how much rehearsal went into that?

Hailee is so precocious and amazing and present and just went with it. I think it was more nerve-wracking for me than it was for her. She’s very comfortable in her own skin and that scene was about her talking and being super-confident, and Tom, this little man-child, hating the purity of her. Josh loves her purity.

I’m so taken by her in every which way. I just think she’s incredible, so it was much harder for me. Everything she did was easy. The rest of us made it look really hard. We really searched a lot in rehearsal for character, but she already had it.

She was the one person who had it down before the rest of us really started. But it was an incredible experience, we had a great time

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane