When it comes wailing on George Clooney (as featured in the exclusive clip from Hail, Caesar! above), Josh Brolin can’t help from hiding his delight. “I figured a lot of people have probably wanted to slap Clooney around for a long long time,” says the star of the forthcoming period comedy by the Coen brothers. “I’m a fairly big guy, so I thought, ‘Why not me?’ Ethan [Coen] can’t do it because he’s too small. Joel [Coen] can’t do it 'cause he just doesn’t have the balls. I’m your man.”
The film revolves around Brolin’s 1950s movie studio fixer Eddie Mannix, who uses thuggish tactics to cover up potential media scandals caused by his debauched actors. Case in point: Mannix has to hide the pregnancy of Esther Williams-type entertainer DeAnna Moran, played by Scarlett Johansson. “The present day just pales in comparison to what was happening then,” Brolin tells Yahoo Movies, citing various depravities of the old Hollywood era, including, morphine abuse, brothels, and orgies. “You get to see the Coens’ rock opera of old Hollywood. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s all based on something very traumatic,” adds the 47-year-old actor.
The central drama of the film is the kidnapping of the famed Baird Whitlock, played by Clooney. He’s the airheaded star of a film within the film, playing a Roman solider in the biblical epic Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ. And Clooney’s doe-eyed, hapless performance — on par with his chain-gang escapee in the Coens’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? — threw Brolin out of character on occasion, particularly in the above scene. “George is just funny to look at,” Brolin says with a laugh. “When he’s sitting there all google-eyed, afraid of my character… it kept messing me up, and I had to be serious.” What added difficulty to the scene, explains Brolin, is Mannix’s machine-gun '50s-style talking. “It’s almost like learning Shakespeare.”
At the time of our conversation, Brolin hadn’t yet screened Hail, Caesar!, which also stars Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, and Frances McDormand. “I’m seeing it tonight,” he says, explaining that he usually spends a lot of time in the editing room with the Coens, but another project kept him from it this time. Asked if the anticipation is anything like opening Christmas presents, he promptly says, “No! It’s more like Halloween and wondering if we are going to end up in jail drunk. Or are we just going to have a really good time and there’s going to be a lot of really good candy at the end of the thing? You just never ever know… what’s going to resonate with the masses.”
As for those Clooney slaps, Brolin doesn’t say whether any of them landed on the Oscar winner’s face in real life. But he did share this: “I was actually really rough with him and he was strangely fine with it.”
Watch Brolin throw more of his weight around when Hail, Caesar! opens next weekend.
(Photo: Alison Rosa/Universal Studios)