Josh Brolin Talks Milk, W., and Jonah Hex

Milk tackles the last eight years of Harvey Milk's life. Milk was the first openly gay man elected to major public office in the United States. His term as a San Francisco city supervisor lasted less than a year before he and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by a disgruntled colleague named Dan White -- a former policeman and fireman who had traded a steady job for a city supervisor gig that still paid poorly and left him a small, rather inept fish in a political pond much bigger and deeper than he suspected. Josh Brolin, who wowed audiences in No Country for Old Men and in the George W. Bush biopic simply named W. this year, plays White with considerable empathy, proving yet again that he can add complexity to even the most repugnant of human beings. I sat down with him recently to discuss White, Bush, and rumors of a comic-book movie he may or may not be involved in.

Cole Haddon: You've now gotten into the heads of both George W. Bush and Dan White this year, two men who embody hate to a lot of Americans. But which role did you find the most hateful?

Josh Brolin: Neither.

CH: Why is that?

JB: Because I don't hate either one of them personally. I find them both very sad and a little pathetic, [but] I think I understand them. It's one of the reasons why I chose to do both of them.

CH: So then you've played these two characters you call weak and a little pathetic. Have you got that out of your system now?

JB: Weak? Not George W. Bush. Yes for Dan, but not for George. Is it out of my system? I didn't need to play those characters. It's not a Freudian thing for me. They were just of behavioral interest. That's it.

CH: California's Proposition 8 recently passed, banning gay marriage in the state where Milk's civil right struggle takes place. It doesn't seem like that much has changed since 1978 when Proposition 6, the infamous Briggs Initiative, tried to ban gays from working in schools (the bill even went so far as to make it legal to fire school employees who supported gay rights).

JB: They have changed, but they [also] haven't changed, you're right. It was very surprising to me that Prop 8 ended up being a yes. What I'm happy about ... is that people are [now] getting out there and having their voices heard and protesting [the law]. Like Howard Zinn says, "Democracy comes from the bottom and not the top." I love that people are out there voicing their opinions.

CH: You've always struck me as almost too tolerant of other people's points of view. It's shockingly un-American.

JB: As a couple, if you're happy and if you're not hurting anyone else, what's the problem? But that's my own personal feeling. A Mormon might feel differently. A Mormon feels differently about coffee than I do. Sometimes I don't understand it and that's okay, but, to me, it's a personal thing. Harvey says it best in the movie. He says to Briggs ... "I was raised by heterosexual parents with heterosexual teachers and I am [still] who I am. If what you're saying is true, there'd be a lot more nuns in the world." I agree. My kids are my kids. Just because gay people can't get married doesn't mean that they're not going to be kissing in the street. That's the shock [to a lot of people]. "I don't want to see gay people in the street" -- and I'm not saying me. I live in this urban area and I come from a very Republican and rural place in Central Coast California, so I've seen both sides and I understand both sides. For me personally, which is all I can do, I don't care. If people are happy, then it's all good.

CH: I wanted to touch on W. for a second more. How do you feel about the critics who say Oliver Stone went too easy on Bush?

JB: Let me put it this way. When No Country for Old Men came out, people said, "Josh, how do you feel [about] that ending? It's so fu*ked up!" But you're still talking about it, and that's the point. The thing that it's too soft, I don't know. Oliver is older now, and I'm sure that there's a soft spot in Oliver that maybe was recently revealed -- and I don't think that he has a soft spot for Bush at all -- but I think the question, again, going into this movie is how did this guy get elected? How can we follow and learn from this? Instead of sitting there and pigeonholing and pointing the finger and all that kind of stuff that we're all so good at, by writing him off, it takes the responsibility away from us when, in essence, it is our responsibility. We're the ones that voted him in. Ballot manipulation -- whatever. Still, 45 million people voted for this fu*king guy. So it brings up an interesting question. Why at that moment in our history did we go, "We want the fallible guy. We want the guy that's not the elitist. We want the guy that we feel we can have a beer with. We want the guy elected that we feel we could be elected someday." That's the more interesting question.

CH: Last question, and certainly not in keeping with the artistic spirit of the two movies we've been discussing. Rumor has it you'll be playing Jonah Hex for DC.

JB: Don't know.

CH: Truly?

JB: Truly.