Once Spike Lee came onboard in July of 2011, Brolin instantly clicked with him, promising a psychologically raw performance that would match Lee's wish to experiment on-set in New Orleans. “There's a lot of stuff somewhere on some drive that nobody should ever see—a lot of embarrassing moments, a lot of exposing moments, whether they be emotional or physical, and a lot of failures of my own which I'm happy about because that's my job,” he said. “My job is to fail in the biggest way I possibly can and hopefully out of that will be one nugget that will be useable. If I'm doing theatre, you rehearse for five to six weeks in order to find that out so you can give a finished product when you get onstage. Then that morphs every performance. Here, you're just going for it, and then it's up to Spike to cut and make a solid narrative out of it.”
Aside from the emotional difficulties, there was also the case of the physical; one of the centerpieces of Park's original is a one-take hallway fight that, in Lee's version, involves just as many opponents and two floor levels. Brolin called the prospect of pulling the feat off “horrible,” but admitted that it was ultimately very satisfying to complete.
“I cried after we finished our last take, when we knew it was the right take—I think was the seventh,” he said. "I walked about five minutes away and started bawling, because I didn't think I could pull it off. I panicked and was working out twice a day for four hours total, along with a 12-hour working day, and I was very, very tired. I'm 45 now, so it's not like I'm 20 years old and bouncing around. I'm not like a rubber band; more like a board. I was really happy with [the fight]. I think it's three times longer than the original's, so it was really ambitious for me as an actor. As an actor, not an athlete.”
Brolin points to his “morbid curiosity of what makes people react to certain extreme situations” as an impetus for different roles, and aside from prepping for “Everest,” the survival drama co-starring John Hawkes and Jake Gyllenhaal, he also recently spent time with Paul Thomas Anderson on his Thomas Pynchon adaptation “Inherent Vice”. Calling the “There Will Be Blood” director's film the “craziest most brilliant experience of my life,” the actor expanded upon his luck in working some of the top-tier directors working today.
“My dad said recently, and I really appreciated it, 'There's a lot of directors out there but there's very few storytellers.' And working with these extreme geeks like myself who are very much these film fanatics is so nice. You're in this kind of iconic awe, and then you get to the set and you go, 'Okay, I actually have to work, we actually want to make this as good as I can be.' Like with Paul: he was taking stuff out of 'Inherent Vice', whittling away at what was in the book, and I was saying wouldn't it be great if we could bring some of what was in the book back," Brolin said. "Who the fuck am I to say that, you know what I mean?”
He added, “But then we start collaborating and putting stuff in there, and realizing, 'Okay…let's take it out, let's colorize it even more with something else, and then how are we going do this on set?' You realize all the work you've done around a table was meaningless, but it fed something. You don't know what it was, but you're always looking for that elusive thing.”
Audiences will soon see for themselves how the many elements of Lee's “Oldboy” finally gel together apart from Park's version, but Brolin believes the viewer unfamiliar with either has the greatest experience. “Some lady earlier said she was flanked by two people watching the film who hadn't seen the original, and that their reaction was so visceral. I would never comment on whether the movie is good or bad, but if people are reacting, that's the point. The people who get it to watch it free of the hype. Not only that, hopefully they'll be interested enough by their reaction to go back and see the original which is I think—I don't think it's a flawless film, but I think it's unbelievable.”
Spike Lee's “Oldboy” hits theatres in wide release on November 27th.