© 2024 WUTC
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

In 'Hail, Caesar!' Josh Brolin Explores The Debauchery Of Old Hollywood


JOSH BROLIN: (As Eddie Mannix) Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.


In the newest Coen brothers movie, "Hail, Caesar!," Josh Brolin plays a faithful family man, a man who wrestles with guilt, even over the little sins, like sneaking cigarettes and lying to his wife about it.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) How long since your last confession?

BROLIN: (As Eddie Mannix) Twenty-seven hours.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) It's really too often. You're not that bad.

SIEGEL: In fact, this postwar Hollywood executive, Eddie Mannix, whom Brolin plays, is quite good. Sure, he has to manipulate a gossip columnist or two. He has to deliver ransom money. He sometimes slaps a movie star - whatever it takes to get his movies made. But he is serious and responsible. And Josh Brolin joins us now from our studio in New York. Welcome to the program.

BROLIN: Thank you very much, Robert.

SIEGEL: I can't see you, so are you wearing a fedora right now?

BROLIN: No, no, and I feel very out of place, I have to say.

SIEGEL: This is really a decent character you play. He's based on a real-life Hollywood fixer of the same name, Eddie Mannix, who died in 1963. I gather the real-life character wasn't quite as upstanding as your character.

BROLIN: He wasn't, and I love that you said that because he's as pure as it gets. When you look at the real Eddie Mannix - and Eddie Mannix, the real guy, was pretty ruthless, but this was more of, like, an amalgamation of Louis B. Mayer and there was a PR guy, Strickland - Harold Strickland. So he's a much more puritanical version of the kind of morbid characters of way back when.

SIEGEL: "Hail, Caesar!," which is a very funny movie, is a period piece. And I just wonder if you've found yourself having to explain to some younger moviegoers who Esther Williams, Busby Berkeley or Herbert Marcuse, for that matter, were.

BROLIN: Yeah, and to myself, too. Yeah, Esther Williams' films, I suddenly have become a fan of now. And I really learned through the Coens to love the great cosmetic fodder of Esther Williams.

SIEGEL: We should explain to the younger mystified listeners right now that (laughter) Esther Williams made movies in which she swam a lot. And there was a lot of - this was before water ballet was an Olympic sport. It was what you saw Esther Williams do in the movies.

BROLIN: Exactly, and now Scarlett Johansson doing it, thank God.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) And now Scarlett Johansson doing it. The movie immerses us into a Hollywood that's still in the grips of the studio system, a system that, I guess, you really never worked in.

BROLIN: But my father did.

SIEGEL: Your father worked in it?


SIEGEL: How do you appreciate the differences between Hollywood then and Hollywood now?

BROLIN: I don't know. I mean, I think it's much more corporate now, and I don't think there is the cultivation of a movie star, per se. I mean, there were stories of Louis B. Mayer's secretary, who actually found Clark Gable. And he had bad teeth and big ears, and Mayer didn't respond to him at all. And the secretary was the one that said, there's something. If we just put him in acting school and if we take him to fencing school, movement school, whatever it is, I think this guy's going to be the next big thing. And you don't really hear that very often. There's something about that time where you were cultivating a product that was called a movie star. And - I don't know - something more mythological about it. It was fun, even though it was totally controlled, totally manipulated, totally corrupt and completely debaucherous.

SIEGEL: There was another figure in the movies of the day - the cowboy actor who, in order to be an actor, was also a singer and, ideally, could do tricks with a lariat, I guess. There is an actor in this movie who does all of that.

BROLIN: Yeah, Alden Ehrenreich.

SIEGEL: Alden Ehrenreich...


SIEGEL: ...Learned to do rope tricks for this last.

BROLIN: Yeah, and with spaghetti.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) That's right.

BROLIN: So the great thing about now is we'll never know whether he really learned that, whether it was a stunt rope, whether it was a digital rope. You'll never know.

SIEGEL: Never know.

BROLIN: And you don't need to know. Why break the mystery?

SIEGEL: What's it like working for the Coen brothers?

BROLIN: Oh, so boring.

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

BROLIN: They're the most uneventful, nonplussed people you will ever spend time with. No, they're authentic. They haven't read the manual on how you should make movies or how you should act in public. They just do what they do.

SIEGEL: You know, I was curious - in order to make a movie about a movie studio that's making movies, the Coen brothers for "Hail, Caesar!" have to have scenes with lots of Roman legionnaires, who I don't think - they're not computer-generated legionnaires, are they? Or am I being naive?

BROLIN: Why would I ever tell you that?

SIEGEL: I'm sorry...

BROLIN: Even if I knew.

SIEGEL: It looked very expensive to me, you know? It looked like a big-budget film.

BROLIN: It is very expensive. It's one of the greatest, biggest-budgeted films since "Star Wars" in 1978.

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

BROLIN: My prediction is this movie will make so much money it will make people's heads spin.

SIEGEL: Which is...

BROLIN: We brought in thousands and thousands of actual Romans from Rome...

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

BROLIN: ...To do this film. Everything you see is authentic and real, so don't question anything.

SIEGEL: Josh Brolin, thanks for talking with us.

BROLIN: Robert, thank you so much. Thanks for having me on.

SIEGEL: Josh Brolin appears in the Coen brothers' new movie, "Hail, Caesar!" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.