Portraying a president requires more than caricature
Josh Brolin admits that when Oliver Stone first offered him the part of George W. Bush in “W.,” Brolin left the meeting thinking, “Is he crazy?”
After wearing down the “No Country for Old Men” star with talk of something satirical yet empathetic, of a film that fully embraces Bush’s life from spoiled brat to decider-in-chief, Stone got his man.
“This guy had major changes in his life, and that’s what’s so compelling about the story,” says Brolin, who researched the part heavily, from reading books about Bush to learning about the evangelical movement, to talking with people “who knew Bush but didn’t want me to tell anybody that they had talked to me.”
Ultimately, Brolin saw a guy with a charmed upbringing whose “monumental achievement is becoming president, not what he did as president. It wasn’t handed to him.”
A particular challenge was taking Bush’s familiar struggle with articulateness — such as his infamous mangling of the “fool me once” expression — and finding something human in the moment.
“I know people like that, they get to the punchline and screw it up,” he says. “So I put myself in the position where you really feel lost, and that’s why it comes off as a little bit sardonic but fairly dramatic. There’s a sadness to it, too.”
Most important, Brolin, who can also be seen in theaters as Dan White in the Gus Van Sant-directed “Milk,” felt protected by Stone during the grueling nine-week Louisiana shoot, for which the actor had to be intensely focused. They developed a shorthand about what each needed.
“Oliver wrote me a beautiful letter at the end of the shoot, and I’m paraphrasing it, but he said, ‘Never have I worked with an actor to whom I could say, “Live oaks are greater than rocket-fueled farts over E is greater than two squared,” and have him go “I get it” and then do the scene and blow me away.’ ”
Favorite film this year
” ‘The Visitor.’ Loved it. Was blown away. I loved my friend Richard Jenkins in it, but I loved the movie, too, and that usually doesn’t happen.”
“Go with your gut.”
“My friend Anthony Zerbe. Once I start to get dark, he just holds a light to everything and I see it from a different perspective. He’s a great inspiration.”