Playback: Josh Brolin on ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado,’ ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and ‘Deadpool 2’

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

Josh Brolin is having quite the moment. With marquee roles as the cosmic supervillain Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War,” time-jumping cyborg soldier Cable in “Deadpool 2” and his first-ever reprise, as deep-state operative Matt Graver in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” the Summer of Brolin is leaving the Oscar nominee feeling a touch exposed. But it’s the result of a career trajectory that has skyrocketed ever since the turning point of “No Country for Old Men” 11 years ago.

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“This sounds so lame but I’m glad it’s happening now and not [when I was younger],” the 50-year-old star says of his success. “I just wouldn’t have dealt well. There’s a semblance of maturity where I just don’t believe a lot of the bullshit. There’s a nice moment happening right now but do I think it defines me? No. But I’m appreciative of the opportunity that it creates to stretch this out into more parts, colorful parts, more of an opportunity to challenge myself.”

In “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” opening June 29, Brolin got a shot at returning to a role for the first time in his career. He’s starred in sequels in the past, from “Men in Black 3” to “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” to the two superhero hits currently in theaters, but he’s usually dropping into a balance of well-established camaraderie, the new guy in the mix. And movies like “Sicario” don’t often see sequels, so the chance to take another crack at Graver, and to work alongside longtime friend Benicio del Toro again, was a unique joy.

“The problem with doing a sequel sometimes is if the initial movie does well, studios want to copy what you did because they think that’s what people want,” Brolin says. “And yet, times change, and even if you go two years, it’s just a different ambiance out there. I like that they brought in a new director [Stefano Sollima]. I like that Denis [Villeneuve], who wanted to do it, wasn’t able to do it. I like that [cinematographer] Dariusz Wolski did it. I like the change of narrative without Emily [Blunt], even though I love Emily and we miss Emily a lot. So it was really fun, because usually with an isolated experience with an isolated character, you’re still getting to know the character as you’re shooting. Three weeks into it you’re still like, ‘I don’t know who the f— this guy is,’ whereas a second one, you thoroughly know who he is and then you put yourself in a different situation where there’s a little more gravitas, there’s a little more at stake. To me the first movie is more of a subtle thriller, whereas this one, it feels more personal to me. It feels more emotional.”

There’s plenty to talk about with the other projects currently in theaters, so we go long. Regarding “Deadpool 2,” Brolin talks about bulking up for the part and taking it as a challenge that people thought a man his age wouldn’t be able to cut it. And on that note of sometimes needing time to find a character, he says he was still feeling out Cable when the cameras had stopped rolling.

“Going into it I think ‘Deadpool’ was probably the most uncomfortable because it’s a tone of comedy that I just don’t know,” Brolin says. “It’s like doing ‘Saturday Night Live’ for the first time and you’re like, ‘What is this and how do I find myself in this?’ And I only have a little bit [of time] to do it. Did it work? Yeah, it worked fine. But I think we got the relationship [between Deadpool and Cable] when we started marketing the movie. Ryan [Reynolds] and I just kind of found it, and I was like, ‘This is what ‘X-Force’ should be.'”

The Russo brothers’ “Avengers” blockbuster, meanwhile, proved to be one of the most delightful experiences of Brolin’s career. He came into it assuming a much different experience than the creatively enlightening one he got.

“I kind of expected to be surrounded by cameras and they just wanted to see my face move and they were going to humor me by making me say lines and act, but they were really just going to use my movement and draw whatever they wanted and then I’d loop it later,” Brolin admits. “It wasn’t like that at all. It was very practical. When I went in for the first time in mo-cap and I just sat with Joe and Anthony [Russo] and we just talked, it was like Brando talking in ‘Apocalypse Now’ to Coppola, not that I would liken myself to Brando, but you know what I mean. We were just talking about the character and what it is and they were like, ‘Try it. Just improvise something.’ And I’d sit down and give a speech. And, ‘Now talk to a young child. Talk to your 6-year-old about why not to hit another 6-year-old.’ We would just start riffing. It was like going back to Lower East Side black box theater. I was like, ‘This is what I needed right now. I’m getting so involved with the business of things and what’s the distribution,’ and this was like doing away with that. It felt really experimental and inspired.”

The conversation ranges from reflections on Gus Van Sant’s “Milk” (10 years old this year) to thoughts on collaborating with Paul Thomas Anderson on “Inherent Vice” and being gobsmacked by “Phantom Thread.” The latter brings him to actor Daniel Day-Lewis’ (latest) retirement. Brolin empathizes.

“I get the quitting. I understand,” he says. “It’s not even because the business has changed so much or any of that. When you lend yourself to something completely, it’s exhausting. And yet people have this kind of — especially if you’re somewhat successful — they have this idea that everything is perfect. ‘Your life is perfect. You’re driven around in a waxed car all the time.’ And you’re like, ‘No, it’s not.’ And it’s weird when too many people have that perspective because you’re like, ‘Everything is becoming unreal.’ I remember Johnny Depp saying, ‘I’m more comfortable on a set than off a set.’ At that point you go, ‘Ehhhh.’ So I get it.”

For more, including extended thoughts on that feeling of overexposure and a whole lot more, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

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Josh Brolin photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback Podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety

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