'Hail, Caesar!' Star Josh Brolin on the Coens: "I Don't Know Why They Like Me"

Hail Caesar -SCARLETT JOHANSSON  and JOSH BROLIN - Still 2 - H 2016
Courtesy of Alison Rosa/Universal Studios

The star of the Berlin opener, which hits U.S. theaters Friday, talks to THR about working with the enigmatic filmmakers (for a third time) and getting his big break from Quentin Tarantino.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Josh Brolin came to Berlin for the first time in 2011, when he joined Joel and Ethan Coen for True Grit. Now they’re back with Hail, Caesar!, starring Brolin, 47, as a fictionalized version of movie executive Eddie Mannix in an affectionate satire about what happens when a big studio star (George Clooney) is abducted.

When did you get to see Hail, Caesar! for the first time?

I haven’t yet. Usually I spend time with Joel and Ethan when they edit, and I haven’t with this movie, strangely enough. I didn’t have the time.

So the Coens allow you into the editing room?

Yes. I don’t know why. I don’t know why they even like me! Not that I’m sitting there going, “Uh-oh, don’t do that, keep it on me, keep it on me!” But I enjoy it. It’s a very simple process with them. They’re so prepared, and yet it’s not stifling; it’s still a very collaborative experience. … Whereas, with Woody Allen, he’ll be like, “Yeah, say it in your own words,” and then you’ll say something and he’ll go, “But it’s not written that way.” The Coens are not like that at all. It always surprises me how easy they make it seem.

What are Joel and Ethan like in person?

They don’t spend a lot of personal time together, which I find interesting, because they get along and work so well together. I don’t think they’re avoiding each other; I just think they spend so much time together working that it’s a nice break. I’ve heard, “Joel is the more talkative one, and Ethan is …,” but I’ve seen Joel be very quiet and Ethan be extremely talkative. They’re different enough where it just makes a better entity, but they have similar sensibilities.

It’s ironic that you’ve now done three features and a short with them, because they hesitated before casting you in No Country for Old Men.

It’s so much more dramatic than that. I was doing Grindhouse with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino and had been told by Sam Shepard that this great book had come out by Cormac McCarthy. I was trying to get a job. It was like, “Hey, can I [do an audition tape] for this?” [The Coens said,] “Yes, you can.” Quentin said, “I’ll direct it,” and Robert said, “Let me shoot it.” So we did this tape and sent it to the Coens, and their response was, “Who lit it?” It was probably the best looking audition anyone has ever seen.