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Josh Brolin Comes Into His Own

Actor Josh Brolin poses on the press line at the premiere of the Miramax Films feature film "No Country For Old Men" in Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2007. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg)
AP Photo
"There's no type of movie that I don't wanna do," Josh Brolin said. "I wanna try and do 'em all. I like the idea of that. But I just wanna make sure that the movies are somewhat original and unique."

That pretty much sums up the breakout year the 39-year-old actor is enjoying.

In the Robert Rodriguez film "Planet Terror," Brolin plays a creepy doctor beset by zombies. He plays Charlize Theron's boss in the Paul Haggis war drama, "In the Valley of Ellah." Then there's Ridley Scott's crime epic "American Gangster," in which he holds his own as a corrupt and cocksure detective alongside two of the biggest names in Hollywood - Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington.

But it's his latest role as soft-spoken cowboy Llewellyn Moss in the Coen Brothers' "No Country for Old Men," that has critics taking notice.

"I like this feeling like I'm doing the best work there is to be done as opposed to phoning it in," he told CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers. "Or, you know, when you work with people like the Coens and Ridley Scott and Paul Haggis and Quentin (Tarantino) and Robert and all these guys, they love storytelling. They're kids! And there's not a lot of ego on the set. And for me, it makes it a lot easier."

But as critics call Brolin's performance singular, viewers will be forgiven if both his name and leading-man good looks appear familiar. He is the son of actor James Brolin, stepson of Barbra Streisand, and the husband of Oscar-nominated actress Diane Lane.

"I will always be James Brolin's son," he said. "I will always be - at least as long as they're married - Barbra Streisand's stepson. I will always be my mother's son, my brother's brother and my friends' friends.

"But for some reason, there's a nepotistic idea of what it is in becoming a second generation actor and all. It's in my DNA, they tell me. In the beginning, I think it's tough, you know? You play into the whole perception that it's a bad thing. And then, later on, you start to not care, you know?"

Brolin starred alongside Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in "American Gangster," and said it was intimidating for him because they are two of his favorite actors.

He did his first scene with Crowe and had to wear a suit that was custom made for him. But the suit ended up being extremely tight.

Photos: "American Gangster"
"I had never met Ridley. So I showed up on the set with this great cream suit and all that. And I start rehearsing with Russell. And Ridley says, you know, 'Really own the room. You're this guy - feeling of invincibility. And if you just really own the room even though it's not your room, it's your city. It's your country, you know?'" Brolin said. "And I was like, 'Okay, I got it.' So I grabbed a chair. And I started running it with Russell. And I put the chair next to Russell to get close to him 'cause I wanted to get through the nerves and all that. And the ass of my pants ripped wide - about 12 inches."

"I was keeping my butt away from everybody 'cause I didn't want anybody to see or the crew. And my voice started to shake. And this sweat started to come down my face. And I did the worst acting I've ever done in my life, bar none.

"Anyway, I went back to my trailer," he continued. "I took off my pants. I gave it to wardrobe. And I waited for Ridley to show up to fire me 'cause I knew that was gonna happen. There was just no way it wasn't gonna happen."

It was excruciating, he said. After 15 minutes, Scott came by Brolin's dressing room.

"I open the door in my underwear with my tie still on and my coat still on. I started to explain myself. And he said, 'You know? What you were doing in there was wonderful. There was a vulnerable side to what you had brought to it that I didn't really see when I read the part. And I didn't realize that you were gonna bring that,'" Brolin recalled. "'So, stick with that, it's really great.'

"OK, you got it."

In "No Country for Old Men," Brolin's character stumbles onto a drug deal gone wrong and makes off with a bag full of cash, which quickly has him on the run, pursued by a sadistic killer played by Javier Bardem.

"I love that character," Brolin said. "I love who he is because he's so full of integrity and purity."

Yes, he steals, Brolin concedes, but he steals from the bad guys.

"It's dirty money, and he's gonna make good with that money," he said. "What do you do, you know? You take it to the cops. There's maybe one sheriff in town. You know, he'll take it home. So, why not just take it for yourself and do something, you know, amazing with it, for your wife or your future family and all that?

"People, they said, 'Do you learn anything from your characters?' From that character, for sure. Any of the others, probably not. But that character for sure."

Brolin has had his own share of personal drama. In 2004, he and new wife Diane Lane had a domestic situation and the police were called to their house. He said he understands that that incident has altered the public perception.

"There's always a difference between what really happens," he said. "I'm glad that, you know, the whole of society wasn't in our house at that moment, just so they could see the real thing. But it was extremely embarrassing for us, for sure."

Particularly for a couple that has always chosen to maintain a low-profile, much like Brolin's parents did. Although he was born in L.A., he was raised by his father and mother Jane Agee 200 miles and a world away from Hollywood - on a ranch in Paso Robles, in rural central California.

"He was in the world. But we didn't go on sets, really," he said. "We didn't spend a lot. My mom was very adamant about not growing up around that. We grew up around a lot of country western people. That was a huge thing for me, you know? Much bigger than actors."

Bowers caught up with Brolin in nearby Templeton, at the local livestock auction, where as a youngster he logged long days as a cattle wrangler working for $6 an hour.

"This is a huge part of me; this is my roots," he said. "This is what inspires me. I would much rather be here than, you know, surrounded by concrete and fake trees, you know? This is what works for me. I just did a short film that was all inspired by this. I've written many, many plays, short stories that are inspired by this, a lot of characters inspired by this. 'Cause look at these guys. I mean, this is the real deal, this guy, you know? And if you misrepresent him, you're dead."

"I remember when I became an actor, my friends went, 'What? Why? I thought you hated it.' And I thought the whole concept of it was just sickening to you.' And it was. But I got on stage. And I improvised. And I remember making people laugh. And that was a whole new thing. It wasn't like the serious 'scene,' you know? It was more like, 'Wow, this is fun! And this is communal, about creating something from scratch.' I liked that. But I was awful!"

He said he tried out for parts hundreds of times and heard 'no' again and again, until finally Steven Spielberg said 'yes' with a now-classic movie, "The Goonies." It was that 1985 teen adventure that brought Brolin to public attention.

But it was Brolin's second film - the cult classic "Thrashin'" - that proved to be a turning point.

"I cried when I saw that movie," he said. "Because I felt so horrendously bad. I felt like I needed to find a new profession quick and start working on that. Or really take it seriously and find out whether I could learn it."

Brolin headed east to New York "to learn from the best" he says and, in the process formed a theater group in Rochester, N.Y. He wrote and directed. And he "disappeared" into a steady stream of character roles, like on television's "Mister Sterling," and in films like "Flirting with Disaster" where he plays a bisexual federal agent.

"I would rather work on films that resonate with me just personally and not even think about what other people are gonna enjoy or not enjoy. And if they enjoy them, great. But at least I went into it with the right intention, with a pure intention."

In this year to remember - Brolin says - what excites him most is a short film he wrote and directed, a thriller called "X" which stars his teenage daughter Eden.

"It just got into its first festival, Santa Barbara international film festival, which I'm happy about. More happy about that than pretty much anything," he said. "Because when you create something it goes back to what we were talking about, why'd you get into acting, just cause you can create something from scratch, from nothing, and there's a fear in that and there's excitement in that. It's always changing. So for me, it's like having 50 jobs. I can be the cowboy. I can be the ATF agent who's bisexual and has an armpit fetish.

"I like that, man. 'Cause I just get bored really easy. I do."