Josh Brolin talks about throwing punches with Sean Penn in ‘Gangster Squad’

One of the most distinct memories I have involving Josh Brolin took place on the set of “Jonah Hex,” where we interviewed him standing outside on a muggy New Orleans night, a few yards away from a swamp where there were alligators visibly checking us out.  Brolin’s extensive prosthetic work in the film made it nearly impossible to understand him when he spoke, but he seemed delighted by the way it affected him.

Brolin strikes me as the kind of guy who loves to immerse himself in a role, losing himself in the little details.  I think the way he has evolved as a performer has been impressive, and it would have been impossible to guess back in the early days of “The Goonies” and “Thrashin'” that he would evolve into one of our most interesting leading men.  As I mentioned to him at the end of this interview, I value his presence in movies precisely because of the mileage that is so evident on him these days.  This is a guy who has lived, and who has built up his fair share of scar tissue.

So often, actors these days are so pampered, and they start work so young, that they never really make that transition into adulthood.  We live in a “dude” culture now, and Brolin seems like a guy who has very little time for that sort of thing.  He loves to push back in interviews, and each time I’ve talked to him, there’s the sense that he’s constantly testing in conversation, looking to see if you’re being genuine or if you’re just on autopilot.

The things I like about “Gangster Squad” have a lot to do with Brolin, who cuts exactly the right sort of figure to play Sgt. John O’Mara, the honest cop who ends up anchoring the Gangster Squad.  His cross of rugged masculinity and stubborn honesty is really appealing, and I like that he can mix it up, doing big mainstream entertainment like this and also taking chances with work like “W.” and “Milk.”

Best part of this?  When he threatens to rat me out to Sean Penn.  Totally worth my time showing up for the interview just to see him laugh like that.

“Gangster Squad” is open today in theaters everywhere.