An Imprisoned Soul: Joe Doucett
One thing was always clear about this new production of Oldboy: it would take
its lead actor to the very brink, requiring someone capable of maneuvering at
the steepest edges of the human psyche. One person capable of that, the
filmmakers all agreed, would be Josh Brolin, who has come to the fore with
unpredictable roles in No Country For Old Men, W. (as President George W. Bush),
Milk, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and True Grit, among others. He will also
be seen this year in Jason Reitman's Labor Day.
"Josh is not one of those actors who only does one thing - he's very
flexible," says Spike Lee. "And I always love actors who never hit the same note
twice. What he does in this film is a tour de force, because he finds a way to
play someone who is locked away for a long, long, long time and then is just
thrust out to deal with a world that is not the same as the one he left behind.
He really went there fully."
Brolin came to the role with total commitment, ready and willing to
manipulate his weight from bloated to brawny and to stretch his mind to
undertake all the emotions of Joe Doucett's strange and harrowing journey. He,
too, had been a fan of the first film and was surprised by his initial reaction
to Protosevich's script.
"When I read Mark's script, I had the same reaction that I had when I first
saw Chan-Wook Park's film. It was an organic, visceral reaction to this
horrendous climax, where I literally threw the script down, just thinking 'oh my
God that's awful. It's awful but it's brilliant.' I'm not really interested in
spending two hours in a seat unless I'm going to be moved in some way, and
that's why I did Oldboy - it packs a punch."
Brolin admits he was full of questions and fears as he began to contemplate
being on screen solo in extreme states of anguish and dismay throughout the
entire first part of the film, but he says working with Spike Lee helped to keep
him on course. "Spike is very hands-on and yet he's very compassionate. I mean,
during the hotel room scenes we would do seven minute, eight minute takes. As an
actor, you're making stuff up, you're hoping some of it works, and you're in the
moment - and what Spike did is create an ambiance where anything truly goes,"
Brolin comments. "It could be something dangerous, silly, embarrassing,
frustrating, angry, sad -- it was all just wide open. Spike has a major interest
in the art of behavior, and he pushes people to want to do better and better,
which is a great thing to be around."
To better understand the nature of Joe's experience, Brolin talked candidly
with former Death Row inmates who had been wrongly convicted. At the same time,
he went into physical training for the fight sequences. While preparing both
mind and body, he also began pondering the deeper reasons why human beings have
always found tales of revenge so cathartic.
"I think we go see movies about revenge so we can live it out through out
people," he observes. "What also makes this particular revenge story so
interesting is that what happens to Joe - being pulled out of society for 20
years, was in some ways the best thing that ever happened to him. He wants
revenge but whether he sees it at first or not, his story is also very much
about atonement, about making amends and confronting the truth about yourself."
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