The haters came for ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ star Josh Brolin when he played villain Thanos in ‘Avengers: Infinity War.’ But we dare you not to like him a little more after seeing his reaction to his beloved castmates. USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES – Josh Brolin has a quick note about the superhero carnage his “Avengers: Infinity War” villain Thanos wrought this summer.
To be fair, even Brolin, 50, wasn’t aware of just how bad the death toll would be until he watched the April world premiere with Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and the two discovered the shocking surprise twist — Thanos’ instant disintegration of major superheroes! — a secret kept under wraps by directors Anthony and Joseph Russo.
“I was literally sitting in the theater going, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God. Spider-Man just disintegrated. That’s not OK,’ ” Brolin remembers, comically aghast. “I looked at Hemsworth and he looked at me. He smiled and was like, ‘Your career is over.’ “
That is definite superhero sour grapes, because Brolin is having the most gangbuster film summer ever as he prepares to star in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” (opening Friday).
April’s behemoth “Infinity War” continues to delight audiences, recently passing $2 billion in worldwide box office. To top it off, there’s his role as futuristic soldier Cable in May’s R-rated “Deadpool 2,” in which he travels back in time to kick butt alongside Ryan Reynolds.
For an outwardly gruff guy who has made a career of not smiling on-screen, even Brolin has to break into a grin while speaking at Los Angeles’ Four Seasons Hotel.
“I don’t smile that much,” Brolin admits. “And I’ve had a level of paranoia that’s less than fun. But I have reminded myself — seriously, this is as honest as I can be — where I’ve said, ‘It’s OK to enjoy this moment. This doesn’t happen. And it’s happening.’ “
Not only is it happening, but Brolin is finding unprecedented popularity playing complicated, complex characters whose actions can be loathsome.
After giving Emily Blunt’s idealistic FBI agent Kate Mercer a brutal lesson in real-world government drug-war tactics in 2015’s critically acclaimed “Sicario,” Brolin’s CIA operative Matt Graver returns for a new operation with killer Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) in “Day of the Soldado.” The emotionally disturbed Mercer is not part of this mission.
Graver aims to start a war between Mexican drug cartels by kidnapping a kingpin’s daughter (Isabela Moner). But when Alejandro shows empathy and refuses to kill the girl who could blow the whistle on the whole botched operation, Graver moves to kill him. No hard feelings.
“It’s (Graver’s) mission. But he’s a puppet for a factory of decision-makers,” says Brolin.
You might wish for Alejandro to survive. But it’s impossible not to like Brolin’s Graver. Or his Thanos. Or his Cable.
“Josh has a way of bringing the humanity out of every character he plays, despite their reality,” says “Sicario” director Stefano Sollima.
His ultimate baddie Thanos makes very unpopular decisions like, well, wiping out half the universe based on real-world overpopulation demands for scarce resources. Brolin added a higher level of villain thoughtfulness on the set.
“The Russos were like, ‘You’re doing something that is kind of creating a sympathetic version of this guy.’ And I was like, ‘Is that bad?’ ” Brolin recalls. No, the directors wanted to see more. “They were like, ‘Let’s go further with it.’ “
It doesn’t mean Brolin (and Thanos) didn’t enjoy crunching the Hulk with a cheap-shot kick — “I love that Thanos uses a knee. That was great.” And Brolin was cool with choking out demigod Loki (Tom Hiddleston), a longtime Marvel favorite. All of this in the first 1 minutes of “Infinity War.”
Brolin says he did have sympathy for Hiddleston, who was “obsessed” with nailing what looks to be his last scene as Loki.
“He had been with that character for so long. And he’s so lauded for doing it,” says Brolin. “Tom was so vulnerable at that moment. So choking him out wasn’t the most fun thing I have ever done.”
But Brolin loves the fan furor on the internet over his lightning rod characters, especially Thanos.
“On Instagram people are posting things like, ‘I hate you,’ ” says Brolin. “That’s fantastic. I’m, like, the one guy who smiles when he sees that. It’s like, ‘It worked.’ “
This is all well-done fiction, after all. In reality, Brolin is already showing he’s going to be a doting father to a new daughter with wife Kathryn Boyd, 30, which he announced in May — the cherry on top of his best professional summer.
“When we found it was a girl, we had three crazy days where we both went soft,” says Brolin, describing himself as a Pillsbury Dough Boy of emotion.
The softness won’t last on-screen. Brolin plays a hunter in Netflix’s “The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter” (out July 6) and next month he returns to the Atlanta set as Thanos to shoot the rest of “Avengers 4,” due out May 2019.
He’ll also reprise Cable with Reynolds in a “X-Force” movie. There are not many details, but Brolin insists he can improve on the performance. Even with critical acclaim for the part, he’s driven to fine-tune Cable’s chemistry with Deadpool that came together fully after filming, when the actors bantered during the “Deadpool 2” media tour.
“I do like the way it turned out. But I thought I could have been better,” says Brolin. “But then it clicked. I got to know (Reynolds) better. I trust him more. And we started this volley where it was like, ‘This is actually fun.’ “
So while it’s currently the Summer of Brolin at movie theaters, he’s only going to get better. Especially with Cable.
“Thank God. Man. I literally want to redeem myself to myself,” he says. “I want to do a better version of what I do.”