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Josh Brolin on Milk

Published November 24, 2008 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Focus Features
This has been the year of Josh Brolin playing politicians. After his bravado performance in W, audiences can see him play Dave White in Milk. As the disgruntled San Francisco supervisor who assassinated gay rights activist Harvey Milk, Brolin was a little worried about his reception in the Bay Area.

Brolin Spits Out Milk


"I was afraid," Brolin said. "I knew that San Francisco had really embraced the fact that this movie was being done and Gus and Sean and all that but when I went down there, I felt the same way about W. I talked to Oliver about maybe needing security and all that because I didn’t want to be some guy like Rush Limbaugh. I was a little scared and I went down there and everybody who I talked to said, 'You’re playing Dan White. That’s so great. We’re so happy you’re involved and so happy you’re doing this movie.'"

That reassurance was vital to Brolin because he had his own doubts. "My initial reaction in doing the movie wasn’t like 'God, I’ve got to play this character.' With this movie, it was more 'I have to be involved in this movie. It’s an important film.' And San Francisco felt the same way so I got no negativity whatsoever, no 'Why would you play a guy like that who’s sympathetic? How dare you? He was a monster.' Because he is a monster, you already go into that with that baggage. It’s like Bush. You already go in there with that baggage. Why didn’t Oliver slam him more? He’s already slammed, man. He’s gone from 90% to 25%. A more interesting question is how did this guy become the f*cking president? That’s pretty interesting to me. That’s a compelling story."


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That said, Brolin did humanize White. He does not come across as a villain or a homophobe. "Whether he was a homophobe or not, personally I think who cares because I don’t think that was his motive. I think if you look at the relationship, especially in the beginning, between him and Dan White, they’re polar opposites. Dan White was put in there, put in that situation by the Fire Department and by the Police Department to really bring back San Francisco to what it was founded on, this kind of white, super-white, Catholic mentality. It’s an impossibility. You just can’t do it. I don’t care what kind of politician you are. You can’t do it. And the gay and lesbian movement had taken its own life, and the hippie movement and all that. So he was given an impossible task. Also, he didn’t have the foresight, he didn’t have the wherewithal and the political skills to realize, hey, this is happening right now, it’s going to hit a peak, it will start to bleed into the mainstream, and then I’ll have my time, and to look for those opportunities. He just got more frustrated and more frustrated."

It was that frustration, right or wrong, that gave White humanity for Brolin. "He was the big fish in the small pond in his district, then he was suddenly the very small fish in a huge sea of City Hall and he go more frustrated, but I think he tried to do the right thing. That’s when I started seeing the human. He tried to. He was frustrated because he wanted more money and $9,600 a year, that’s nothing. He had the kids and the wife and all that and then at Pier 39, he started a little chip stand where he was trying to make more money, and then he tried to resign and then they wouldn’t let him resign. They were saying, 'Get back in there. You have to do this for us. You are the great white hope.' Then Mayor Moscone wouldn’t take him back in. So I understand on a very human, basic level when all your power is taken away, and you’re sitting there and your legacy is just nothing, it’s dirt, with your family, with your friends, with your community, everything, and you think, the only tangible thing I can do, the only garnering of power that I have left is to grab a gun, load the gun, point the gun, shoot the gun, kill the person, cause and effect. That’s the only tangible thing I can imagine at that moment. I don’t excuse it obviously but I understand that desperation."


Milk opens to theaters on November 26th.

For the trailers, poster, stills and more movie info, go to the Milk Movie Page.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Focus Features
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