Jonah Hex is a cynical, yet honor-bound bounty hunter roaming the West in an apocalyptic post-Civil War America. Scarred both mentally and physically by what happened to him in combat, he is disconnected from the world... until he gets some 'professional' help from Lilah, an imprisoned prostitute... Loosely based on the beloved DC comic book antihero created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga, this new film is an audacious attempt to bring to the big screen a narrative arc which has (on paper) roamed not just the West, but also the centuries...
Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier sat down with the films stars, Josh Brolin and Megan Fox to talk about the perils of bringing a cherished figure to a new medium, the joys of extreme make-up and corsetry and the power of retribution...
Emmanuel Itier: Josh, you’re working from a script and a graphic novel, but what was it like to bring a type of superhero to the screen that hadn’t been filmed before? And Megan, was this a nice break away from all the robots?
Josh Brolin: What robots? Oh, that’s a different one. At least stemming from a comic book that’s had three lives and wasn’t necessarily very successful, I just loved the idea that it refused to die. It was a survivalist comic book, but that allowed us to take luxuries and do what we wanted to do, as long as we had the blessing of the comic book artist. The core of the character is there, but then we kind of go off on all these different tangents.
Megan Fox: I like working on action films. I like working on movies that are comic book based that have this sort of theme because there are things I watched or loved when I was a kid. So it wasn’t really about getting away from the robots, if that’s what you were saying: I enjoyed making both films.
EI: Can you comment on the challenges of the makeup and dealing with those prosthetics on a daily basis?
JB: It was a pain in the ass! It’s not even that we didn’t have the money but that we chose to go practical with it. Lon Chaney being one of my heroes and loving the idea of morphing... any opportunity to do that, I embrace.
It’s kind of like the story that Alec Baldwin told before he did The Edge, which was in Alaska with the bear and with Anthony Hopkins. He was sitting in his nice, really warm apartment in New York reading the script, saying, “I think this could be cool,” and then smash cut to being out in the middle of nowhere when it’s 40 degrees below zero, going, “Maybe I shouldn’t have done this movie...”
We did three hours of makeup a day. It was very tough: There were many different layers. I had a mouthpiece that held my mouth all the way back that was attached to the back of my neck, and then we did three more layers on top of that. Then I walked around with a half mustache and a half beard in New Orleans for three months. It was nothing attractive. We actually had the eye which is in the comic book, but I started to get an infection within the hour. I’m not that dedicated, but to be honest with you — and I think it sounds like bulls*** but it’s not — it lent to the curmudgeon feel to the character itself.
I was definitely there: I couldn’t eat. On a lot of movies, you say you work 14 hours a day, but you really only work six. You’re in your trailer playing Nintendo the rest of the time. We actually did 14 to 16 hours a day here, so I couldn’t eat that whole time. I would stuff myself in the morning and then just drink water throughout the whole day, and it was 100 degrees. So it was a pain. Would I do it again? Yes, because it’s like having a baby... now I look at the end result and I go, “That’s pretty cool.”
EI: Jimmy Hayward said they were thinking of Megan Fox for Lilah when you, Josh also brought her up...
JB: It’s funny, though, and it kind of sucks because you go, “Guys, there wasn’t that much thought put into it.” I know what you’re all thinking, but there actually was because, however Megan was perceived, I like the idea of giving somebody - even though this is kind of an absurd and ridiculous, fun and escapist film - the opportunity like somebody gave me in saying, “Hey, we can go a little further with the acting here.”
Even though we made it fun, we did a lot of different takes where she’s crying, where she’s not crying… there’s kind of generalized bucolic dialect there. But when I read some of these articles that she’d done, as kind of as acerbic and rebellious as she could be, I wanted to see how real that was. Nobody can handle that kind of fame that fast at 22 years old, and I thought she was handling it really well. So when we met, I just wanted to make sure she was the real deal and a scrapper, and that she could go head to head with John [Malkovich] and that she could really go in there and hold her own. She’s definitely got a truck driver mentality...
EI: I think that is a compliment... Megan, do you have something to say about all of that?
MF: I think what they’re saying is wonderful. I appreciate it, and I’m humbled by the comments.
EI: Having done other action movies in the past, what was more challenging; doing the physical scenes in this movie or... squeezing into that corset?
MF: Actually, there was one gunfight scene that stunts had been choreographing for I think a couple of weeks, and I showed up and I had minutes to get it down and to rehearse it, and it was really difficult for me to shoot the old style gunslinger guns because I have tiny little baby hands, and they’re really large and really heavy. So just the physicality of actually having to pull that off was really difficult. This was more action heavy for me. The action in this movie was more intricate than in previous movies I’ve done.
MF: I loved the corset. When I showed up for camera tests, everyone was kind of horrified. They thought I was in pain or I was hurting, or that something was wrong with me because my waist was so small. But I enjoyed it and I wish they’d come back into style.
EI: As viewers we have to make some assumumptions as to how your character got there, but did you work on a back-story as to how she ended up in these circumstances?
MF: Josh and I had a conversation about what their past relationship could’ve been and why she would be so dedicated and so in love with someone who treated her the way he did and was not able to love. We came up with a back-story between the two of us of why and what things had gone on in the past, why she was so dedicated to him and so loyal and hurt for him so badly.
JB: …And why people like that get together. It’s a “Beauty and the Beast” thing physically, cosmetically, but then I think the parallel and the kinetic connection is because they’re both equally broke.
EI: Megan, when you get a character who could essentially be described as a hooker with a heart of gold, how do you make that person someone as real and convincing as you did?
MF: “Hooker with a heart of gold” was not in the character breakdown when I got it, but I just felt that it was an amazing opportunity for me to be involved in a project with Josh and John Malkovich and [Michael] Fassbender - all these incredible actors who were coming in to make this movie. I just wanted to be a part of it any way that I could. I don’t really feel like she’s that stereotypical. Perhaps you’re responding to the fact that I’m playing the character and that’s what makes it stereotypical, but it’s something completely different from anything I’ve done, and no one can accuse me of doing the same thing twice, which I’m proud of...
EI: If this film is a big hit, would you be interested in reprising Lilah in her own film?
MF: Of course. If that was an opportunity that was presented to me, absolutely: I would love that.
EI: The catch phrase in the film is really “Don’t get mad. Get even.” This is the driving force behind Jonah and his relationship to retribution. How does that compare to your real life relationships to retribution and about getting into Jonah’s motivation?
JB: Look, this is how I’ll bulls*** my way through this answer: Retribution. Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood - that whole thing of whatever anger you feel in your life, you’re riding your bike down the street when you’re 13 and somebody yells something at you or throws something at you for some reason or another, and you don’t feel the ability to fight back - whatever those little things are that happen in your life, you do feel that: It’s like the cartoon in the back of the comic book where someone kicks sand in your face.
You want that one moment where you have the perfect thing to say or the perfect punch where you don’t have to get in a fight. You can just knock the guy out with one punch and then walk away. This is my version of that. This is my wanting to live that. It comes from a dark place, but we find levity in the movie. I want to be that guy for an hour and a half. The intention is for you to leave the movie theater and feel a little bit puffed up, but not so much that you go put a cap in somebody’s ass. That’s the white version of saying that.
EI: And for you Megan?
MF: I can’t top that. I’m all full of candy-canes and lollipops. I don’t even know what that means!
EI: Josh, you’ve played fictionalized characters and real-life people. Does this fall into a middle ground? Although it’s a fictional character, there’s a real big offscreen history there that people know about. Did that change things for you?
JB: It’s nice to be able to springboard from a place that, even though it’s not real, it’s real for me. A lot of times I’ll do a movie and I’ll go to my son and he’ll sketch out the character. I’ll explain it to him. I won’t have him read the script sometimes, but I’ll say, “Look, this is how I see the character and this is the sort of ambiance of the story,” and all of that, and he’ll sit there and sketch stuff out. Sometimes I can use it and sometimes I can’t.
I used it in Grindhouse. I told him the character and he made the character really fat, and I was like, “F***.” So I was used to spring-boarding from that kind of place, so this was great for me. As fun as it is, as dark as it stems from, it’s good to have people in mind, like, “Oh, this kind of reminds me of that.” Even if I use characters like actors, whether it be Robert Mitchum or whoever and then say, “Okay, if I watch a lot of his movies, is there one little gem that I can steal from and kind of extrapolate from that?”
EI: Having other great actors also performing in this movie must help with that too: What was your favorite part of John Malkovich's contribution to Jonah Hex?
JB: John and I were doing the clay fight sequence, and this was fairly early on in the movie, and we finished a take that was fairly violent. The great thing about John is that he’s so in character, but he doesn’t stay in character. So we’ll finish a take and we’ll be looking at each other, and we’ll have this look on our faces and we’ll be yelling, and they say, “Cut,” and he goes, “Um, Josh, can you come here for a second?” I said, “Yeah, John. What’s up?” He said, “Can you pull my finger?” I said, “Seriously?” He goes, “Yeah. Just grab my finger and pull it.” I pulled his finger and I heard a crack, and I went, “F***, man. Are you all right?” He goes, “Yeah. I think you broke it, but I’m fine.” That’s John Malkovich.
EI: The non-human cast of Jonah Hex also play a big role in this film: Josh, Can you talk about your character’s relationship to animals?
JB: Having grown up on a ranch, the relationship with animals starts to become much more intense than the relationship with humans, so I think that’s a very natural thing, especially in westerns. There’s always been that thing of a guy talking to his horse or a guy who has a dog - western type characters. The crows are more symbolism - an omen - more of this purgatory life that he leads. I think the crows always represent something that’s fairly…what’s the word…purgatorial - something that’s a little dark, and the fact that they lead him, which I think is really interesting too.
EI: When you’re working on a project that already has a fan base, do you worry about making the story your own?
MF: I love them, but I feel like it’s impossible to please the hardcore comic book fans because they’ll never be happy no matter what you do. I’m a Lord of the Rings fan and I’ll go on the forums, and they complain that Frodo is eating the lembas bread outside of Mordor instead of the mines of Moria, and they get really mad about it. Peter Jackson and company won 30 something Oscars for that movie... So you can’t focus completely on pleasing them because you’ll never win, and then you’re excluding a whole other world of people who weren’t even aware of the comic in the first place. I think you have to take some sort of liberties to make it into a live action film, or it wouldn’t work.
JB: There’s a difference between re-shoots and additional shoots. There’s always a perception of, “Oh, is there a problem?” First of all, who cares, because the end result is all that matters.
The one thing is that when we saw the initial cut, we went, “Oh wow. There’s a lot more humor than we thought here, so maybe it’s not as dark and gritty throughout the whole thing. Maybe we can base the movie as dark and then find some different colors with levity and all of that.” So it was more about enhancing what already was.
I think we missed some things during additional shooting that we didn’t realize, because tonally, there’s no model for this. It’s like three different genres in one. You go, “Oh, is it a spaghetti western? No, not really. Is it a supernatural movie? No, not really. Is it an action movie? No, not really.” But there are elements of all those things. So it was kind of like plowing out a completely new genre road and saying, “Now we know what we have. How can we extrapolate on that?”
EI: And Francis Lawrence came in to consult, Jimmy said, and he was a big help…?
JB: …And someone who knows scope. What Francis has done is the pinnacle of scope, so he knew how to do that. That was very important to us when realized what we had and the whole color palette of the whole thing. We were like, wow, this could seem much, much bigger than it is for the budget that we had...
EI: Jimmy also said that you might put out an unrated version of the DVD…
JB: I think it belongs on DVD. I was very against them going PG-13 in the very beginning, and then I was very, very happy, and I think they made a much better decision by going PG-13 because it’s not gratuitous: You expect it to be gratuitous, and it’s not. I think that’s much more interesting than if it were to be like a “Grindhouse” kind of thing where it’s just out there.
EI: Megan, knowing that Josh was instrumental in getting you cast and even talking about most 22-year-olds not handling fame well — when you hear that, are you surprised?
MF: I’m 24 now. People who are famous and make it to this level of fame for whatever reason, whether it’s deserved or not, you have to be a strong person to survive it because it is very difficult to be under the microscope every moment of everyday, and everything that leaves your mouth becomes this sensationalized news story, no matter what your intentions were when you first said it.
So it does become overwhelming. But am I that rebellious? Of course, there are many sides to me and my personality, and I think the only thing that’s rebellious about me is that I don’t really have a lot of fear, as far as this industry is concerned, and I might do things that maybe other people would be afraid to do or afraid to say. But in my personal life, I’m actually very responsible with my personal relationships and things like that. I have always been that way.
JB: Just to be clear, rebellion can mean holding onto some of your own integrity - not playing into the idea of sensationalizing. We all have our moments, and that’s you’re job - to take those moments and make them big. Then it’s bigger than what the person is. So once you start believing your own press, that’s when it starts getting really sad. But that’s part of the rebellion that I responded to, because she was still her. She was still very grounded; she was very... gravely.
EI: But the attention you have had to face up to has been simply crazy: How have you handled all that and not gone insane?
MF: I think I’ve maintained the same relationships that I had before this happened to me, and I’ve kept people close to me that I love and respect and who have looked out for me and taken care of me. I sort of distanced myself from the Hollywood crowd. I don’t really go out and socialize that way. You might not think it, but I’m very domestic, and I think that keeps me sane. My personal relationships have kept me grounded.
EI: A lot of women in Hollywood, from Angelina Jolie to Resse Witherspoon have redirected all that attention and are starting to now develop their own projects, start their own companies… do you see directing and producing in your future?
MF: Definitely not directing. I have absolutely no skill set that suggests that I would be able to do something like that, but possibly producing at some point. If I were able to, I’d like to get into that, sure.
EI: What else is coming up for the both of you?
MF: I have a movie with Mickey Rourke hopefully coming out this fall called Passion Play, which I was really excited to work on. It’s an independent right now. I’m really proud of that, and I had an amazing experience making that movie.
EI: What is it about?
MF: It’s sort of a modern film noir, and Mickey’s character is a trumpet player who’s sort of down on his luck. He was a heroin addict and he comes across my character who is a part of a traveling freak show. She has bird wings that sprouted out of her back when she went through puberty. It’s this sort of very bizarre, strange relationship that they have. It follows them and it’s very tragic…
JB: I’ve got Woody [Allen]‘s movie that was in Cannes. I’ve got Oliver [Stone]‘s movie, Wall Street 2, that was in Cannes which was really something. It was really special to have those two movies in Cannes. We’ve got True Grit coming out at Christmas. Men in Black, if it all works out, is going to happen. I just sold something to Warner Brothers that I’ll direct probably next year. And a couple of other projects that are really, really good that I can’t talk about but am really, really excited about.
EI: What’s the project that you wrote?
JB: Pits and Joe. It’s a play I did a long time ago that we’re adapting, actually. I’m going to bring in another writer to really get it out of the claustrophobic feel that it has right now, and then we’ll see...
Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Jonah Hex' is in theaters nationwide from June 18, 2010.