Actor and Democrat Josh Brolin portrays President George W. Bush in director Oliver Stone's biopic, "W.", which opens in theaters this week, and said one thing about the role really surprised him.
"I told my wife, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I really like the guy," mused Brolin about the 43rd president of the United States in an interview for ABC News Now's "Popcorn with Peter Travers."
Brolin grew up in a Republican household, he said. "My dad and my mom were Republicans," yet he became a Democrat "organically ... and on my own."
Despite his left-wing leanings, he not only grew to like the president but also found a new appreciation for "certain aspects of the Republican Party." But his esteem only goes so far.
"No matter how much you may identify or humanize somebody, it doesn't mean he's the best leader," he said. "Fifty million of us looked at him and identified with him -- that's all well and good, but we need real leaders." Bush, Brolin resolved, was not one.
Brolin admitted on "Popcorn" that "there is no serious bone in my body" and said that, initially "there was a moment when I thought maybe I could drink through the whole movie (and act with) a film over my eyes."
Yet, while he could have parodied Bush like a "Saturday Night Live" skit, he and Stone approached it "very scholastically." They created a "graph of milestones and how he [W] would sound like and move" at various stages of his life.
While Stone has what Brolin called an "unfounded reputation" of being a die-hard leftist, Brolin insisted he "is very fair" as a filmmaker.
Practicing His Bush Impersonation
He described his acting style as being more like the "Tasmanian Devil -- you can worry about it in editing."
Comparing himself with his wife, actress Diane Lane, he noted that "Diane is different; she shares her deepest emotions. She opens herself completely [while] I create characters I hide in." This came at the expense of his family, on whom he practiced his W persona for three months.
But even with the practice, Brolin told Stone he didn't know if he could "make it right," so he "put it out there in front of the crew of a hundred so I wouldn't have to embarrass myself in front of millions."
When challenged to do an impromptu Bush impersonation, he squirmed in his chair muttering, "I get embarrassed doing it."
Christian Bale Turned Down 'W' Role
Brolin was not Stone's first pick. Christian Bale was lined up to star but changed his mind.
"He got nervous," Brolin acknowledged. "I haven't talked to Christian about this, but I'm glad he decided it wasn't for him."
But Brolin wasn't easy to convince, either.
When Stone first approached him for the part, Brolin, puzzled, asked why him? Because there is "a great bucolic meanness to you," Stone responded. Brolin turned him down without reading the script. It was his son, Trevor Mansur, who read the script and convinced him to do it.
Brolin also spoke with his father, actor James Brolin, who did nothing to calm his nerves by saying, "It's amazing you're the first guy to play an incumbent president -- are you nervous?" He wasn't -- at least not until two weeks before they started filming, he said.
"W." is a story about the relationship between a father and his son. Brolin, putting himself in Bush's shoes, reflected "it would be like me redoing all my father's movies ... I couldn't imagine doing that ... it must have landed like a ton of bricks," he said.
What About 'Goonies II?'
Next up for Brolin is Gus Van Sant's "Milk," which will be out next month. He plays Dan White, who fatally shot San Francisco councilman Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn), the first openly gay man elected to public office, and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone in 1978.
Brolin said he cried when he read the script and also when he watched the Oscar-winning documentary, "The Times of Harvey Milk," with his daughter Eden.
He met with White's son, who he called "a wonderful young man," and talked to him about his father. White, said Brolin, "is human, too ... we can despise what he did, but he's still human. Everybody is capable of anything."
Penn, according to Brolin, is "one of the greatest, if not the greatest, actor I have ever worked with ... [he's] a tough guy."
On reprising his role as Brand Walsh in the cult-classic "The Goonies," he grinned, "It continues, man -- people care about the Goonies. I would have to do it. I don't understand why it's in the ether. Let's bring it around and do it!"
But he was not as forthcoming about rumors of him having signed on to star in the big screen adaptation of DC Comic's "Jonah Hex." All he would say was "'Jonah Hex' exists, but I don't know if it exists for me."
Brolin described his career as being on "a good trajectory."
"I just want to keep on mixing it up," he said. "It's interesting to me -- how are people going to respond? I have no idea."
He recalled that, while he was filming a scene for "No Country for Old Men," co-director Ethan Coen passed by him and whispered in his ear, "no one is going to see this movie." The movie went on to win four Oscars, including Best Picture.
"It's a strange business, man," he said.