LOS ANGELES — Once Josh Brolin found a fresh source of income outside of Hollywood, his acting career took off.
Brolin, 40, spent nearly two decades toiling in mostly forgettable roles until he sold his family ranch and became an active stock and real estate investor, the income freeing him from taking any old acting job.
A flurry of high-profile parts followed in films by Robert Rodriguez, Paul Haggis and Ridley Scott, culminating in a star-making turn in the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men and now the title role as George W. Bush in Oliver Stone's W.
"I was making my money other ways, so I could say 'No,' and the minute I started doing that, within six months, once I created a hole, it started to be filled with incredible opportunities," Brolin said in an interview. "I mean, really incredible opportunities."
The son of actor James Brolin, who co-starred on TV's Marcus Welby, M.D., Brolin had begun his career with a high-profile role as Brand Walsh in 1985's action comedy The Goonies.
In the 1990s, he co-starred in the Western TV series The Young Riders but found himself generally stuck in character-actor mode, sometimes working with filmmakers for whom he had little respect.
The last few years have changed that. Brolin landed a role in Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda, a showy part in the TV miniseries Into the West, and a role in Rodriguez's Planet Terror. He has had choice supporting roles in Haggis' war-on-terror drama In the Valley of Elah and Scott's crime tale American Gangster. Then he starred in the Academy Award best-picture winner No Country for Old Men.
Barely a month after W., which opens Friday, Brolin will co-star with Sean Penn in Milk, playing Dan White, the San Francisco city supervisor who shot and killed gay political pioneer Harvey Milk, along with the city's mayor. Milk adds another director, Louisville native Gus Van Sant, to Brolin's recent list of top-name collaborators.
"I'm so grateful. You have no idea. Because they're easy. They're not difficult directors," Brolin said. "It's the other guys who are difficult. The egos and the power struggles, all that. Then you see the finished product and you go, 'You've got to be kidding me.'
"And with these guys, amazing directors from Woody Allen to the Coens to Oliver, they're all in it for the same reason. They love storytelling."
Brolin initially turned down the Bush role, figuring that anyone who wants to get a dose of the president could just turn on CNN. He said he potentially had more to lose than he might gain by starring in a chancy film such as W., with all its expectations and preconceptions.
"I said at the time, why do you need to see a movie about this guy, and why am I going to play the incumbent president when things are going pretty well for me, and I have choices?" Brolin said.
In the end, Brolin was drawn to the risk, although No Country for Old Men had opened up more commercial prospects for him.
"He could have done a big-budget movie, gotten paid a lot of bucks after that. He was very much in demand and still is," Stone said. "He chose this movie for nothing, and it's a challenging role, because that's his nature, to be challenged by the material. I have to give the man full credit. He has the potential right now, at his age, at 40, because he's been up and down, to really become a mainstream American star."