When Josh Brolin last got into a fight—before, that is, his recent much publicized arrest in Shreveport, Louisiana, in July, at a wrap party for Oliver Stone’s hotly anticipated George W. Bush biopic W.—the then 27-year-old was in his rural hometown of Paso Robles, California. Times were different.
“Fighting used to be okay,” says a jocular Brolin, 40, over a breakfast of two fried eggs, sunny-side up, in a Westwood, California, diner. “My hometown is one of these places where you used to be able to fight, make up, then hang out with the guy and make a new friend.”
What happened in Shreveport isn’t exactly clear, other than that Brolin was arrested and sat in the holding tank until sprung on a $334 cash bond. The press originally described the incident as a bar brawl involving Brolin, costar Jeffrey Wright (who plays Colin Powell) and crew members. In the days following, blurring the overall picture, reports explained that Brolin was booked not for fighting but on the misdemeanor charge of interfering with an arrest. (Brolin had already been categorized as something of a brawler, and not without cause. In 2004 his wife, actress Diane Lane, called the police to their house during a domestic dispute. Brolin was hauled off and booked on misdemeanor spousal battery, although Lane never pressed charges and the couple later described the incident as a “misunderstanding.”)
The full disclosure may have to await Brolin’s arraignment in Louisiana on December 2, six weeks after W., in which he plays the title role, hits theaters. Brolin says with a rascal’s grin that he wants to tell his version of events “badly.” In fact, he mentions his jail stay within seconds of sitting down for breakfast, contrary to the normal celebrity-interview protocol of leaving touchy subjects until last. But after bringing it up, Brolin then says he can’t talk about the matter at all. “Let me put it this way,” he says, like a blackjack player sitting on an ace-king combo. “It was nice to be in jail knowing that I hadn’t done anything wrong. And it was maddening to be in jail knowing that I hadn’t done anything wrong.”
Exactly two weeks after the arrest, Brolin still looks jailhouse-tough. He lost 30 pounds to play Bush as a frat boy at Yale—“not because it’s cool to lose weight, but because it makes you look younger,” he notes—and his body appears sinewy beneath his tight T-shirt. He shaved his head to ease the discomfort of wearing various Bush-style hairpieces in the sweltering Louisiana heat, and with his hair still fuzz-short, he could pass as an offensive-line coach at an NCAA powerhouse. But if Brolin comes off as a good ol’ boy, he’s actually a Hollywood scion, the vigorous sprout of a six-foot-four tree named James Brolin. “My dad is probably one of the handsomest guys ever,” says Brolin. “I was making a joke and I said, ‘If I was a chick, I’d f--- you.’ He was like, ‘You can’t say that! Shut your mouth!’”