“It always seemed to me that he was the right person,” writes Stone in an e-mail, of his decision to cast Brolin. “Although classically handsome, I think he would consider himself a character actor first and foremost, and it was in this context that I thought of him as W. Josh certainly has star appeal and could be a leading man, but I don’t think he necessarily wants to be that. I think he really enjoys disappearing into a character.”
While avid readers of The New York Times op-ed page may hold the opinion that the two-term Bush presidency has been a tragedy, W. turns that political analysis upside down. “The thing I kept saying to Oliver was, ‘It’s a comedy, it’s a comedy, it’s a comedy,’ even though it’s not,” Brolin explains energetically. “You go through every emotion with it. It’s pathetic. It’s absurd. It’s darkly humorous. It’s exaggeratedly humorous.”
The script reads as a relentless and sometimes outrageous drama of an administration in love with neocon ideology and arrogantly dismissive of facts. But Brolin promises the film will rousingly and sharply satirize the Bush era. (“I‘d call it, if anything, something mixed between serious and buffoonish— a form of farce,” offers Stone.) Brolin mentions that the first day he played a scene in full Bush regalia, the crew actually cracked up, which he considers a high compliment. Still, the actor insists that he wanted to avoid making W. into a feature-length Saturday Night Live skit. He obsessively pored over news footage and scoured Bush biographies for insights into the president’s mind. To his surprise, he wound up liking the man behind the presidential seal, especially after Stephen Mansfield’s book The Faith of George W. Bush drew him deeper into the story of Bush’s religious conversion. As Brolin connected with what he boldly describes as Bush’s “humanity,” he came to believe that his earlier view of the president was superficial.
“It’s the most compelling story because you see this guy trying to find his niche. You see him fail and you see him succeed,” says Brolin. “Like it or not, good or bad. It’s perfect drama.”
When it’s suggested that Bush’s harshest critics may not agree and argue instead that the president succeeded only because of his surname, Brolin’s friendly demeanor goes suddenly stony. “That’s an impossibility,” says Brolin, with a hard and suspicious look in his eyes. “That’s like people saying that I have my success because my father was an actor.”
He acknowledges with a terse “of course” when asked if he can identify with Bush’s struggle to come to grips with a famous family name. But then, relaxing a bit, Brolin points out W’s ability to communicate with voters in the 2000 election, a skill that set him apart from his dad. In a final comment on the subject, one that seems to resonate with the echo of his own oedipal striving, Brolin adds: “He had more oomph than his father had.”