“It was a pain in the ass,” joked actor John Brolin when asked about the extensive make-up used to transform him into the titular Jonah Hex. Brolin, along with co-star Megan Fox, producer Andrew Lazar and director Jimmy Hayward, discussed changing aspects of the character as he currently appears in DC Comics, odd resonances the film has with contemporary issues and Fox’s love of “The Lord of the Rings” during a recent press conference in promotion of Warner Bros. “Jonah Hex.”
“We chose to go practical,” Brolin explained. “Which – with Lon Chaney being one of my heroes and loving the idea of morphing and any opportunity to do that – I embraced.” As with any complicated make-up appliance, the process took several hours. “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, then we did three more layers on top of that,” the actor recalled. “Then I walked around with half a moustache and half a beard in New Orleans for three months, so there was nothing attractive [about the look],” he joked. The production had plans to mimic the character’s more unsettling half-dead right eye, but the actor’s body had other ideas. “I started to get an infection within the hour, so that wasn’t really [working],”Brolin revealed. Like many actors, he found that the make-up routine aided the internal process of creating the character. “I was definitely [in character]. I couldn’t eat. A lot of movies, you say I work fourteen hours a day, but really, you only work six and you’re in your trailer playing Nintendo the rest of the time. We actually worked fourteen, sixteen hours a day, so I couldn’t eat that whole time. I would stuff myself in the morning and then just drink water through the whole day and it was a hundred degrees. So, it was a pain,” he said of the shoot. “Would I do it again? Yeah! It’s like having a baby – I look at the end result and go, ‘That’s pretty cool.'”
Indeed, the actor’s own propensity for stubbornness is what attracted Brolin to the film and the character in the first place. “Coming from, or at least stemming from a comic book that has had three lives and that wasn’t necessarily very successful, I love the idea that it refused to die. So it was a survivalist comic book, but it allowed us to kind of take luxuries and do what we wanted to do as long as we had the blessing of the comic book artists. So, the core of the character is there, but then we kind of go on all these different tangents.”
One of those tangents is the film’s antagonist, Quentin Turnbull (played by John Malkovich). Many of Tunbull’s actions resemble a modern terrorist more than a disgruntled Civil War era soldier, something that producer Andrew Lazar said developed organically as part of the creative process. “That evolved. It was kind of like the idea of this ultimate revenge and how can we relate to Turnbull in kind of contemporary terms. I do think we did make a decision once we saw the dynamite vests, that this was a guy who was willing to exact terror not just on [soldiers],” he recalled. “This was a guy who was willing to destroy institutions and innocent people in order to get what he wanted. I think it’s topical and makes [it] a little different than just a regular Civil War/Western film.”
“I don’t think we really set out to draw tons of lines to exactly what’s happening [in the real world], but it’s kind of difficult [to avoid] because we live in an era of terrorism,” added director Jimmy Hayward.
“Jonah Hex” marks Hayward’s first live action film, thought the director does have previous experience, coming from the animated film “Horton Hears a Who,” and he’s not the only animation-to-live action story in Hollywood today. Several other respected animation directors, including “WALL-E’s” Andrew Stanton and “The Incredibles'” Brad Bird, will soon join him in making the transition. While Hayward calls it a massive learning experience, he feels it is a understandable move for both the directors and the studios hiring them. “I think its natural because they go through waves where they bring guys from commercials and then music video guys and maybe that’s just what’s happening [here].” Animation directors already have experience with “managing huge groups of people” which is major component of making films on this scale. “It seems like a natural jump; it’s a tricky, difficult one,” he said.
Another Hollywood addition to the character’s mythos is Hex’s ability to talk to the dead. While the current comic book series has a grittier, more naturalistic focus, Hayward points out the character has been to the future and been involved in other weird things. “There are some more supernatural versions of Jonah, with his history with Indians and whether he grew up with a tribe or not,” he explained. “So there was a pocket of some of the middle areas of the comic [to work with].”
While these changes may give the more strident fans of the current series pause, actor Megan Fox points out that a film production cannot obsess over it. “I love them, but it’s impossible to please the hardcore comic book fans because they’ll never be happy, no matter what you do,” she said. “I’m a ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan, and I’ll go on the forums and they complain about, like, that Frodo is eating the Lembas bread outside of Mordor instead of [at] the Mines of Moria, and they get really mad…and Peter Jackson and company won thirty-something Oscars for that movie. So, you can’t focus completely on pleasing them because you’ll never win. Then you’re excluding a whole other world of people who weren’t aware of the comic in the first place, so I think you have to take some sort of liberties to make it into a live action film, or it wouldn’t work.”
When the film’s release date became a summer one, the cast and crew assembled for additional shooting, which Brolin points out is different from reshoots. “There’s always a perception of, ‘Oh, is there a problem?’ First of all, who cares? The end result is all that matters,” he said. “It was more about enhancing what already was.”
“We recognized an opportunity to make a couple of things; create a couple of new, bigger set pieces. We’re allowed to make the movie a little bit bigger,” added Lazar. The film was originally slated for a fall opening and was a much smaller production than a typical summer tentpole release. Director Francis Lawrence came on as a consultant to help the production add that summer release sense of scope. He also came with an influx of cash. “We didn’t start out with a budget for the superweapon, so he was a good help,” the producer explained.
“We did this movie for $6,000,” joked Brolin.
“Jonah Hex” arrives in theaters on June 18th.
For more Hex, visit CBR’s Jonah Hex hub.