Milk cast and crew: Interview

For Josh, I was very impressed with your portrayal of Dan White, the man just seems… there's a restraint, and he's very anguished and at war with himself… coming off of your portrayal of George W. Bush in "W."

Josh Brolin: Dubya.

… can you compare and contrast how you get inside both of these guys so well?

Josh Brolin: Dub. Ya. Not double-u. Get it right, man. (laughs) What was the question? Dude, I didn't hear the question. I just heard the fucked-up dubya…

Compare and contrast how you do both Dubya and Dan White so well, the body language says so much…

Josh Brolin: Sorry, I still don't get the question. The body language? And what did I study?

Yeah, how do you do that…

Josh Brolin: I don't know. (laughs)

With Dan White, it was just so amazing. Is there anything that you keyed off of that…

Josh Brolin: It was a weird year, man. Last year was the moustache year, this year was the political year, you know? You study the people. I'd never really done that before, having done a lot of theater and all that, I'd never really put myself in a position where you had to make decisions based on a real person, whether you're going to carbon copy them, and whether you're going to … you know, W was very different than Dan White. And I did Dan White first, even though it's coming out after W. comes out. With W., it was more 'in the spirit of,' whereas Dan, I felt like I really had to nail something. He's a sad character to me. It sounds so pretentious, but when you rehumanize a character, somebody who's done something so evil as to resort to the incredible violence that he resorted to, it's tough because there's some kind of identification for all of us, that we're all capable of anything at any time. And this was a character who was very, to me, very sad. It's not just an evil character. The guy was pushed by his district to bring San Francisco back to what it was before, and he had incredible pressures on him, and he didn't have the foresight to realize that Harvey Milk and the gay and lesbian movement, that it was their time. And that that time would peak and it would move into something else, and its own entity, and that he would have his time. Being a politician, you have to have incredible patience, if I've studied anything rightly. So, he never really fit. And what it came down to was an incredible frustration that just mounted to the point of… whatever, there was a guy on the red carpet last night who handed me a Twinkie, and he thought it was funny. And I laughed, just because I thought it was stupid. You know, it's so far beyond that. It's a very sad thing. But the legacy, and I don't mean to be cold here, but the legacy that Harvey left, if he would have had that legacy had he lived… I don't know, maybe he needed to die in order to have the impact he had. And it's an incredible impact. Like, when we came to the red carpet last night, half of the Castro behind the barricades, the people of San Francisco were so pro-active and it was an incredible night. We could all learn a lot from how pro-active San Francisco is. I don't know if that answered your question, but it really doesn't matter, does it?

Sean Penn: No, but it was a good apologia for murder. (laughs)

Josh Brolin: Thank you. I'm not a bad guy… I saw the movie, I was really disturbed. People come up and say, 'Hey man, congratulations, you did a great job.' But you're like, 'Fuck you, I'm a bad person.' (laughs) So, I'm thoroughly confused today.

For James, I was wondering if you could talk about how you got into character. Was there a lot of archival footage of Scott that you studied?

James Franco: Actually, no, there was not a lot. I guess there was two kinds of research I did. I just read about the time a lot and the place, and then also just about my specific character. Unlike other historical figures I've played, not a lot of people know what the real Scott Smith acted like. Usually in that situation, there's not the same kind of pressure to capture that character. Like, if you're playing James Dean, you can go watch East of Eden and see what he moved like and all that, and you'll be judged by matching that behavior or not. But Scott Smith, nobody's going to know the difference. But I, as an actor, find it inspiring to really study the real person. Usually, I use as much of the real person as I can. But, in the very least, it's always inspiring for the character that I play. So, in The Mayor of Castro Street, he's acknowledged in the beginning for his contribution to the research of that book, but he's not really talked about that much. At least not enough to form a real character to play, and then in the great documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, he's there for five seconds. He and Harvey are at the gay pride parade and they kiss, and that's about it. So, it's hard to base a character on that. So I asked Rob Epstein, who directed The Times of Harvey Milk, if he had any footage that didn't make it in, and he said, 'You know, I might…' And he had an old, I think it was still on film… he's so meticulous, when he makes a movie, he does like pre-interviews and edits the whole movie together, figures out what's working, what's not, and whose interview is going to work with the story he's telling. So, he had one of Scott that I guess didn't work with the story he was telling, but he transferred it for me and I got to see what the real Scott Smith talked like, and sounded like, and his mannerisms. And, in addition to that, Cleve Jones and Danny Nicoletta, people that worked with and knew Scott and Harvey, were always around. When you meet people that knew a real person, everybody has a different relationship with them. All have different stories, and sometimes they conflict. With certain people I played, everybody argues about who the real person was, so it's my job to distill it down and figure out a character I can play, and then how does that character fit into the story that we're telling. You know, this movie's not called Smith. It's called Milk, so how am I going to help tell the Harvey Milk story with this character?

In the film, community activism and working in politics seem really heroic. And in movies these days, it's unusual to see a hero who's not, say, from Marvel Comics or anything like that, and I was wondering why it was important to convey that message now, that this kind of work is heroic?

Sean Penn: The one thing I'd say about that is using Harvey Milk as an example, and the one part of Harvey that we didn't get to have, one of the great tragedies of his death is that later that year was the beginning of the fucking plague. And there's no question in my mind that Ronald Regan would have talked about AIDS if Harvey Milk had made him, and a lot of lives would have been saved. I think that speaks to any activism. When people stand up, things change. So, I think Gus and Lance did a great job of getting that feeling in there, and I hope it does, not only in terms of gay rights, but just in general becoming an inspiring tool for participation.

Dustin Lance Black: I feel, in my generation now, the folks I know who are even political and supposedly activists are so passive. And that was always very frustrating to me. Folks will go on MySpace and talk about their passions, but actually getting up and doing something about it and organizing physically to make some sort of change, it just doesn't seem to happen so much in my generation and amongst my group of friends, who are pretty informed, smart folks, but they're just not getting up and doing it. So, to be able to present and depict these folks who did make such great leaps and did affect change. I think it's really important and hopefully will be an example.