Josh Brolin’s Biggest Failure Proves the Power of Being a ‘Persistent Pest’

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Josh Brolin was just 16 years old when he landed his big break playing Brand Walsh in The Goonies. It was his first-ever movie role and one that would change his life. As he reminisced on Instagram in 2019, he’ll forever be grateful for the experience because it was “every kid’s dream come true.” However, despite being an “auspicious beginning” for his acting career, it didn’t actually catapult him onto Hollywood’s A-list.  

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Brolin as Llewelyn Moss in No Country For Old Men (2007)

Scroll through Brolin’s IMDb page and you’ll see that, while he did work steadily in the years that followed, he wasn’t exactly landing ground-breaking roles. As Decider bluntly pointed out, he was “a B-teamer” until 2007’s No Country for Old Men “made Josh Brolin a movie star (again).” His portrayal of Llewelyn Moss forced the industry to take notice and launched his career to new heights. Except, it almost didn’t happen.

Josh Brolin’s Dream Audition Didn’t Go as Planned 

It was the mid-2000s and Josh Brolin really wanted to film a Western because, as he told Variety, “Even though people really associated me with Western work, I hadn’t really done a lot of Westerns.” He shared that desire with his agent, but set to work on a different project: 2007’s Grindhouse. The horror-comedy-slasher double feature from directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino was the opposite of a Western, but opportunity would soon come calling.  

While shooting the flick in Austin, Texas, Brolin met up with playwright Sam Shepard for breakfast and that unassuming encounter would change everything. As Brolin later told Esquire, it was Shepard who let him know that the legendary Coen brothers were going to turn Cormac McCarthy’s book, No Country for Old Men, into a film. A Western film. 

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Intrigued, Brolin bought the book, read it in a day, and told his agent he needed an audition. The response? It couldn’t be done. Brolin agreed that it was a long shot, but something pushed him to go for it anyway. “I know I’m not going to be in this movie, but we’re in the dreaming business,” he told the mag. “I was like, ‘F*** it, I’m going to do my own audition tape.’” 

When Rodriguez and Tarantino learned of his plans, they decided to help and, as he told Collider, they “filmed my first audition on a $1 million Genesis camera during lunch during Grindhouse.” Needless to say, it was “a really cool-looking audition,” but it didn’t make the impression he’d hoped for. As Brolin revealed to The Skinny, “When it was sent to Joel and Ethan [Coen], their only comment was, ‘Who lit it?’ So obviously I didn’t make much of an impression,” he mused.

Josh Brolin Refused to Back Down 

Josh Brolin didn’t get the in-person meeting he’d hoped for, but he wasn’t about to give up on the opportunity. He’d thrown his hat into the ring with the video audition, but, as he told Collider, “They just didn’t see it […] it wasn’t resonating.” Even so, he knew he was right for the part and that’s when his agent got to work. 

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After getting Ethan Coen’s cell number, Brolin’s agent kept calling and calling until the Coen brothers agreed to meet his client. “I have a brilliant agent who just became a persistent pest and just said, ‘Meet him, meet him, meet him, meet him. Not he’s perfect for the part, not you’re making a mistake, just meet him,’” Brolin told the mag. 

The night before the last casting session, the Coen brothers caved. Brolin was invited to meet them, so he got to work. “I studied a few scenes and I came down and I met them and there was really no reaction in the meeting.” Again, he was sure nothing would come of it. “I walked out thinking it was great meeting the Coens. I’m a big fan. That’s cool,” he recalled. But he had it all wrong. “By the time I got home, I found out they wanted me to do it.”

The Power of Not Giving Up

Josh Brolin in Labor Day wearing white shirt.
Brolin as Frank Chambers in Labor Day (2013)

Not only did Josh Brolin get the role, but he knocked it out of the park. No Country for Old Men went on to win the Best Picture Oscar at the 2008 Academy Awards and the actor’s career took off to new heights. The following year, he got his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Milk and he hasn’t slowed down since. 

To date, Brolin has worked with the Coen brothers two more times on True Grit and Hail, Caesar!, has appeared in hits like Sicario, Dune, and Deadpool 2, and has even gotten to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Thanos. As he told Variety, No Country for Old Men “was a big turning point for me.”

Brolin’s unrelenting pursuit of his dream part shows us why, even if you feel like giving up, you should always push through. His quest to be cast in No Country for Old Men is proof that great things can come from following the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” That popular phrase is believed to have first been printed around 1840 and nearly 200 years later, it’s as relevant as ever. 

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The fact is, you can’t control everything in life and things won’t always go as planned, but bumps in the road should not be a source of discouragement or despair. Rather, if you continue working towards your dreams, you’ll always succeed in the end. Either by achieving the outcome you’d originally hoped for (like Brolin who got the role he wanted) or by arriving at an alternate ending that will, in retrospect, turn out to be the right one. Not to mention the satisfaction and pride that comes with knowing you didn’t give up is priceless.

As Glenn Geher Ph.D. pointed out in a column for Psychology Today, believing that you can accomplish something and going for it, no matter the obstacles that stand in your way, is actually “a pretty straightforward but powerful psychological phenomenon.” As he explains, “If you think you might succeed, you try harder — and such effort often begets success.” 

Brolin’s experience shows us just that, but it also highlights the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive people. Whether they be family, friends, or (in this case) colleagues, you want to have a network of folks who support you and push you to reach for the stars. Even if Brolin’s agent was initially unsure about being able to get him the audition he wanted, he eventually got on board. Once he saw how important the opportunity was to Brolin, he did his best to help and thanks to their combined persistence and refusal to take ‘No’ for an answer, they more than succeeded. 

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