Left: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Right: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
LEFT to right: © Keith Hamshere/ © Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy Everett Collection; © Barry Wetcher/TM & Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved/courtesy Everett Collection

He outlines his thought process. “The ranch was costing me a lot, and I looked at the bigger picture. My ex-wife was moving to L.A., so the kids were going to be down there more. I thought maybe it was best that I get rid of the ranch. So not without a lot of tears, I sold it and then got totally obsessed with trading stocks as a side income.” Brolin the day trader — who knew? While he modestly would never call himself a professional trader, he quickly found his niche and within that “made more money than I probably should have.” With his busy filming schedule today, he only trades a little, but he can still talk money-market algorithms to make your head spin.

Coincidentally, six months after he sold the ranch, he ended up doing Grindhouse (2007), produced by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, and “then out of that came the No Country thing and everything started changing for me. I don’t necessarily think it was because I sold the ranch. But part of it was just changing up the energy.” He likens that “letting go” to golf. “I’m not really good at golf, but you learn all the skills and technicals; then when you get in front of that ball, you have to let everything go. It’s the only way to hit the ball right.”

Off the links, he’s been hitting a professional sweet spot by mixing up his acting choices. Even his True Grit bad-guy role is not black-and-white. “I never really see them as bad or good guys. It’s what the person’s going through at the moment. In rehearsal, I hadn’t found who the character was, and the Coens said, ‘Chaney is a dim bulb of sorts.’ I said, ‘No, I think he’s a broken bulb; he has no filament. A smart sociopath is one thing. But a really stupid sociopath is probably scarier than anything.’ And then a voice started to come out of rehearsal that seemed almost ridiculous, but when we got on the set, it just seemed really eerie and appropriate in that Western genre. This is one of those characters that people will say, ‘Okay, that’s the end of Brolin’s career’ — or, it’ll be really effective!”

Brolin can afford to chuckle. An upcoming gig is Men in Black III, from the blockbuster series, and he admits that working with Will Smith and “being around his incredible energy” was the big pull for him. And if there’s stunt work to be done, expect Brolin to keep it real. “Yeah, I try to do my own stuff. You feel like you're actually getting paid for something. I don’t want to sit in my trailer while somebody else is doing all the hard work and feel like I’m cheating anyone.”

While MIB-III has mega box-office potential, Brolin says he’s not really interested in “where I am on my IMDB star chart . That type of stuff doesn’t really pertain to what I’m trying to do. I respect people like the Coens or Woody or Oliver who keep making movies no matter how much strife they get.”

Never a showy guy, even Brolin’s philanthropic efforts are low-key. But he and Lane have been vocal members of Artists for Peace and Justice, a fund-raising group of friends that addresses issues of poverty, most recently in Haiti. “For most people, it’s out of sight, out of mind. But many of our group have visited since that devastating quake, and we’re committed to doing what we can to help.”

Moving forward, Brolin is looking at “some very cool things to do” in his future, including some scripts he’s written. He takes a deep pause while looking out again to the horizon. No matter what comes next, we can count on Brolin to keep it real.