LOS ANGELES -- Josh Brolin takes a few puffs on a cigarette before returning from the balcony of the Four Seasons Hotel room where he is spending the day talking about his latest movie, "Gangster Squad."
That few seconds respite is a lot like Brolin's acting career: He often has to steal a moment to rest because -- by choice -- he works so much.
"For some reason, I'm an idiot and I just keep working. I like to work. I like to keep myself going and challenged. It feels good," Brolin says. "I don't know why some people don't like to work that much.
"There's a whole acting thing now where you do a movie and then you wait two, three years and then do another movie. Back in the day -- in the '40s -- people did five, six movies in a year. That was the deal. You didn't have a choice if you worked for the studio because they would put you right into another film. So, I think I've found some happy medium that works for me."
That happy medium has him starring in three films set for release in 2013, starting with "Gangster Squad."
It is based on the true story of a handful of cops who in the late 1940s waged a battle with organized crime to keep the mob from taking over Los Angeles. Brolin plays Sgt. John O'Mara, the leader of the secret task force.
This isn't the first time Brolin has played a role based on a real person. He portrayed Dan White in "Milk" and George W. Bush in "W." Whether he is playing a role based on an actual person or a fictional character, Brolin approaches each film the same way -- with loads of research.
For "Gangster Squad," the research included printed articles and the chance to chat with some of the guys who were on the real Gangster Squad.
"What I got from that interview was what he wouldn't tell me as opposed to what he would. Which was nice. Even 50 years later, he was still quiet and covert about what he wanted to reveal," Brolin says.
The majority of the research Brolin does before he gets to the set ends up being meaningless. He does it because he never knows what information will be needed once he starts playing the character.
Brolin says he didn't watch old gangster movies as part of the research. In those films, everyone talks with a crisp -- almost stilted -- cadence, and "Gangster Squad" is more contemporary. Also, those movies are very dark, the opposite of the look of Brolin's new movie.
"I think the film has a very colorful palette. I think it looks very rich. Usually when you have films like that, like 'L.A. Confidential,' they usually are desaturated.
"There's a milkiness they put into it to make it look more authentic, and I don't think that was attempted on this movie and I'm glad it wasn't attempted. It's like a new era of gangster movies," Brolin says.
His pre-filming work schedule also included getting together with castmates, including Ryan Gosling and Giovanni Ribisi. This gave them a chance to get comfortable together and to go over the dialogue.
There was a lot of ad libbing in the movie, but in Brolin's case his dialogue was cut down to give his character a more quiet power.
"You don't want to mess with this guy, but you want him on your side. He's willing to think outside the box. He's unwilling to be bought. There's something dangerous about him and he's willing to do whatever he has to to accomplish what he's set out to do," Brolin says.
There was no need for Brolin and co-star Sean Penn to get together because the friends worked together on "Milk."
The pair click because they share a devotion to their work, a conviction when picking characters and a seriousness when it comes to being there for the other actors.
The fact the two stars know each other so well was one area where Brolin could cut back on his workload.
"Gangster Squad," rated R for language, violence. Stars Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Giovanni Ribisi. Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Running time: 113 minutes. Grade: C+ Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com
or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.