Josh Brolin, Jimmy Kimmel
Screenshot: Jimmy Kimmel Live!

“By the way, this was not always the case,” Josh Brolin told Jimmy Kimmel after the prolonged applause finally subsided at the start of his Monday interview on Kimmel’s show. And, indeed, it’s been a long, circuitous journey from Goonie to Thanos (with, as Brolin told Kimmel, a stop at TV’s 21 Jump Street along the way). But Brolin’s certainly at the top now, from battling every single piece of Marvel’s intellectual property in what’s shaping up to be the biggest box office bonanza of all time, to garnering respect in indies from the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen Brothers, to starring in his Sicario director Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming adaptation of Dune. Pointing out that his feet don’t reach the floor from their perch on the inexplicably high Jimmy Kimmel Live! sofa, the rangy actor speculated that that was just another way the universe is working overtime to keep Brolin humble. (We could talk about Jonah Hex here, but since Brolin has shown his ability to carry the weight of both a Marvel supervillain and anti-hero, it’s probably wise ot chalk that mess up to the fact that DC Comics, unlike their money-minting Marvel competitors, turns nearly everything they touch into mopey cinematic sludge, comparatively.)

Brolin seems as tickled by his mid-career success as anyone, telling Kimmel that he keeps forgetting how very important and deathly serious everything about the big-budget movie business is supposed to be. While filming Dune in Jordan (he’s playing Gurney Halleck, or, for fans of the David Lynch version, Patrick Stewart), Brolin explained that he ran afoul of Warner Brothers’ strict secrecy guidelines by posting pictures of his day off exploring the desert at Wadi Rum. Perhaps worried that people would discover that a film called Dune would have sand in it, the bemused Brolin explained that he got a very stern talking to.

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So if you’re Brolin, with your combination of studio-mandated terseness and amiable actual terseness, what do you do to fill a nine-minute talk show slot? Luckily for viewers, Brolin had a singularly interesting childhood to fall back on. Being the son of actor James Brolin could have, no doubt, provided some Hollywood gossip, sure. But why bother when you’ve got your mom (wildlife activist Jane Cameron), whose—let’s call it unconventional—approach to parenting included mucking out wolf cages at her private wild animal preserve. That would be talk show fodder enough (ask his brother about those stitches), but he brought out the big guns, so to speak, in relating how his mother’s habit of watching Arnold Schwarzenegger movies with her favorite, less-than-supervised chimpanzee pal Reggie turned into the sort of adventure that, well, you really should hear about on your own.