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Brothers:<br>Coming Home

As we enter a new decade still embroiled in the War on Terror, Jim Sheridan's Brothers uses a trifecta of actors (Maguire, Portman and Gyllenhaal) to explore a new generation's exposure to life after wartime.

Brothers: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal   Brothers: Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire
Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman

There's something about all-star casts. Three or more heavenly bodies reflect off of each other, increasing the wattage. Given the right combination of actors, it can be all but blinding. Brothers, Jim Sheridan’s new drama about a military family, is banking on this multiplied magic. War films, contemporary ones at least, haven’t had a good run at the box office, but Brothers unites three of Hollywood's most successful young actors—Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman—for a family drama that also doubles as a romantic triangle. Seeing all three stars in person is infinitely more jarring.


Spider-Man, Jack Twist and Queen Amidala walk into a room...
That's not the setup for a joke. That was the mind-boggling reality when the three celebrities entered the Four Seasons for a press conference last week.
Brothers: Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman
Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman

Though Brothers is an intimate, modest drama about the war at home, the showier past incarnations of the actors didn’t remain an elephant in the room for long. At least Spider-Man didn’t. The web slinger showed up early and often. The first volley of questions directed at Maguire rather indelicately assumed that audiences might have forgotten his origins as a serious acclaimed actor due to all the super heroics. He handled it graciously and with some humor (“Yes, I used to be a good actor…”) before getting serious about detailing his preparations for the role. 

In the film, adapted from the great Danish film Brødre, Maguire plays a young father and soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He returns home from Afghanistan to his wife (Portman) and brother (Gyllenhaal), who have become somewhat intimate in his absence, having believed him dead. Jake jumped at the chance to work with Tobey if only, he joked, to show that they weren’t the same person: “We really just made the movie so I could say I look a little different than Tobey. To all those cab drivers in New York, I’m not Spider-Man!”
Brothers: Tobey MaguireGiven the limited pool of highly successful actors in their age range (Natalie and Jake are both 28, Tobey is 35), and their roughly concurrent rise to stardom, it should probably come as no surprise that the three were already acquainted offscreen before Brothers commenced filming. “This is the first time I’ve worked with actors I knew before. I met Tobey when I was 14 and Jake when I was 18,” Natalie recalled “There was a level of familiarity from the first day, which was really nice.”

The actors all watched the original movie before filming. “I remember Jim describing the Danish film as a woman’s fantasy movie,” Natalie said, indicating the co-stars on either side of her. “Two hot guys wanting you and you love both of them? It was excellent.”
Tobey got involved with Brothers after Jake. “I got really excited about the idea of getting to play that relationship with Jake and then the idea of working with Natalie.” He remembered his first meeting with the actress, who was then a precocious 14-year-old. She advised caution at a film screening, teaching him a valuable lesson. “You don’t talk about the movie until you’re three blocks away, because you never know who is listening.”
Tobey warned the journalists, “I’m sort of bad at these questions. I just start rambling…” And ramble he did, though not without interesting insights into the process of acting, his perceptions of all three characters, and his co-stars. He marveled at the layers Jake brought to his role and also praised Natalie. “What I loved was watching how grounded she was. I felt like she had roots going into the earth that this character needed.”
Jake also found that their offscreen relationships provided the movie with “fascinating complications and fascinating interactions, just as the people that we are. There was very little to do as a result of that. So often you have to create some sort of backstory, but because of the real life…” He trailed off before adding that it got “a little uncomfortable on set sometime because what is real is sometimes what’s being pretended.”
Brothers: Jim Sheridan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire
Jim Sheridan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire

Jim Sheridan, the acclaimed director behind Oscar favorites like In America and My Left Foot, paid his ensemble many compliments but also shared Jake’s impish sense of humor. “You know the way actors are really intense and they come on and you’re like ‘Oh, my God!’ Well, Jake’s kind of like that, but he’s got a 360-degree intensity. You never know where he’s looking. He’s kind of in the scene, but he’s kind of looking around himself. It took me about three weeks to get used to. He just thinks he’s in real life when he’s up on the screen.”
“I think you just described me as a crazy person,” Jake responded, laughing and quickly adopting Sheridan’s Irish accent. “Jake has no idea of reality…”

Brothers will undoubtedly attract attention for the way it pushes the actors, particularly Maguire, in new directions. But what was fascinating in person was the ways in which the three glamorous stars seemed not so unlike their less shiny new characters: Jake keeping his distance with charm and humor, Tobey taking it all very seriously, and Natalie smiling benevolently between them as a grounding force.
It’s like Jake said: What is real is sometimes what’s being pretended. 

Brothers opens on Friday, December 4. Buy tickets now.

Watch the trailer. 


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