'What Men Want' Interview: Josh Brener Went Full-on Method Actor

Being Taraji P. Henson's assistant sounds hella fun.

In What Men Want, Taraji P. Henson plays, Ali, a woman fighting against the glass ceiling in the “boy’s club” of sports management. When a bizarre accident gives her the power to read men’s thoughts, all sorts of hijinks ensue.

Along for the ride is Ali’s close friend and personal assistant Brandon (Josh Brener, Silicon Valley) who just so happens to be gay. In the film, his sexuality isn’t played up in any dramatic way. Instead, it’s included as another layer of detail that makes What Men Want a much more thoughtful rehash of Mel Gibson’s What Women Want.

“I very quickly fell into being her actual assistant,” Brener Inverse about doing a bit of impromptu method acting for What Men Want. “I’d just carry her purse around and things like that. I got very comfortable just grabbing food for her. I just wanted to make Taraji happy because she’s so nice and lovely.”

We caught up with Brener to talk about his experience working alongside Taraji P. Henson, the culture of sports management, and why right now is the perfect time to reboot this concept.

Josh Brener and Taraji P. Henson in 'What Men Want'.

Paramount Pictures

What did you enjoy about playing Brandon?

The great joy of for me, as I’m sure the case for many of the actors in this movie was getting the work so closely with Taraji.

Taraji is so so funny. On and off set, she is just cracking everyone up. We really just had such a good time as a duo, riding around in a Porsche together and doing all sorts of like slapstick comedy.

Did you have any favorite scenes that you filmed together?

Taraji and I had so much fun riding around in that Porsche. We basically spent a day trying to convince the powers that be that Taraji should be gifted the Porsche at the end of production.

She was basically on a test drive all day long. I was in the front seat cheering her on and holding her purse.

What Men Want flips the premise of What Women Want, but in what other ways is it different from the original?

I think it really reflects how different our world is today versus 20 or so years ago. Looking at this story from a female perspective and looking at discussions of the glass ceiling and “Time’s Up,” this feels like a great lens for all that as opposed to a movie that’s very much from the straight, white male perspective.

Taraji P. Henson as Ali in 'What Men Want'.

Paramount Pictures

Having What Men Want focus on the sports management industry also feels like a great choice for what it’s going for. How do you think that impacts the story?

We as a society definitely have such a tunnel vision when it comes to male athletes. There’s also this sort of bro male culture in sports agencies, too. So by turning that on its head, we also look at the female perspective and put female athletes at the center.

I mean I got to meet Lisa Leslie! That was incredibly cool. Talking about female athletes and this whole other side of athletics that gets unreasonably neglected is great. There’s no there’s no reason why female athletics should be an afterthought and certainly no reason why women in the workplace should be seen any less than their male counterparts.

There’s also an interesting point in the movie about Taraji’s character Ali having signed more Olympic athletes than anyone else at the agency. And the implication is that they’re probably a lot of female athletes. What does that kind of say about her position in the industry?

Even putting aside the complex gender dynamics, there is this weird dynamic about Olympic athletes. Her boss says, “You don’t have any clients in the Big Three: NFL, MLB, NBA.” It’s weird because every two and four years, we have female athletes front and center. There’s gymnastics and so many others. You get Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin and so many others, all these star female athletes that shine during the Olympics every two to four years.

For some reason we just put away the Olympics and go back to our normal life of only talking about LeBron and whoever else.

We just we just don’t give it the attention it deserves except in these very limited doses.

What Men Want, however, goes to great lengths to examine why society pays so much attention to the mainstream, male-dominated sports rather than a more comprehensive perspective — and it isn’t afraid to have a lot of fun while doing so.

What Men Want is currently in theaters.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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