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Josh Brolin and Nick Nolte.

It should be no surprise that the first words that come out of Josh Brolin's lips when he thinks of Australia is Bra Boys.

Brolin is one of Hollywood's genuine tough guys, often playing bare-knuckled brawlers in films and off the set creating headlines for the wrong reasons, including his recent New Year's Eve arrest for public intoxication in Santa Monica.

"You have your Bra Boys, we have our Cito Rats," says Brolin, smiling during an interview to promote his new film, Gangster Squad.

The 44-year-old son of actor James Brolin and stepson of Barbra Streisand was a child star, with his first big role the classic 1985 family movie, The Goonies, but away from the studio lots he was an avid surfer and member of the Cito Rats, a notorious surf gang in the 1970s and 80s based in Montecito, California.

When Brolin watched the documentary film Bra Boys: Blood is Thicker than Water, which follows the Sydney surf gang from Maroubra, it stirred up all of the memories from his days with the Cito Rats.

He has never been to Australia but wants to travel Down Under to meet the Bra Boys, including Abberton brothers Koby, Sunny, Jai and Dakota.

"There is a connection there I want to explore," Brolin says.

The violent Gangster Squad, set in seedy Los Angeles in 1949, is another vehicle to display Brolin's brawn, with the actor playing LAPD Sgt John O'Mara, a World War II hero who is selected to head up a secret unit to take on mob boss Mickey Cohen.

The story is based on former LA Times editor Paul Lieberman's non-fiction book Gangster Squad about the corruption that plagued the city and the battle between the good cops and Cohen, who is played by Oscar winner Sean Penn.

Sgt O'Mara and his team, including Ryan Gosling as Sgt Jerry Wooters and Giovanni Ribisi as tech whiz Conwell Keeler, engage in guerilla warfare with Cohen and his henchmen to destroy the prostitution, heroin, bookmaking and other ventures the gangster controls.

"He's a guy who has just got back from battle in World War II and he is carrying that with him," says Brolin, describing his character.

"Unconsciously, he is looking for that camaraderie again. He puts together some guys to bring down Mickey Cohen, who has started to bring Los Angeles down in a cesspool with corruption, prostitution and drugs and they attempt to snuff him out."

In one pivotal scene, O'Mara and Cohen, a former boxing champ, stand toe-to-toe in a bare-knuckled fight. Brolin, whose recent films include True Grit, American Gangster and No Country for Old Men, loved trading punches with Penn, even if a couple of fists connected on his own chin.

"The fight in the end is definitely Bra Boy-esque," Brolin laughs, unable to get the Australian surf gang out of his mind.

It begs the question. If Sgt O'Mara and his Gangster Squad of crack LAPD officers ran into the Bra Boys in a dark alley, who would walk out?

"I would tell you right now, the Bra Boys would win," Brolin says. "The Bra Boys are some of the toughest guys I have ever heard about."