Summer magazine leads with James Brolin on June cover
By Bridget Graham
Born and raised in Southern California, actor James Brolin spent his teenage years in Malibu parking cars, stocking liquor shelves, and working as a beach boy, among other jobs. If someone had told him back then that he’d have a successful acting career—one still going strong at age 81-years-young—he likely wouldn’t have believed it.
“I never even wanted to play charades when I was younger,” Brolin said. “In junior high, I had to stand up and give a mandatory book report, and then sat down shaking, which everyone talked about for a week.”
Brolin then attempted to overcome his stage fright by appearing in a school play. However, he dropped out before the play started—opening night. And that was it—or so he thought. An acting opportunity came again when at age 18, he was stopped on the street and asked to be in a Dodge truck commercial. “I immediately asked, ‘how much?’ and ‘I wouldn’t have to talk, would I?’ Brolin recalled.
As luck would have it, this was not a speaking part—and he was to be paid $400, which was quite the amount for a young man. A role in a wine commercial followed, and Brolin had to join the union (the dues were $600 and, remember, he was making $400). But those commercials led to an agent, acting classes, and a contract at 20th Century Fox.
When Brolin sat down to talk with Malibu Times Magazine, I first asked what we should all know by the end of the interview about him and his career. Humbly, Brolin, responded, “Well, let’s see what comes out of this conversation.” But then he said something about himself that pretty much summed up the total of it all before we even started; he said, “I’m not finished.”
And he’s not.
The popular Netflix fantasy drama series he narrates, “Sweet Tooth,” was renewed for a second season, and he has a role in the upcoming Pixar movie, “Lightyear” playing the character Zurg (at the time of this publication additional details were still under wraps). He has projects he’s written, co-written, or re-written just waiting for investors (there’s a grandpa with a baby; the truth about the Joey Buttafuco and the Lolita Long Island Mistress; and the real-life story of the richest Black woman in Florida who was drugged and abused by her physician).
Brolin wasn’t expecting “Sweet Tooth” when it was sent his way—it came about when producers Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey invited him over for lunch to discuss it—and wanted him for the part. Brolin got a kick out of it, because he had recorded over 40 vocal tapes throughout the years, and was never hired for any voice-overs. And now he was the narrator of a soon-to-be hit show. It all happened during the pandemic, so a sound booth was delivered to Brolin’s estate, where the actor found himself working on another extension in his long career.
“It arrived in a big suitcase, complete with a tripod; I hooked up to the internet, and then there I was, talking to Warner Bros,” the actor said. He did eight sessions from the comfort of his home. It was also hard work. “But I really liked it,” he said. The series was number one for four weeks throughout the world. “It’s a new influx of young people; it’s like being discovered all over again,” Brolin said.
And then Pixar contacted him for “Lightyear,” the story of Buzz Lightyear from the “Toy Story” franchise—aka “The story of Buzz Lightyear and his adventures to infinity and beyond.” Brolin is set to reveal additional details during June’s press junket to coincide with the release date of June 17.
The actor gained national attention in 1969 with his role as Dr. Steven Kiley in the ABC series “Marcus Welby, M.D.” The show aired for seven seasons, with Brolin earning an Emmy and two Golden Globes for his role as the young, by-the-book doctor who often clashed with the older and more unorthodox title character. He has had a steady career since, which has included many interesting behind-the-scenes stories. Brolin thought playing President Ronald Reagan in the 2003 television film “The Reagans,” for which he received rave reviews, an Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, would be a “career killer” and, therefore, he first turned it down. But the producer drove to his house, asked him to read the first 20 pages, and then waited in the car. Brolin started shooting the film 11 days later. Brolin is a well-trained actor with over 10,000 hours of workshop top, but ironically, he is usually the one joking around until the director yells “action.” Then things turn very serious.
While filming “Marcus Welby,” Brolin was living on a ranch and using the skills he learned from his general contractor father to work as a carpenter. He is well versed in the world of construction, from being a plumber’s assistant to owning his own lumber yard. But that’s not all he’s done to keep busy from a young age. He has owned several businesses, including a bookstore and a jet charter company.
“I’ve always had a job, if not three at the same time,” Brolin noted. (And when he’s not working, he’s been known to race cars and fly planes. And also build them. He built one in North Carolina two years ago.) He is also a long-time photographer and videographer. Brolin also trained horses for many years.
His foray into working—and long love of Malibu—began in 1955.
“I was living up in Mulholland near Benedict Canyon,” Brolin shared. “I went with a friend to Malibu and thought ‘wow, this is really interesting’ and was totally fascinated with it all. By 16, I had my 1950s Old’s convertible, which was repainted bright yellow with one side totally bashed in; that’s how I got it for cheap and started to learn to surf.”
By spending time in Malibu, he got a job at the restaurant, Tonga Lei (where Nobu is today). “That was a real Hawaiian place,” Brolin said. “You had to duck so you didn’t get hit with palms in the face walking in.”
He also worked at the Raft Bar, which was next to Reel Inn, “It was a real rank bar and I parked cars,” Brolin recalled. “But my first job was making hot dogs at Neenie’s Weenie’s kiosks for people at the beach. I literally knew I would end up living here.”
He had lived in a few places throughout town before he met his wife, Barbra Streisand, on July 1, 1996 (they married July 1, 1998) and moved to their now location. The two spent the pandemic at their home in Malibu.
“At first, we were like, ‘oh no, we’re stuck’ but then it just kept getting better and better,” Brolin said. “We’re 90 feet above a cliff. I used to have a small beach house in Santa Barbara, and when the waves would crash, the bed would move—and a train passed by four times a day—now, I’m 90 feet above the ocean with an incredible view. I couldn’t be in a better spot, thanks to my wife.”
He also survived the pandemic by taking care of himself. His routine began pre-pandemic when he met surfing legend and fellow Malibu resident Laird Hamilton through local friends. Brolin found himself part of a group of eight to ten people at any given time actively working out at Hamilton’s home.
“He changed my life,” Brolin said emphatically. “Once I started working out with everybody there, I felt better, looked better, had better circulation, and got my ice baths up to 10 minutes.”
When Brolin first arrived on the scene at Hamilton’s sessions, he said it was tough. But that is what he loved about it. “Laird gave me 20 pounds in each hand and sent me 13 feet to the bottom of pool. He said that if I wanted air, I had to get to the top,” Brolin recalled. “I did it 20 times that first day.”
And he loved the comradery. “I also learned about getting up early and doing something strenuous. It’s not about going to the gym at noon, but about being up and working out by 8 a.m.”
The pandemic changed the situation, and Brolin built his own pool, ice tub and sauna (he does it once if not twice a day for 45 minutes). However, he’s looking forward to when the pandemic really passes and he can be back with the group. “I can’t wait,” he said. And then no sooner had he said that, when Hamilton walks into the restaurant where we were having coffee. Brolin repeated to Hamilton directly, “you changed my life.” It was a moment.
The actor not only loves this new part of his life, but he loves the old.
“I believe I was born and lived during the best time in history,” he said. “Gas was 17 cents a gallon, a coke was a nickel, so was a phone call. And ‘50s cars were amazing.”
Brolin knows and loves cars. He drove up in his 13-year-old Mini. “There’s something iconic about it in this day and age.” He also drives a Ford Raptor truck, “It’s a like a freeway yacht.” And, he stated, “neither can you ever pry from my hands.” The actor also has a six-year-old Porsche he found in a little town in Arkansas that he had put on a truck and sent here, “… from one of those classic dealers in a small town,” he said.
So, as we came to the end of our conversation, I wanted to confirm that we did learn what Brolin had to share at this stage in his career. We learned he’s happy. He’s fit. He’s busy. His son, Josh, and family live right down the street. And Brolin has a long history of loving Malibu.
And then he said, “Isn’t life fun? All I really need is a sandwich, a hug, and sunshine. It’s all I require. All the material goods are token stuff. But in life, don’t waste a second. You can’t allow your brain to let you waste any time. Use every delicious minute.”
He really isn’t finished.
“I keep moving because I haven’t done what is in the back of my mind,” Brolin said. “I just don’t know what it is yet. So, I’m always on the edge of doing something.”
Pick up the Summer issue of Malibu Times Magazine on racks now.