Born Craig Bruderlin, Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actor James Brolin is a man of many talents. At 73 he continues to act as well as produce and direct while being involved in several side businesses. He still finds time to indulge his passion for piloting small planes and woodworking. Although he has recently appeared on "Castle," he is best known to a certain generation for his television role on "Marcus Welby, M.D." Actor Josh Brolin is his son, and his third wife is singer and actress Barbra Streisand. He can be seen in the Hallmark Movie Channel's first original holiday movie, "Christmas With Tucker," a heartwarming tale of a boy and his dog. It airs at 9 tonight, 5 p.m. Tuesday, 2 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. Friday.
You are in a movie with animals and children. What happened to the old adage, Never work with animals or children?
Oh my gosh. My history has been kids on a ranch and lots of animals. With the boys' mother back in the '70s and '80s, we were a wildlife station. We had wolves, we had three mountain lions, and at that point I was training dogs and horses. I had 63 horses when I left for a calmer life in Santa Barbara. Josh and Jess were both brought up on the ranch.
I was thinking more about what W.C. Fields said about being upstaged by animals and children.
Well, the more you sit in it the less you smell it, they also say [laughs]. It has never been an issue with me. As a matter of fact, my film director partner was an animal trainer. That is how he got into the business, and now he has written and directed 23 films.
Do you remember the first dog you ever had?
Sure, he was a great dog. I can't remember why anyone gave him to me, but I got him at 2 years old. He was the most perfect German shepherd you have ever seen. So picturesque and really understood what you were talking about. You could introduce him to people, and they would come back a week later and you would say, "Go over and give such and such a kiss." There would be four people there, and he would know which one you would mean.
How old were you when you got him?
I was 16 or 17. He went everywhere in the car with me. In those days, State Beach, no dogs were allowed. So we would know who the cops were in sunglasses and shorts. I would just whistle for him to come down and be with us, and the minute I would see the cops, I would say, "Go get in the car." He'd run back up to the parking lot and sit in the back like he owned the joint. It was great.
The sad thing was he had to be put down because of [hip] dysplasia. It was so bad it got to where he was whimpering all the time. It was a real tough lesson. If we insist on having a dog, we have five to seven during our lifetime and we have to say goodbye to each one of them.
I understand you are into many things, not just animals. You are a pilot and a carpenter. Did you ever consider getting out of acting?
Yeah, yeah, I did. It seems like every time I get involved in something I back into something accidentally in the business or I get a call. Listen, at one point I wanted to start a very healthy, simple-menu hamburger chain, like what would now be In-n-Out except guaranteed good for your kids. Had I gone and done that, I think I'd own a thousand outlets by now. But, no, I'm a lazy actor, so you sit around and wait for the next thing.
I had my first flying lesson when I was 18. I have two small airplanes right now. I love puddle jumping or short takeoff and landing. I love taking an airplane into someplace where they say, "Oh, you'll never get it in and out of there."
I also bought into a defunct and very hurting jet charter company. We don't own any airplanes. We charter them for the owners and take a lot of the overhead away from them. We have 15 employees, and we are going all the time. We have a lot of the entertainment business because we are the little guy. I see so many wealthy guys going to Aspen in the winter with their family in a [Gulfstream] G4. Then they pop over to Vegas for the weekend with their buddy, and they are still taking the G4. I go, "Why are you doing that? I can get you there in 41 minutes for one-fourth the price."
That is a great idea.
That business is doing fairly well now. In the mid-'70s I was building some spec houses with a friend, and we went into a phony lumber business [laughing]. By that I mean we printed purchase orders and cards and pretended like we were in business in order to buy wholesale. Now with my partner we have 6 acres of lumber. So I have always had this thing, you know. Do I want to go into another business? I still have this dream of developing the next film.
You are working on a film now, aren't you?
I am working on a charity film for President [Bill] Clinton and Richard Branson and Russell James. It's a charity thing for Haiti to show the virtuous side of Haiti and what it could develop into if everything goes in the right direction. That will be a 90-minute very classy documentary.
So do you ever just sit on the couch and stare at the ceiling?
You know what? My wife and I both said this once and started laughing: We're industrious when we are industrious, but we are very impatient, and the reason is so we can get back in the hammock as soon as possible. Get it done and get back in bed [laughing].
How did your parents feel when you changed your name as a young actor?
They were pretty good. I came home from school one day when I was a kid and said, "Don't call me Craig. Call me Jim." They said, "What?" I said, "Call me Jim from now on." They kind of got with the program right away.
I didn't like that name. It just gave me a bad feeling every time I heard it. Later on, when I realized I was going to have my name in print, I contracted Bruderlin into Brolin. Everyone kept saying, "How do you spell that?" I got tired of answering.
What about your son Josh? How did you feel about him wanting to follow in your footsteps?
I didn't really do anything but say, "OK, if you are going to do this, you are going to work hard."
As a young man, he said, "I will never go into your business" because he was being teased, because I had a successful series going, and he was sort of taking the brunt of it, you know?
He came to me in his last year of high school and said, "Listen, Pop, I've got three choices. I can take a wood shop, I can take metal shop or there's this acting class." I said, "Well, the acting class will teach you the psychology of why those guys are picking on you. It will help you put yourself in their shoes and think about you from their perspective." Next thing I knew, he was starring in the school play.
You had to be proud.
I was proud and then I thought, "Oh, boy, he's heading into a bag of snakes. Next thing I knew he was in L.A., and I recommended a school and he was there every night until late. He really applied himself. He became a stage actor, something I was always a little afraid of.
I read you were shy.
Yeah, I was never a person who loved applause. Let's say I was a furniture maker and I built this great chair. I don't want anybody looking over my shoulder saying, "Wow the way you glued that is fantastic." I want to finish the chair, open the door, put it out and go to lunch while everybody looks at it.
That is what I love about films. You do your best. It is between you and the other actors and the director's comments. You know, you don't have to worry about pleasing an audience out there. That always scared the heck out of me.
And now the world is so celebrity-centric.
It's strange and not right. And a lot of it, there is no truth in it. I read constantly about people I know and the whole sensationalism about their relationship, and they are just like the guy down the street who owns a car dealership. Every once in a while, in our business you find a nutcase. I have never been one in a hurry to go to dinner with actors. I love working with them. Generally, I find it is more the business that is dangerous and not the person.
OK, so I have to ask, does your wife sing to you?
She does not play music. She doesn't sing. She is always in a panic when there is something coming up, a performance she needs to do. She is amazing. I guess that's what gifted is. I mean, she is just innately gifted. She doesn't have to work out her voice muscles four hours a day like many singers. She has been so lucky at that. We did the concert tour, and I swear it was two, three weeks and she started working out with a piano player three times a week and that was it. Next thing I knew she was doing concerts in front of 18,000 people. I have not missed a performance on a concert tour in 41 performances. I will sit back there and watch how it's all done [laughing].
Well, I hope you get back to that hammock at some point.
Yeah, well, after all these years I still feel the same way. Can't wait to get in the hammock. I am doing these workouts with Laird Hamilton and Gabby [Reece]. They are probably the best in the world at how to eat, how to live, how to be happy, and he's the world's greatest surfer.
Anyway, I am working out with them in their pool. A bunch of us go up there three times a week. There are weights in the bottom of the pool, and you get to the surface with the weights and you have to tread water. I'm telling you I'm a changed man! So there is a lot of hammock time in the afternoon [laughing].