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10 Quick Questions for James Brolin

Actor-producer-director lends his distinctive voice to Netflix’s ‘Sweet Tooth’

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Cindy Ord/Getty Images

At 82, James Brolin has been a working actor since the late ’60s, and has earned an Emmy, two Golden Globes and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His latest project is narrating the Netflix fantasy series Sweet Tooth, which follows the adventures of Gus — part deer, part boy — who ventures out of his forest home after a worldwide cataclysmic event. The Los Angeles born-and-raised Brolin talked to AARP about his longtime marriage to Barbra Streisand, his short-lived singing career and how he landed the Sweet Tooth gig.

Robert Downey Jr. is an executive producer of Sweet Tooth. Did you know him prior to the project?

We’re neighbors, and he and Josh [James’ son, actor Josh Brolin] have been friends for a long time. We had recently been for lunch [with Downey Jr.] and had a great day. He raises farm animals at his place. He’s really a loose kind of guy. I was surprised. I had met him years ago, but this was the first time we really had fun across a lunch table. I got the call not too long afterwards, “We want you to narrate this thing for us,” and my manager got into it to make a deal with Warner Brothers, and then [Downey Jr.] called Warner Brothers [and said], “I don’t care what he wants, just give it to him. That’s who we’re hiring, period.”

You and Barbra will celebrate your 25th wedding anniversary in July. How do you make it work?

I practiced twice before this one, and I’m glad I did, because it got me ready for this one. We are so good together.

Any big plans or presents to celebrate?

It’s always a piece of jewelry — it’s very welcome. Flowers, we get too many on days like that. We’ve been trying to plan. … [I ask] “Where will we go?” And she says, “I don’t want to go in a plane.” I say, “Well, let’s get in a pickup and drive to Lake Powell again.” She had never been at a truck stop before [our first trip], and she’s going, “Look at all this great stuff they’re selling you.” That’s the Brooklyn girl for you.

spinner image barbra streisand and james brolin wearing glasses, posing for camera
Brolin and wife Barbra Streisand have been married nearly 25 years.
Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images

Barbra doesn’t like to fly, but you and your daughter, Molly, have taken some big trips together. Anything coming up?

Well, she has had a child who is 10 months old now, so it’s not time yet. But [when it is time, I’m thinking], How about we hike The Nakasendo Trail from Tokyo to Osaka and go through the little towns that close the town doors at night? I would love to see that. I’ve never been to Japan, which is crazy. 

When will we see a James Brolin/Barbra Streisand collaboration?

Well, I don’t know if she’s in a hurry. She says, “Acting, oh my God.” She’s going to still put out some albums.

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Is there a song of Barbra’s that has always been your favorite?

She has so many that every once in a while, I’ll turn on something in the car and find myself in tears. There must be 10 songs that do that to me that she’s done. I keep telling her [that] on a new album, I’d like to hear her sing “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” Crystal Gayle’s song.

Do you sing?

I did an album once because the neighbor across the street said, “You know, I just did an album for these people in Oklahoma City, and they asked me if you might be interested.” So I had three or four weeks [to record it]. At the time [I had a couple of] friends that had hit records, [including] Glen Campbell, and I said, “Help me here. Help me.” I was ill-prepared, but it’s out there. Every once in a while, [the album] shows up on eBay: James Brolin Sings.

How do you sound?

Some of it’s pretty good. Others are like a cow is dying.

What advice would you give somebody who wanted to pursue acting?

Go to school — acting school — if that’s what you want to do. If you want to be a director, go to a director’s school. Go to a cinematographer’s school. Go learn what you want to do first thing tomorrow morning. Don’t start getting into all this ethereal stuff. … I was lucky enough when I was 19 and signed to a studio. I netted $93 a week, which was more money than I ever heard of. And I was there for seven years at [20th Century] Fox. You know what the first thing I did with the money? They had a school there [on the lot]. I paid my money and I went to five different acting workshops during that period, because I basically knew I didn’t have that kind of [training].

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Looking back on your life, is there anything you would do differently?

I’d start over again, because it’s been such a good trip. I would do it again, just the same way. All of this [led to] meeting Barbra. I’m looking across 30 miles of ocean at Santa Monica and Long Beach here, and it’s just so beautiful. I’m such a lucky guy, because she had this place and I live here now. 

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