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11 Reasons James Brolin Won’t Slow Down at 81

Love of work, love of Barbra top the list of what inspires this beloved actor

James Brolin attends Disney And Pixar's "Lightyear" premiere at El Capitan Theatre on June 8, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Hollywood veteran James Brolin is finally landing dream roles in his ninth decade — but not for that rugged face familiar from Marcus Welby, M.D. Says Brolin, “I got Lightyear because of Sweet Tooth,” the Netflix series about a kid who’s half human, half deer that he narrated. Now Brolin voices the villain Zurg in Pixar’s Toy Story spin-off Lightyear (in theaters June 17). He tells AARP about his new animated acting career, how it felt to almost be James Bond, and whether we’ll ever see him sharing the screen with his wife, aka Barbra Streisand.

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1. He plays Zurg, the mysterious nemesis of Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) in the slam-dunk blockbuster Lightyear.

Emperor Zurg in "Lightyear"
Emperor Zurg (voiced by James Brolin) in "Lightyear."
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

We’re not sure whether Zurg’s quantumly there or he’s a figment of [Buzz’s] imagination. The person who taps you on the shoulder and says, “Uh-uh, you can’t do that. I’m in charge, you’re not.” He’s a heavy.

2. He’s living his Hollywood dream.

I always said I wanted to do a Dodge truck voice-over, like Sam Elliott. I’ve had multiple agents. The sample tapes I did were pretty good, but never a hookup. Then Sweet Tooth came along. Suddenly, now I’m in business. 

3. He’s feeling connected to his youth.

Us kids used to go into Westwood Village to the cartoons, three hours of Looney Tunes, Daffy Duck and Goofy. I think the actual animation — except for a movie like Lightyear — for cartoon characters was better then. Now it looks a little too computerized for me.

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4. He’s not just acting; he’s developing and directing.

I literally am always doing two things at the same time, and sometimes more. Over the last four years, I directed two well-done Hallmark movies and prepped four other movies. I have one series in mind I might act in and be supported by two young, delicious supporting actors, and another thing on the history of the Medici family that’s up for sale now, and another on Joey Buttafuoco, the true story.

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5. He’s having too much fun to retire.

As opposed to my wife, who says, “We live in a lovely spot with a gorgeous view, and we have an opportunity to travel more now,” I say, “Fine. I’ll do all that, but if something comes up, be ready for me to grab a plane ticket to go somewhere to work with a bunch of guys I have never met.” These are the best days of my life. Just give me more.

6. He’s still optimistic.

It’s all a crapshoot. I understand that. You have great hopes for every project, but you never know why someone likes a movie or doesn’t. That’s part of the excitement. That’s why I fly. Sure, I’m nervous when I fly as a pilot for 50 years now, but part of it is the risk factor that’s so great and what you do about it.

James Brolin and Barbra Streisand pose prior to the 91st Academy Awards Oscars at the Dolby Theater on Sunday, February 24, 2019.
James Brolin (left) and Barbra Streisand at the 91st Academy Awards on February 24, 2019.
Alex J. Berliner/ABImages via AP Images

7. He’s got hope for an on-screen collaboration with his wife, Barbra Streisand.

Well, you know, one never knows, but we had two projects we read out loud a couple times that she wanted to do. And she wanted to direct both. I’m fine with it, but she keeps thinking I’m going to be a rascal to direct. I tell her, “No, I’m putty in every director’s hands.” It’s when I’m directing that I become a little snotty — the good directors are!

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8. He’s got the secret to a solid marriage.

We met on July 1, 1996, and got married on July 1, 1998. [The secret is] being able to negotiate and having the ability to forget what you were just arguing about or why someone was snippy at you, and walk away and watch a television show, and it’s gone now. Over the years we have had two sittings with a marriage counselor, not for any dire reason. There were no real problems, other than we were starting to treat each other a little differently. And, my golly, both of us were in tears, and whatever it was — poof! It was gone. I did that because when Connie Sellecca remarried John Tesh, she said, “I will not marry you until we have six months of marriage counseling before the marriage.” Boy, what a good idea. It irons out a lot of things. There is always one person that doesn’t want to talk about it — you’ve got to both talk about it. We are really good at that. We’re both good negotiators. You think, All right, I didn’t know you meant that. That’s not how I think, but that’s why I love you, because you’re completely different from me.

9. He’s weighing in — from afar — on Barbra’s autobiography.

It should be out next spring. She goes over every syllable, making sure that there is dyed-in-the-wool truth in every ounce. She’s rewritten every line 10 times. I’ll go, “That’s good, keep that; I wouldn’t use that word.” I’m in the peanut gallery. She knows what she’s doing.

10. He’s made peace with almost being James Bond.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the tests on YouTube, but I literally had the job. I was over there a month. Roger Moore had said, “I’m not doing any more.” Producer Cubby Broccoli took me all over town to the best places. I started working with a stuntman; I bought my flat. They said, “Go home. Get all your stuff. You’re going to be gone for a year.” Two weeks later, I finally got a call: Roger Moore decided to do one more. I was crushed.

11. He’s got more to offer for future voice-over gigs.

After Lightyear I kept hearing from the Pixar staff and casting: “We just love Jim. He’s so funny and fun and all that.” I say, “OK, keep spreading that news because I’d like to do some more animated voices.” I’ve got a lot of cute voice-overs that Pixar doesn’t know about.

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