HFPA In Conversation: James Brolin Found his Comedic Side as a Kid

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros May 23, 2018
Actor, diurector James Brolin, Golden Globe winner

David Livingston/getty images

Golden Globe winner James Brolin stopped by the Hollywood Foreign Press office and talked with HFPA journalist Helen Hoehne about his long career as an actor, director and producer. He first got interested in filmmaking when he was eight years old. “I started to take still pictures with pinhole cameras. I got a gift of a little paper brownie camera, the little black square ones.  And I had a little darkroom by the time I was ten and by the time I was fifteen, I was shooting Super 8 movies.  And I literally wanted to be a filmmaker, that was my attraction and probably cowboy movies were in my head at the time,” he recalls. Lately he has directed TV Movies I’ll be Home for Christmas and Royal Hearts.

By lucky accident. he became an actor.

“I had thought it’s really a fun idea to be an actor but I am so unsuited for it because I can’t even get up in front of people and give a book report at school.  And it wasn’t until when I was 18, when somebody asked me if I would be interested in driving a truck in a Dodge commercial and literally being the main character.  And my answer was I wouldn’t have to talk, would I?  And they said as a matter of fact, no.  So I did one commercial and I was hired back to do another Dodge commercial, and then I was hired to do a Gallo Wine commercial and suddenly I am a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild with a card, and then I got an agent and the next thing I knew, I was on a contract to 20th Century Fox for seven years.”
 
Later, in the early 1970s, the TV drama Marcus Welby M.D. made him a household name. He also starred in movies like Skyjacked, Westworld, Gable and Lombard, The Car, Capricorn One, The Amityville Horror and another popular series Hotel.

“In my second year of Marcus Welby M.D. I said guys, where is my movies.  I came here to do movies.  And they said, you signed this paper, and we don’t have to do nothing.  So I literally motivated a suit against them with a really nasty lawyer, because I knew they were falsifying the time cards.  And I went to them and lo and behold, my lawyer calls me and says, you have your first movie.”

Now he embodies the gregarious patriarch on the comedy show Life in Pieces. Why does he think people connect with the show? “I think people recognize a lot of their own, it’s designed really to reflect the problems that we have at home, except to see how serious and silly we take so many of them, whether it’s having to do with bringing up our children or trying to keep a marriage together. It’s all silly and wonderful.”

He believes he learned his humor when he was goofing around with his dad and siblings. “My father was a drinker but not a drunk, so for us four kids, we really made a sort of comedy out of him.  And so we would get silly with him, although we weren’t drinking.  And I think years and years of facetious answers and all of his digging to find the comedy in everything prepared me for this.”

Listen to the podcast to learn how James Brolin’s mother influenced him, what kind of impact Clint Eastwood had on him, how he met his wife Barbara Streisand, what kind of chemistry they have, his passion for car racing, what  fatherhood taught him and what is a perfect night for him.

Listen to the conversation here or, for immediate access to all of our podcasts, subscribe to HFPA in Conversation on iTunes.