As a young man, Brolin was far less sanguine. His father and mother, onetime casting agent Jane Agee, divorced in 1986. He says there was a “whole shadow thing” with his dad but nonetheless joined the family business, becoming a stage actor and cofounding a theater festival in Rochester, New York, in 1990. He married an actress, Alice Adair, in 1989, and the couple had two children before their divorce three years later. (Brolin and Lane wed in 2004.) During the five years that Brolin spent in regional theater, he recalls, he and his father figured out how to be friends again. Then, in 1998, “he goes off and marries Barbra Streisand,” Brolin adds with a guffaw. He says he enjoys “hanging out” with Streisand and his father at their Malibu estate and reports that the three even had an unplanned family reunion—at the hospital. Brolin was in to get a cortisone shot for a back injury, while the other two were there for a test he euphemistically describes as “an older person’s thing.”
“It was genius, man,” he adds. “I had this great conversation with them because they were both coming off the morphine or whatever cocktail they were given. It was good to see her without a few filters.” Contrary to a recent gossip report that Streisand was angry at her stepson for playing Bush, Brolin says, “She seemed very intrigued by the whole thing, really happy about it.”
Despite his rugged appearance, Brolin has a demeanor as friendly and direct as a bluetick hound. It’s a wonder with his combination of talent and good looks that he didn’t hit it big years ago. Perhaps his pedigree worked against him in some way, causing Hollywood casting directors to, in Dubya’s own infamous expression, “misunderestimate” his potential. After debuting in The Goonies in 1985, Brolin spent the next 20 years playing small parts in good movies (Flirting With Disaster) and big parts in lousy ones (Mimic, Hollow Man). A spur-jangling appearance as Jedediah Smith in the Steven Spielberg–produced television miniseries Into the West hewed closer to his brawny image but did little for his big-screen stature.
Director Paul Haggis, who first met Brolin on the short-lived 2003 TV drama Mister Sterling, counters that the actor was just waiting stubbornly for the right role to come along. “He’s a picky son of a bitch,” says Haggis, who directed Brolin in 2007’s In the Valley of Elah and is planning to produce a feature version of the short film X, which Brolin wrote and directed. “Josh turned down roles other actors would leap at—big commercial roles—because he didn’t feel a connection with the character or the material. Even when he was going begging, he’d still say, ‘No, no, I can’t do a good job with that,’ and turn it down. Sometimes I felt like slapping him: ‘What do you mean you turned it down!’ But he was right. He had to do something that you’d remember him in.”