The Way They Are
James Brolin and Barbra Streisand had almost given up on love—then they met. In this exclusive interview, Brolin talks about their instant attraction, their passionate romance and why he's “the luckiest guy in the world.”
by Holly Sorensen
Nothing is as attractive as a man in love, and when James Brolin sits down for lunch at a California bistro, you know you're looking at one. Just mention the name of his intended, Barbra Streisand, and his eyes shimmer like sparklers.
“I wish I had met Barbra 30 years ago,” says the 57-year-old grandfather of two. “We've talked about this and we say, ‘Maybe in the last 30 years we've learned a lot of stuff that has helped us deal with who we are right now.’ Maybe it wouldn't have worked back then—she was busy; I was who I was.” He leans back in his chair and smiles. “But I think it could have.”
Brolin is the kind of guy who can say stuff like this and still come off more heartthrob than lovesick puppy. Asked if the prospect of dating someone as formidable as Streisand has ever scared him, he answers, “I'm not scared of anybody.” Explains Allison Anders, who directed Brolin in her critically acclaimed feature Gas Food Lodging, “James loves women. There is a complete regard and respect for them, yet he has that kind of masculinity that is not threatened by women in the least.”
He isn't threatened by being in the public eye either, even if he's there more because of his engagement to Streisand than because of his new series, Pensacola: Wings of Gold (airing now). He finished shooting an episode late last night in San Diego and then drove three hours up to Malibu just to do this interview and spend time with Streisand. Though he is looking forward to getting out in the sun with her, maybe taking a long walk, his attention never wanders from the conversation at hand. And it soon becomes clear that such unwavering interest is the key to his sex appeal. He is what they used to call a ladies' man —not a slickster with a million lines but a man who would rather have a meaningful heart-to-heart with a woman than hang out in a sports bar or locker room.
Brolin is philosophical about a career that has had some decided ups and downs. “I now know for a fact that the only things I need out of life are a cup of coffee, the paper and the ocean,” he says. “Even if I never make another nickel, I'll be fine.” Should Pensacola fail, like his past two TV series (Extreme and Angel Falls), he could have a successful future behind the camera. Brolin's directing debut, My Brother's War, recently won a best-feature award in the Hollywood Film Festival. And it represents a longtime dream come true.
“I bought a [movie] camera at 15 and started shooting film on my own,” he says. “But in a sense I didn't know where to go or what to do. I didn't know anyone in the business, and it was a lot tougher for young directors then.” His father was an aerospace engineer and, like most men of the time, a strong, silent type; two out of Brolin's three siblings are technical whizzes as well. Brolin, an exception, was also a very shy kid. “I surfed; I knew different kinds of people, but I wasn't a joiner. The only club I ever joined was the car club. You didn't have to talk,” he says. “I was terrified in high school to even deliver a book report in front of a class.” He was 18 when a studio rep stopped him on the street and asked if he wanted to be an actor—something he'd never considered before. “I had a very greedy response. I said, ‘'How much does it pay? And how much film can I buy with that?’”
Brolin's mother was immediately supportive of him, but his father thought pursuing acting was a waste of time. He changed his mind when his son became a paid contract actor at Fox and went to Europe to make Von Ryan's Express with big Hollywood players Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard.
“I worked harder than anyone I've ever met,” Brolin says of those early days. Five years later, when the audition came around for a series called Marcus Welby, M.D., he was ready. The show made him a household name, but the further he got into acting, the further away he got from directing. The successful series Hotel followed in 1983. “The best thing about that experience—other than that the shows were so tacky and fun—was my costar, Connie [Sellecca],” says Brolin. “I never laughed so much in my life. I was never really in love with her—what was I, stupid?”
Brolin knows he is in love these days—and so does everyone else. Though he and Streisand are possibly the most glamorous couple in town, they spend their time in decidedly low-key ways. A favorite pastime is to go for long drives in San Bernardino County. Brolin drives, and Streisand makes sandwiches on her lap in the car. They go to truck stops and check out trucker paraphernalia and kitschy souvenirs. “Barbra's really never done any of that kind of stuff. She's never really seen that side of America,” says Brolin.
The pair met through mutual friends. Christine Peters, the ex-wife of Streisand's former boyfriend Jon, asked Brolin's manager, Jeff Wald, if his friend would like to be introduced to Streisand. They arranged a blind date dinner party for the couple, complete with 20 or so eclectic guests.
“Everyone could see it immediately,” remembers Wald. “They didn't look up, they didn't talk to anyone else, I don't even think they ate. And then at the end, they left together.”
Brolin says both he and Streisand had given up on love before they met. “We speculate sometimes, ‘'Is this what happens when you give up? When you search for someone, you'll never find him or her, but when you give up . . . ?’ We swoon every single day. We are always saying, ‘'How did this happen? How did we get so lucky?’” He takes a sip of coffee. “It's a whole other mode—you thought you knew what loving was like, and you suddenly realize you had no idea.”
No wedding date is set, but on one of their car trips Brolin asked Streisand, “Have you ever been to Laughlin [Nevada]?” Of course she hadn't. “I said, ‘'Well, we could just go through the drive through there and have some drunk guy be our witness.’ But we've both always eloped, and I want to make a real bride out of her. My parents are both alive and so is her mother. It would be nice to have our friends and family there.”
And contrary to press reports, Brolin did buy her an engagement ring. The first one was very large and extravagant, but Streisand said she wanted “something more innocent and high school”; she picked out just such a diamond at Tiffany's .
Brolin's sons adore Streisand. His son Josh (from his 20-year marriage to Jane Cameron Agee, who died in 1995 in a car crash) is one of Hollywood's hottest young actors; he lives with his wife and two children on his late mother's ranch in Paso Robles, Calif. Son Jess is a sound engineer at the company that produced My Brother's War. Brolin also has a nine-year-old daughter, Molly, from his second marriage, to actress Jan Smithers.
After an afternoon spent mulling over Brolin's life, one of the things you come away admiring about him is how much effort he has put into becoming a sensitive guy. It was ten years ago that a friend recommended he enroll in a love and communication seminar. There, Brolin learned to hug people for the first time—before, he'd always just extended his hand. “One day I went up to my dad and embraced him,” remembers Brolin. “I thought he was going to die. I changed him completely in just a few months. He reaches out and grabs people now; he never, ever did that before.”
A cup of coffee, the paper, the ocean. Brolin has already knocked off the first two today, and now he's going to pick up Streisand and enjoy the third. He fights for the check and loses, but he manages to pay for our parking. In the interest of reporting, we end the day with one of those famous Brolin hugs. It's very clear his hard work has paid off.
Alternate Photographs by Bart Bartholomew
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