Third time lucky
Born in 1968 to soap superstar James and the late animal activist Jane Cameron Agee, Josh Brolin knew all about mucking in and mucking out from an early age.
“My mom ran a wildlife station,” recalls the actor. “She’d find people who had taken animals illegally out of the wild, and have them prosecuted and jailed. In the meantime, we’d look after the animals.
“We had coyotes, wolves, chimpanzees, and a lot of mountain lions for some reason. My brother and I had to take care of all those guys. We were up at 5.30 every morning.”
He was, from the beginning, torn between his duties with exotic livestock and an enduring love of film.
“The first film that my dad brought me to that had a big influence was Apocalypse Now – that was probably totally irresponsible of him – taking a 10-year-old. And I saw The Blob when I was four and that was just plain wrong. I was completely obsessed with the French-Canadian film Léolo when I was younger. And like most of the people I know I loved the great 70s films — I loved Dog Day Afternoon, Woman Under the Influence. I love going to the cinema by myself.”
A habit formed from too many family outings to animated fare? “Oh hell, no. I love animation. The Iron Giant is in my top 10 films of all time. I have never cried so hard in all my life. I bawled. The film I most want to see right now is The Lorax. But I’m such a massive Dr Seuss fan I’m frightened to see it.”
Because you’ll cry or because they might have messed it up? “Both. It’s a lose-lose movie for me either way.”
Today he’s spruced up for promotional duties in a cream suit and sporting a beard he’s grown for Jason Reitman’s forthcoming thriller, Labor Day. Even in swanky threads he retains a cowhand tan and repeatedly slips into endearing “hey man” Lebowski rhythms. He lives on a ranch just a few miles from the one where he grew up. A whiz day trader, he earns money independently from stocks and algorithms. “Tell me something,” he says. “Who tells your gender that they can’t do math? Because the most brilliant math people out there are female.
“I’ve traded with a lot of amazing girls. And then I hear ‘Oh, I’m a girl: I’m not good with numbers’. And it’s awful. Who programmes this idea into women?”
He loves trading and his interest stems from a time when he was a jobbing actor. Folk songs and online blurbs tell us that Brolin went into semi-retirement after his debut in The Goonies: that he was so horrified by his performance in the 1986 skate movie Thrashin’ that he decided to look elsewhere. The truth, he laughs, is rather more pedestrian: “I didn’t go anywhere: you all did. And that’s okay. I was a blue-collar working actor for twenty-something years. I took a year off to do landscaping and no one noticed.
“I was making movies that – at best – you might call arthouse films. If they made two million dollars I’d be like ‘Yes! Alright!’”
In 2007, all those years of graft seemed to coalesce into something like an overnight sensation. A run of films that included the Coens’ No Country for Old Men and Ridley Scott’s American Gangster propelled Brolin into the limelight. Within the year, Gus van Sant’s Milk had earned him his first Academy Award nomination.