Brolin's father was often away making TV shows like 'Marcus Welby' or movies like 'The Amityville Horror,' and he seems to have had little influence on the boy. His mom, meanwhile, was thin, short, and restless. She liked to drive. She drove 65,000 miles a year, just because. Sometimes, she'd rouse Josh and his younger brother, Jess, in the middle of the night and say, "Get up! Get in the car!" and they'd leave, for Texas, New Orleans, wherever, with her jawboning on the CB radio using the handle Cat Woman, out on the prowl.
"My mother was a 5-foot-2 Texan with the voice of a bullfrog," Brolin says later on, laughing. "She was involved in a pyramid scheme, the big 1980 one, and was one of the top five winners. I was 11, maybe 12. At one point, she had 12 pyramids running, and I was the counter. I counted the money as it came in, in bags. The people who lost money in the scheme put her on a hit list. She kept a 9mm on her bedside table."
Lots of famous people came to hang out at the ranch, mostly country-western singers like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker, and Johnny Cash. Jane didn't care much for actors or for the acting profession. She thought it was less than manly, which Josh picked up on; for years, when people asked him what he did for a living, he would be embarrassed to say. Even now, after he has been on a roll since 2007, he says odd things like, "I spent many years not rolling. It's important for me to keep in mind not to have any shame about rolling. Rolling's OK, you know?"
His parents moved the family to Montecito, near Santa Barbara, when Josh was 11, and got divorced five years later. (He inherited the Paso Robles farm after his mother died, had to sell it during the lean years, and was able to buy it back two years ago.) His father left for L.A., where he eventually married Barbra Streisand, while his mom stayed put. Josh was deeply into the punk scene, had a frosted-tip miles-high Mohawk known as a peacock, played drums in a local garage band, went surfing every morning, and became part of that Cito Rats surf gang, which patrolled the waters at local surf breaks like Dorbo Dunes, Chicken Creek, and Butterfly Beach to keep outsiders away. He got into petty theft. "I stole a lot of radios from cars," he says, with great lingering pride. "I could pop the deal with a coat hanger real easy. I got very good at it. I can still do it today. I could do it like that." He snaps his fingers. "What'd I spend the money on? Drums and drugs. What else was there?" For a short while, heroin was the drug of choice. "My friend Mike OD'd many times. I was there once when my buddy had to stick a frozen fish up his ass in order to revive him. Gnarly. Anyway, I was the last guy to get into heroin – I smoked it – and the first to get out. I was around 16 or 17, so it was around the time of 'The Goonies'. But I liked working and learning, so it was very difficult for me to lend myself to that drug completely."
In certain ways, he was a strange kid, especially in his younger years. At the age of 12, for instance, he started working at a restaurant and saving what he earned so that he could pay his own way to see a therapist. "I always felt this knot in my stomach, and I wanted to find out what it was," he says. "People look at me now and go, 'Oh, you must have been the Tasmanian Devil when you were young.' Actually, it was the opposite. I was really nice. I shook a lot. I mean, I spent so much time caring how
I was perceived that it made me shake. Oh, I had horrible shakes, horrible. When I would be nervous at all. I still get them sometimes, but I just don't care anymore.
"I was shy and got scared easily," he goes on. "It stopped the day these two kids, Danny and Kurt, put wood shavings in my hair during shop class. I remember thinking, 'If I don't do anything right now, that's it, that's gonna be the rest of my life.' So I got up and, shakingly, I fought. And I did well. I learned at that point that I had an ability to see what was coming. If somebody threw a punch, things slowed down, and I remember thinking, 'Wow, he doesn't know he's doing this' or 'He's a little lost right now. I can get six punches in. I've won. I've already won.'"
He stretches out and leans forward. "After that, a major switch happened: I started presenting myself as an intimidator. I was a goon."
And he stayed a goon, getting multiple tattoos to prove it, until he was 20, when he got married, had his two kids, and found himself having to clean up his act to be a good father – and it was an act that
by then had already gotten him into serious trouble.
"When I was 19," he says, "a fight broke out, and when the police came, I fought the police. I was pretty drunk. To this day, I have no idea what the fight was about.
I woke up in jail. The police were very angry with me. Very angry. They kicked my ass really well. I was looking at a long time in prison. So, basically, I put everything I had – everything I had earned from a TV series I did – into lawyers. I did a little bit of jail time. Not much, but a little bit."
And how did his mom react?
He laughs and snorts. "My mom would rather have that guy than –"
Than the shivering you?
"Yeah," he says, his head tilted. "That was kind of the way she grew up. My mom enjoyed my, you know –"