When James Brolin was 15, his parents invited Hollywood producer/director William Castle to dinner. Impressed by Brolin's self-confidence and teen-idol looks, Castle invited him to audition for a film role at Columbia Pictures. When he failed to land the part, Brolin decided to "show 'em" by studying diligently for an acting career, eventually logging 5,000 hours of class time. While still attending U.C.L.A., he landed a small role on the Bus Stop TV series, which led to a 20th Century Fox contract. For the next five years, he marked time with bits and minor roles in such Fox features as Take Her, She's Mine (1963), Goodbye Charlie (1964), Von Ryan's Express (1965), Our Man Flint (1966), and Fantastic Voyage (1966). His first real break came with a peripheral but noticeable recurring role on the 1966 TV Western The Monroes.
In 1968, Brolin finally attained stardom with his Emmy-winning characterization of Dr. Steve Kiley on the popular TV medical series Marcus Welby, M.D. During his five years with Welby, Brolin returned to films to play such choice roles as the unbalanced Vietnam vet in Skyjacked (1972) and ill-fated vacationer John Blaine in Westworld (1973). The most conspicuous of his post-Welby film assignments was 1976's Gable and Lombard, a cinematic atrocity redeemed only slightly by Brolin's earnest portrayal of Clark Gable. His most endearing screen assignment was his extended cameo as P.W. in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985), and in 1992 he had one of his strongest roles to date as a wayward father in Allison Anders' Gas Food Lodging. Periodically returning to television, Brolin has starred on the weekly series Hotel (1983), Angel Falls (1993), and Extremities (1995). James Brolin is the father of actor Josh Brolin, who co-starred with his dad in the made-for-cable Finish Line (1989). In 1998, Brolin assumed one of his most high-profile real-life roles to date as the husband of Barbra Streisand, whom he married in July of that year.
He remained one of the most respected actors of his generation and continued to work steadily for directors all over the world. In 2002 he was cast in Martin Scorsese's epic historical drama Gangs of New York. In 2003 he took a cameo part in Bright Young Things. In 2004 he returned for the Bridget Jones sequel, and took a bit part in Mike Leigh's Vera Drake. He worked in a number o animated films including Doogal, Valiant, and Robots. In 2007 he had the title role in Longford, a historical drama about the infamous Moor Murders, and the next year he was part of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.
He became part of the Harry Potter family with Half-Blood Prince, and played King William in the costume drama The Young Victoria, all in 2009. In 2010 he reunited with Mike Leigh and earned excellent reviews yet again for Another Year, and the next year he helped support Meryl Streep to an Oscar play the dutiful husband to The Iron Lady.