The Rake

HOPE FLOATS

The story goes something like this: there is a boy who floats, and his father thinks it’s wonderful until he sees how it frightens other people, so he weighs his son down with rocks in a rucksack in order to stop the gesticulations, derision and judgment. The boy escapes from his encumbered bag and floats in a playground, whereupon his father admonishes him for not being normal and the boy cries a solitary tear.

It was at this point of the retelling of the Pixar short film Float — three hours into an hour-long interview — that Josh Brolin and I both began to weep. It reminded me of my twin brother’s bestman speech on my wedding day. It was a verbal peregrination jam-packed with wit, laughter and light teasing until he turned it on a penny with a single line, and all the guests simultaneously began to tear up — except my Edwardian father, who hasn’t cried since England won the 1981 Ashes series.

Nothing about Brolin’s upbringing was particularly conventional. He grew up in Paso Robles, California, what he calls “Steinbeck country, blue-collar and bucolic”. It is now known for its winemaking prowess, but back then it was more livestock than agriculture. It was there that he worked from a very young age on his birth mother’s (he refers to his father James Brolin’s current wife, Barbra Streisand — the very same — as his mother) 230-acre Carole Baskin-esque ranch, looking after rescued wild animals including lions, wolves and bears. He says: “I would get up at 5:30 every morning and drive a 1978 green Chevy truck with a couple of phone books under my ass so I could see over the steering wheel.”

The day-to-day routine would involve working with the 60-plus horses on the farm, but there were also the animals his mother looked after before she released them or sent them to a zoo. “My mother was perhaps the number one most irresponsible mother of all time,” he says. His brother ended up with 60 stitches in a leg because a wolf had escaped from its cage. “But my mother thought if you were a boy, you were a man and did ‘manly’ things,” Josh adds. It seems like his experience at the ranch had a larger bearing on his future vocation than the fact his father was an actor. He says: “I think [my interest in acting] was maybe in the fascination in why people do what they do, because I was so confused at such an early age and was privy to a lot of insanities.”

“My outlets were

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