Barbra Streisand: 'I love being a gay icon'

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At age 70, Barbra Streisand remains very attractive, youthful and trim. Wearing a figure-hugging black ensemble at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, she’s in a great mood as she promotes her new movie “The Guilt Trip.” 

The story is about an inventor, played by Seth Rogen, who invites his mother on a cross-country trip as he tries to sell his new product while reuniting her with a lost love. 

As one of the few performers who has won an Oscar, Grammy, Emmy and Tony award, Streisand defines the term “living legend.” She’s been married twice, first to actor Elliott Gould from 1963 to 1971. They had one child, out gay actor Jason Gould.

Streisand married her second husband James Brolin in 1998. They have no children together, although Brolin has two children from his first marriage, including Academy Award-nominated actor Josh Brolin, and one child from his second marriage. 

What was it like meeting Seth for the first time? 

Seth, it turns out, sussed me out and he called people from the Focker movies. I thought he was adorable – so I thought, “This is interesting. Unlikely, which makes it interesting.” But we are both Jewish, I could be his mother. 

Who made whom crack up and laugh the most? 

Well, it was more unexpected for me probably, and I am more serious, so that’s funny. But the director, Anne (Fletcher) and writer Dan (Fogelman) used to throw us things. They would say, riff on your cousin and we would just laugh. And he copied my iPhone – I was the one with the iPhone. But he would show me things and he asked me if I had a Twitter account and I said, “I don’t know,” (laughs) so he looked it up, and I have a Twitter account! Which I only use for political purposes. So I didn’t know it was beyond that. I wouldn’t know how to find it on my phone. Seth is very handy. 

You must know that a lot of gay people are going to see this movie. 

We hope! I would love that. 

How do you feel about the label “gay icon” and your own son, do you think that he considers you an icon? 

He doesn’t see me as an icon (laughs), he sees me as his mother who touches his hair too much. No, I love being an icon to anybody. Equal rights, you know? 

What gives you the greatest satisfaction as an artist and what does it mean for you to be part of a project like this? 

I prefer things that are private, so I love recording and I love making films as a filmmaker, because it uses every bit of what you have experienced or know, whether it’s graphics, composition, decorating, psychology, storytelling, whatever it is – and it’s very, it’s a wonderful thing. 

This movie has a great balance of comedy and drama in it and it has some real heartfelt moments 

This is good, thank you.

What was the hardest thing you had to do in the film? 

Eating steak. (Laughs.) For a person who doesn’t like steak, that was the hardest thing. 

What do you think is the secret to your success and what have you done right? 

I don’t make that many movies and I don’t make that many appearances, so less is more. And so that keeps a little mystery or something. I don’t know, I like to stay home a lot. I like to do other things too, like decorate, build. 

How much contact did your son Jason Gould have with Seth when he was thinking about playing the role. 

Actually, he was very important in my decision to make the movie, because he was recovering from back surgery and he was in bed for a few days after, and I brought the script over and we read it out loud. It was interesting. Actually his father was in the room too, isn’t that funny? We were both there coddling our son, so he became the audience and Jason was reading all the parts to me and he said, “I think you should do it, mom.” And I really trust his integrity and his opinion. He has great taste in whatever he chooses to do. It’s amazing. So he clinched the deal. … I was thinking at the time, should I be playing Sarah Bernhardt or trying to get movies made as a director – and it’s very, very hard. It’s not the same as when I last made a film. They are not interested in love stories or any movie that’s sort of over $15 million, but it can be $100 million, that’s OK. Two hundred million is OK to lose (laughs), but the movies that I am used to making or liking, what draws me are movies that cost $18 million (or) $20 million. They are not interested in those movies. So it is a different time and I don’t like it as much. 

I have to imagine you get sent so many scripts. 

I don’t.

You don’t, or they just don’t make it to you? 

See, everybody thinks like you. She must get so many scripts, why would I send her that, she will never get a chance to read it, and meanwhile I go, “Where are the scripts?” 

What ultimately was it about reading “Guilt Trip” with your son that connected with you? 

Mothers develop guilt trips. I mean, when I was working a lot and I felt guilty as a parent that I couldn’t pick up my son every day from school, bake him cookies and that kind of thing, and so I know that feeling. I know that feeling a lot. And so you try and compensate and everything they do is great and they sense that guilt, children, and they are going through their own rebellious time and having a famous parent is an odd thing. And so I thought it was an interesting thing to investigate this. Dan wrote this lovely script and it just felt like it was meant to be for me to come back to work in a starring role, rather than (spend) six days on a movie, but it was time to challenge myself again. Of course, I made it very difficult for them to hire me because I kept wanting an out in some way, so I made it really hard. I really don’t want to schlep to Paramount, it’s two hours each way, so I said, “Would you like rent a warehouse and build the sets in the Valley? No more than 45 minutes from my house?” (Laughs.) And they said yes. Then on all these Focker movies, I had to get up early, and I am not an early bird, and Seth says it’s very hard to be funny at 7:30 in the morning. He’s right. I said, “So you can’t pick me up till 8:30,” ’cause that’s like a normal time to get up for me ’cause I love the night. My husband and I stay up till two, three in the morning, so we don’t function that well at six in the morning. And they said OK.

What do you want audiences to take away from the film? 

I want them to be moved, I want them to identify, I want them to see themselves in the movie. I want them to get closer to their children, a lot of things. And more. 

You look so beautiful in the film and here today, what is your secret? 

No, if you knew all my self-doubt, my God! I kind of like the child part of me. Maybe it reflects in my face or something (laughs). I don’t know. 

You can sing, you can act in drama or comedy, compose, write, direct, you do everything well. What can you not do well? 

I can’t cook, I can’t cook at all. I mean, I would not know how to make coffee. Or boil an egg – maybe I could figure that one out. I took cooking classes, I know how to make chocolate soufflé. But just ask me if I want to make chocolate soufflé. I would rather have somebody else make the chocolate soufflé and I eat it. Because I found, when I took cooking classes, when I tried to cook, put it that way, it was never appetizing to eat. I mean, I didn’t want to eat it. The joy was gone. My hands, I was always filthy with the stuff and how do they keep their hands clean enough, and then cooking and cleaning up, I don’t like that part. 

Who is the person that you want to tell you the absolute truth about your performance in this picture? Whose opinion means most to you? 

Just one person? 

Yeah. 

It’s hard, it’s between my husband and my son, and my manager of 50 years, I mean that’s a long relationship. I trust several people.

Well, let’s just say your husband. 

Let’s just say that. I don’t like to be schmeicheled, you know what that means? How would you describe that, it’s a great Yiddish word. It means smeared. I like the truth.