BEVERLY HILLS—Barbra Streisand is, by many measures, the most successful star of her era: she’s the top-selling female recording artist of all time, as well as the only performer to have won the gamut of American show-biz accolades, including Grammys, Oscars, Tonys and Emmys—as well as a Peabody, if anyone’s counting.
Lately, however, she has been in short supply: The Mirror Has Two Faces was 15 years ago, and recent screen appearances have been limited to moments in the Meet the Fockers franchise. Her stage presence, albeit rarely seen, still packs a wallop, though. After a career-defining homecoming performance in Brooklyn during the inaugural series at the Barclays Center earlier this year, notoriously crusty New York Times music critic Stephen Holden described her mystique in glowing terms: “Appetite, yearning, curiosity—whatever you call it,” he wrote, “is a quality embedded in Ms. Streisand’s voice.”
At a recent press day for The Guilt Trip, a mother-son road-trip movie in which Streisand stars as Seth Rogen’s mom, she admits that she hadn’t been drawn to making movies in a long time when she was approached by director Anne Fletcher and scriptwriter Dan Fogelman for this unlikely role.
“I was thinking at the time, ‘Should I play Sarah Bernhardt? Or try to get movies made as a director?’ And it’s very, very hard, because it’s not the same as when I last made a film,” she says.
“They’re not interested in love stories, or any movie that’s over $15 million—unless its $100 million, or $200 million, which it’s okay to lose. But the kind of movies I’m used to making, or liking, cost $18 million, $20 million. It’s a different time. I don’t like it as much,” she confides.
It might seem strange that the voice that carried A Star Is Born and The Way We Were has chosen to bring some of that Barclays Center “appetite” and “yearning” to a nuanced portrayal of Joyce Brewster, a frumpy Jewish mom well past MILF age, who, in most Hollywood fare, would be invisible or, worse, lampooned.
“I thought, ‘This is interesting—unlikely, which makes it interesting,’ and [Rogen] is adorable and very good at what he does,” she says, admitting that it’s an “unexpected” choice for someone who considers herself a “serious” performer.
She says, however, that comedy and drama are not that different.
“They’re both the same. What reaches an audience the most is honesty. If you’re saying something truthful, and it’s a funny line, then it’s going to be funny. If it’s a serious one, it’s going to be serious. I don’t think there’s a distinction in how you play drama or comedy, if it’s based in the truth.”
As a result, thanks to Babs and Fogelman, The Guilt Trip isn’t as much of a road-trip rehash as it might have been. Instead, it’s a rare depiction of that other kind of love story, the one Hollywood gets wrong almost all the time: that of the relationship between a parent and their grown child.
“I love it because it’s a transformative kind of movie,” says Streisand. “They start at the beginning, both of them, tragically alone.…Then, at the end, there’s many more possibilities. The horizons open. The Guilt Trip took me out of my shell, it was a very loving gesture. It’s about love.”