HBR INTERVIEW: October 2012
HBR: Why have you pursued so many different roles in entertainment?
Streisand: Maybe it’s something embedded in my genes. I’ve always needed to have a creative outlet, whatever form it takes. And when I am passionate about something, I take it on with intense commitment. By the way, I was an actress first, and only started singing to pay my bills.
You’ve been described as bossy and demanding. How do you respond to that?
Those words would never apply to a man. I addressed this double standard in a speech years ago when I said, “A man is commanding; a woman is demanding. A man is forceful; a woman is pushy. He’s assertive; she’s aggressive. He strategizes; she manipulates. He shows leadership; she’s controlling. He’s committed; she’s obsessed. He’s persevering; she’s relentless. A man is a perfectionist; a woman is a pain in the ass.” I insisted on one thing early on when I did my records and TV shows: artistic control. That’s what mattered to me. I trusted directors like William Wyler and Sydney Pollack. I both learned from them and was heard by them. But when I wanted more artistic control, I started directing. It allows me to complete my own vision.
At the same time, you have to delegate some things. How do you manage that?
It’s just trial and error. I have a core group of people who have been with me for many years, and I trust their opinions.
People working on films need to learn quickly to collaborate with colleagues they don’t know very well. How did you approach that challenge?
Sets become like a family with their own dynamic. As a director, you want to create an atmosphere of trust. My favorite part is the challenge of how to tell a story and get the best performances out of the actors. So I try to get to know them. I find out who they are, what their childhoods were like, what scares them, what makes them tick. When I’ve acted in films that I’ve directed, I’ve put myself last as an actress. I was the “cover set” on Prince of Tides, which means that when it rained, we came inside and did my scenes. Working so closely on the script allows me to know the character, so I don’t waste time on my performance.
You’ve talked a lot about how hard it’s been to be a female director in Hollywood. Have things changed since you started?
Frankly, I’m not sure how much has changed. Women aren’t paid as much as men, and it’s still difficult to get films made. Making Yentl in England was wonderful, because they were used to seeing women in powerful positions—with the Queen as the head of state and Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. Strong women weren’t a threat to them. But why did it take 14 years to bring Yentl to the screen? It was even hard to get The Prince of Tides made, and that was a famous book. Since the 1980s I’d been trying to raise the money to make [a film of Larry Kramer’s play] The Normal Heart. When I couldn’t do that, I built a house.
You’ve collaborated with songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman for more than 50 years. What’s the secret to maintaining a healthy working relationship over such a long stretch of time?
It’s simple: love and respect.
You famously suffer from stage fright. How did you overcome it?
Years ago, psychotherapy helped me deal with the anxiety. I’ve also used a tape on excellence to calm my nerves before I perform live. And when I’m really nervous, I say, “Let go and let God.”
How have you kept the balance between work and family?
You just have to do the best you can and at the same time be true to your own artistic needs. If you’re not fulfilled and happy, you can’t be a good parent to your child.
You’ve backed many nonprofit organizations and political candidates over the years. What’s the strategy behind your philanthropy?
I follow what’s in my heart and what I feel are urgent, important issues that deserve attention— whether it be after-school programs for underserved kids in Los Angeles, helping to restore arts and music programs in schools, encouraging people to vote, preserving the Fourth Estate so that we continue to have journalism that educates the public and holds our leaders accountable. Through my foundation, I make many small grants throughout the year, but I usually have one priority area where a majority of the grant making is focused. Since 1984 climate change has been the focus, and in the past few years I’ve added women’s health to that list of core priorities. In politics, I support candidates who are consistent with my values and whose policies are in line with the needs of working people as opposed to corporations.
You recently raised more than $20 million for the Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. How did you go about persuading people to support that cause?
I just told people the truth about women and heart disease—that it kills more women than men and more women than all cancers combined. People are shocked. Many haven’t ever heard the statistics, and the facts speak for themselves.
You just turned 70 and you’re more active than ever with philanthropy, movies, and an upcoming concert in Brooklyn. Where do you get your stamina? And how do you recharge?
My stamina comes from my own life force, and exercise and diet allow me to keep my energy up. When I want to decompress, I watch movies and play games on my computer.
Which part of your career has been most satisfying, and what, if any, regrets do you have?
Acting years ago, writing, directing, composing music, designing. I’m very grateful to still have my voice, which has been there to serve me when I want to work. And I am grateful to have such loyal fans who want to come see me perform. Ultimately, I regret not playing all the parts I wanted to play— Juliet, Hedda Gabler, Medea, and a few more.
You’ve said that you never give the same performance twice. What’s the secret to that sort of constant iteration and improvement?
Being in the moment. No two are alike.