November 07, 1996

Barbra In One Take

By Sean Mitchell

Photo: Firooz Zahedi

LA Times

Barbra in One Take

Though most often identified as a singer and actress, Barbra Streisand would like people to remember that she has also produced and directed the motion pictures "Yentl" (1984) and "The Prince of Tides" (1991). Her third film as producer and director, "The Mirror Has Two Faces," opens Nov. 15.

Written by Richard LaGravenese ("The Bridges of Madison County," "The Fisher King") and co-produced with Arnon Milchan for TriStar, "The Mirror Has Two Faces" is based loosely on a melodramatic French film about a woman whose marriage is undone after she undergoes plastic surgery and becomes a beauty. In Streisand's version, which has turned the story into a romantic comedy, there is no plastic surgery, but the character Streisand plays (Rose) is an unhappy, spinsterish Columbia University professor of literature who does undergo a glamorous make-over in pursuit of a better life.

The object of her desire is Jeff Bridges, a handsome, distracted Columbia math professor, also unmarried, whose own life has been so undone by sex and beautiful women that he longs for a platonic union with a woman like, well, like Rose—or Rose before her make-over and spiritual awakening. Complications ensue, some involving Lauren Bacall, who plays Rose's live-in mother from hell and herself a former beauty who, we learn, never told Rose she was pretty.

The film is set in Manhattan. It is Streisand's 16th movie.

Question: What attracted you to this story?

Answer: I related to it on many levels: the mother-daughter relationship, me being a teacher [in the film] because my father was a teacher. My father went to Columbia University, which is the university in the movie. It just felt right. But the script wasn't right, initially. We had a reading with actors—this was back in 1992—and it just wasn't enough. And the studio at that time also wouldn't make my deal, they wouldn't pay me what I was normally getting.

It was like "Yentl" and "Prince of Tides," where I gave up so much of my profits to get the movies made. Then I decided, no, I don't want to do that again. So the movie wasn't made for four years.

Q: What was the amount they wouldn't pay you?

A: I'd rather not talk about money. It's kind of gross. But they wouldn't pay me. Actually it was my friend [former TriStar Chairman] Mike Medavoy who wouldn't pay me, and now he's bought into it and owns a piece of it. So it is funny. He loves the movie now.

Q: You did that concert tour in 1994. When did you get back to "The Mirror Has Two Faces"?

A: I was going to direct "The Normal Heart" and wanted Ralph Fiennes and he was unavailable; I wanted Kenneth Branagh and he was unavailable. Meanwhile, I reread "The Mirror Has Two Faces" and saw all these other things that I wanted to do with it. I didn't like the whole plastic surgery idea, that one's self-esteem would come from plastic surgery, rather than from something much deeper, from one's childhood. Something more internal than external. So that's how we changed the story.

Q: Are you concerned that some people might say the make-over is nice but did Rose really need it? She doesn't look so bad.

A: No, she doesn't. She's not supposed to. It's funny, a magazine editor in New York saw the picture, and I couldn't believe one of the comments she made. She said, "I don't like the message of the movie: It means you have to be beautiful to be loved." She completely missed the whole point of the movie. He's in love with the old Rose, the unglamorous one.

What Rose gets is a different aura of confidence. She never thought of herself as pretty. That's not to say she wasn't pretty. She wasn't told she was pretty. It's like Rose unveils. The first three-fourths of the movie I never show an arm. She covers herself up, she hides.

Q: In your own life, when have you been most comfortable looking in the mirror?

A: I've gone through periods. I'm always confused about my face because I've been called an ugly duckling and I've been called one of the most beautiful women in the world. People love my profile, people hate my profile, people think I'm cross-eyed, people love my eyes. I don't know. I think I'm probably all those things at different times, at different moments. I mean, now I look back at my earlier films, my earlier career—if I happen to see something on TV—and I think, God, I didn't appreciate my looks. That's too bad in a way.

I don't know how many women do, though. I love to ask beautiful women what they think about their looks and it's amazing how many beautiful women don't think they're beautiful. I asked Lauren Bacall that. She said, "I never thought of myself as beautiful."

Q: The movie challenges some traditional notions of romantic love and beauty. Both of the main characters seem to have suffered from accepting society's conventions in these areas.

A: He has to examine his own concepts of beauty. Is it in the eye of the beholder? Is it in the heart of the beholder? How does it go from the eye to the heart? Is it really a soulful connection? It's an interesting subject to me. And how the media decides what is beautiful.

I've had interviews where the men say, "God, you're really pretty or you're much prettier than I thought" or something like that. They never write it. I always find it fascinating. They won't write it because they think I'm not supposed to be viewed that way. They don't have enough belief in their own thoughts. That's why that line [spoken by Bridges] is in the film, that people don't have their opinions anymore. They take what the media says is beautiful. And talk shows tell us about relationships.

Q: The script contains some sharp criticism of Madison Avenue and Hollywood images of romance, but it also includes a scene with two people dancing in the middle of a Manhattan street at 6 a.m. to the sound of a Barbra Streisand-Bryan Adams duet. Are you having it both ways?

A: I wanted to dance in the street. Also, I love reality. I love using the truth about actors as people. I once hired a woman in "Main Event" who played Ryan O'Neal's girlfriend—Patti D'Arbanville. Because she came into the audition and I could hear that phlegm in her throat and I knew that she wanted to cough it up, you know, so I said, "Cough it up, it's OK, do it." And she let out this cough [gags], and I said, "You're hired." I love to use the truth about people, real behavior. I knew I would use that cough in the film.

I discovered at a party that Jeff was a great dancer and I wanted to use that.

Q: The big song, "I Finally Found Someone," that plays over the credits . . . you wrote it with Bryan Adams and Marvin Hamlisch? How did that work exactly?

A: I wrote the love theme, the main love theme, then Marvin wrote a bridge to it, and that was going to be our song. Then [record producer] David Foster had the idea that I should sing the duet with Bryan Adams. Bryan played our track and heard me humming and fell in love with this little theme that I wrote and then he and his producer Mutt Lange wrote a counter melody based on the track that I sent him. And they wrote the lyrics. So that's how that happened. I don't think his record company wanted him to sing with me.

Q: Why?

A: Because I'm more traditional, and I haven't had a hit since I don't know when.

Q: When you started singing on Broadway in the early '60s, show tunes were already being pushed off the radio by rock. Did you ever worry that, in spite of your huge record sales, you weren't necessarily considered hip?

A: I don't know who's playing on the radio. I never listen to the radio unless it's NPR. I mean if I hear somebody like Seal on the Grammys, I say, "Who's that guy? I never heard of him before and he's fabulous." But I don't keep up with the times.

Q: Of all the movies you've made as an actress and director, not counting this one, which two or three would you pick for people to see 50 years from now?

A: "Funny Girl," "The Way We Were," "Prince of Tides." And "Yentl." I actually loved "Up the Sandbox," which was the first film for my own production company in 1972, that dealt with abortion and women's rights, women's fantasies. And again, a mother-daughter relationship.

Q: Getting back to this film, do you believe the heart rebounds no matter what? And can you say something about James Brolin, the new man in your life?

A: First of all, I wanted to make an uplifting, life-affirming, hopeful picture about love. And that people do find each other at later ages, that everything's possible. In a way, my getting together with [Brolin] is life imitating art, like you dream the film and then you manifest the film. Also, it's when you're ready to receive and to give in this area. I couldn't have met him while I was making this movie. I wouldn't have been open. Once the movie was done and I could relax and edit the movie in my house, which is the fun part, I was open to a relationship again and it manifested itself.

Q: How did you meet?

A: My godchildren's mother, Christine Peters [Jon Peters' ex-wife], thought we'd like each other. I remember saying, I work every night till midnight with my editors. This to me was such an intrusion, going to a dinner party. I never do that. I even told my editors to wait for me, I'll come back, I'll go have dinner at 7 and come back and we'll start working again at 10. And then, when I met him, it was just . . . we were just totally interested in one another. And at a certain point in the evening, I had to call them. He said to me, "I'm taking you home with me, tell 'em to go home." I called them and told them I wasn't coming back.