December 1996; Vol. 1, No. 11
We're sitting at her kitchen table. Hard not to notice how tiny this woman is, how vulnerable-looking, this superstar who's been one since John Kennedy got elected and I dropped out of college. Damn few have careers to match hers. Singer. Actress. Director. Producer. Writer. The list of honors and firsts—endless. Grammys, Tonys, Oscars, Emmys, Peabodys, Golden Globes. And so it goes. Top-selling female artist in the world. First female composer ever to win an Academy Award. One of the few female directors in Hollywood. The funny girl who caught our attention because she didn't look like the others—she just had more talent than the others.
And yet, the woman gets stage fright. Her 1994 record-breaking concert tour was the first time she performed in public (other than for one of the causes important to her) in 28 years.
She was married once, a long time ago, to actor Elliott Gould. They have a son, Jason, who appeared in The Prince of Tides, which his mother directed. Today, she's seriously involved with actor James Brolin best known for the TV series Marcus Welby, M.D. (he played the young, sexy one, you remember) and for Hotel.
A force of nature. A perfectionist. A woman who speaks her mind. On politics. Men. Women. And movies. The latest: The Mirror Has Two Faces, produced by, directed by and starring Barbra Joan Streisand. O, yes, she also wrote that one theme in the movie. Sings it, too. What a surprise.
No, the real surprise: She is vulnerable.
Linda Ellerbee: Tell me about The Mirror Has Two Faces.
Barbra Streisand: The theme of The Mirror Has Two Faces is that beauty is in the heart of the beholder. It also deals with the fact that the world often mirrors back to you your own perception of yourself, which is usually based on your experiences as a child. It is a romantic comedy that has serious overtones dealing with mother-daughter issues, the beauty myth, self-esteem, transformation. It's about two disillusioned university professors who enter into a sexless marriage and then fall in love.
I'm fascinated by what we see when we look in the mirror, because very often what we see is not what the rest of the world sees. What do you see when you look in the mirror?
Phew! Most of the time, something I don't particularly like. But sometimes I like it. Sometimes I think, “Mmmm, not bad, Barbra.” I haven't had any surgery or anything. I haven't even had my ears pierced, so I know I could help myself look better, but I'm scared. In the movie, I changed it from her having plastic surgery because I thought that was not a way to get self-esteem. I knew this whole thing about me and my face would come up again. I'm going back to being the ugly duckling in this part. I thought, “I'm bringing this whole thing on myself.” And you know what? Who cares?
What do you like about directing?
Control is great. Control is not a negative word. It's great to have a dream. It's great to have a vision and see it realized.
It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.
I think if those dreams are worthy, other people will be interested. That's what I like about this process. But it's very, very tough because it takes away a lot of your time and life.
Do you think you're not taken as seriously as a director as you should be simply because you're a woman?
Yeah, probably, although I'm told I'm on the A-list of directors. It wasn't always like that. When I went to Europe—the first question at a press conference in London for Prince of Tides was, “Why did you show your legs in a shot?” It set the tone of this press conference. And I'm saying, “Well, the story at this point is about a man attracted to a woman. He's lying on her couch. She's a psychiatrist. He's looking at her body. No matter what actress played it, I would have to shoot it cutting to her breasts, her mouth, her hands, her legs, something.” When Kevin Costner directs a movie, no one says, “Why did you do so many closeups of yourself?” It's not even an issue.
I think if you counted the number of closeups of Mel Gibson in Braveheart, you could make a case that was a real vanity movie. Yet no one remarked on that.
They won't. But before anyone saw Prince of Tides, the New York Times called it a vanity production. And the women are worse than the men, Linda.
Why is that? You would think, with the difficulties that all of us have had entering areas that have been male-dominated, that we would be one another's biggest supporters.
That's the way I feel, that's the way you feel. But there's a whole group of women out there who feel the top of the pin is so small they have to kill each other off, because there's no room. What they don't understand is, the more they make room for each other, the bigger the top of the pin will get.
Good point. Do you have women heroes?
I never did.
I didn't either, growing up. None of the women I knew were doing things I wanted to do. Over the years I have come to have some women heroes. Barbara Jordan was a hero of mine. And Virginia Kelley, President Clinton's mother, a woman I got to know when I lost my breasts to cancer five years ago. I produced a special for ABC on the subject. She knew she was dying at the time. But she didn't want to talk about that. She wanted to talk about hope. I thought, “Yeah, this is my kind of woman.”
I adored her. Virginia and I had a very special thing. From the first moment I met her at the inauguration, when she said, “My son is sitting in the other room. Do you want to go?” There's the most beautiful picture of the two of us, taken from the back. We're walking and holding hands. In the short time I knew her over the last year of her life, what I learned from her was this amazing ability to love, to be loving. She would always sign off a conversation with me by saying, “I love you, Barbra. Do you know how precious you are?” I mean, she was like this fairy godmother that I've always dreamed about. She knew how to wring every morsel out of life. Every moment of joy, you know?
Are you good at pulling joy out of your life?
I'm just learning about it now. Better late than never.
It was 1964. I was 19 and had married a fellow, basically to get away from home. We were living in a nasty little apartment in Memphis, Tennessee. He would go to work every day, and I'd put on the soundtrack to Funny Girl. And it reached me because it was about wanting more. It was very clear to me that I wanted more. Tell me, at what age do you remember saying, “I want to be famous?”
Do you know why?
I didn't like what I saw in life, so I would go into my imagination. I remember when I started to sing. I was 18, and people would say, “Well, how do you know about love songs? Have you been married? Have you had lots of relationships?” I said, “No. Nothing.” It was all my imagination. It's what I wanted life to be, not what it was.
Is fame like you thought it would be?
No. Because I don't like being looked at. I don't like to have my picture taken. I only like the work. I only like the creative process. It's a very private process. It has nothing to do with an audience or anything like that. So it's not what I expected it to be. The  concert was a different thing, because I used to listen to a tape before I went on every night. The tape talked about letting the love in, experiencing the love. And that made it a very joyful experience. I mean, as joyful as it could be for me to sing in front of people. I have a fear of forgetting the words. My heart pounds. It's not a pleasant feeling.
I think a lot of people have trouble understanding how a woman could be so talented and yet be so afraid to get out there and show that talent.
Yeah. It doesn't go together. They think you're lying or making it up.
Going back to the fear that we were talking about—and self esteem: Do you ever get the feeling, “One day they'll find me out?”
At moments I do. It's in most artists' psyches. That feeling of being a fraud sometimes. Everybody I talk to has that feeling.
You said you'll never tour again. True?
I couldn't wait to finish it, but now they're asking me to go to Japan on this movie. And I think, “Well, my sets are in storage, maybe I should ...” In my fantasy I would like to. The only city outside this country I've performed in is London. So a part of me thinks, “Well, why don't I do that?” So I don't want to say “never.”
Do you ever sing around the house?
Not when you're bopping around the house?
Never, never, never. I can't stand it if somebody puts a recording on in a car and they have a conversation with me. I say, “You're either going to listen to the music or you're going to talk to me.” I can't listen to music as background music. It's too serious to me. I don't sing in the shower. I don't sing when I cook. I never sing—and I never listen to my own records once I finish them.
Let's talk about women. I think men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses and women are taught to apologize for their strengths.
True, we're not supposed to be strong, but the whole idea is that we can have medical degrees and manicures. I was the first woman actress to be on the cover of Playboy who was interviewed inside, and I posed in a bunny suit. The picture was great. Nothing nasty, just long legs. I'm sorry now I never allowed them to print it because I was so afraid it was betraying the feminist issue. I thought the women would get mad at me, but the truth is, if I can have good legs and also be smart and also be able to direct movies, why am I apologizing for this?
What should we be saying to younger women?
To believe in your own power. I believe in being passionate. Being passionate about politics, being passionate about life, being passionate about your opinions.
What do you think it says about America, the way that Hillary Clinton has been treated in the media?
Well, I think it's disgraceful, because the world still is not used to that kind of strong woman. Her hairdos, right? It's easier to talk about her hairdos than what's inside her head. It's Yentl, I swear to God. If the woman wants to study, she's a demon. I'm convinced it goes back to the cavemen. A woman could have a baby. Human life came out of her—and men were so frightened they had to diminish her in some way.
When I first went to work in television news, I realized the men who hired me wanted me to go out and be forceful and persevering and not take no for an answer, then they wanted me to come back inside and say, “Yes, sir.” I thought it over and decided this can go one of two ways. They can make me crazy or I can make them crazy, and I know which way I'm going to choose.
What kind of man are you with now?
A wonderful man. A confident man. We were friends for many years. Then we started a production company together. Then we fell in love. But I had a lot of growing to do. I had to learn how to be a good partner. I wasn't ready for that until my 40's. How about you? You married once. Think you'll ever marry again?
Yes. Uh-huh. I can see that.
Are you happy in this relationship with Jim Brolin?
Very happy. One of the reasons I decided to do The Mirror Has Two Faces is that it had a happy ending. I was tired of doing movies where the woman never gets the guy. And I'm thinking, you know, how life imitates art. Why did this happen to me now? Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? All of a sudden the man appears and it works out and I get the guy? Or was it that I was actually kind of happy to be alone and didn't need a man, so that's why I found one. Or is it just the man? They say there are three people for you in your lifetime that you could be soul mates with. That's very few.
So how does this relationship differ from other relationships you've been in?
God, I mean, we're just finding out now. It's so much fun to find out all these things. It's growing together. It's becoming more whole with each other, you know? And we have a hell of a lot of fun.
How did you meet?
A friend of mine met him and thought we would like each other. So she arranged a dinner party and sat me next to him. I was so resentful, because I usually work until midnight when we're editing. We eat at the editing machine. I was never a person who stopped to eat lunch with girlfriends or anything like that. The idea of having to leave at 7 o'clock to go to a dinner party? I told my editor, “Stick around. I'll only go for a couple of hours and then I'll come back.” But from the first moment we met, Jim and I never stopped talking. He said, “I insist on taking you home.” And he did.
Very romantic. A nice time in your life for a romantic comedy?
Yes, it really, really is. It's perfect. I feel very grateful.
I do think partly it has to do with the fact we're not 25 anymore.
Yes, because you realize time is running out. Also, you know what you won't stand for anymore in a relationship. What you won't accept. You'd rather be alone than make too many compromises. You're more sure of what you want and what you don't want.
And who you are?
And not being afraid to show who you are.
Related Pages: The Mirror Has Two Faces movie page >>