9:25am

Mon December 17, 2012
Movie Interviews

'Guilt Trip': Streisand On Songs, Films And Family

Originally published on Mon December 17, 2012 10:27 am

If a good voice is genetic, it's likely Barbra Streisand got hers from her mother. Streisand's mother was too shy to ever perform professionally, but she had a lyric soprano and would sing at bar mitzvahs in their Brooklyn neighborhood when Streisand was a girl.

The older Streisand also encouraged her daughter's talent. When Barbra was 13, her mother booked time at a Brooklyn recording studio and they recorded two songs each. It was Barbra's first studio recording; the sessions snowballed from there. In the next five decades, she would win eight Grammys and become one of the top-selling recording artists of all time.

Along the way, Streisand — who has a new movie out with Seth Rogen, The Guilt Trip — also began acting, and is one of fewer than a dozen artists to have won Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony awards.

In The Guilt Trip, Streisand plays a mom — a well-intentioned if somewhat overbearing Jewish mom who accompanies her grown son on a road trip across the country, to be exact.

The part is based on screenwriter Dan Fogelman's own late mother, a Streisand fan herself. In her initial approach to the role, Streisand tried to capture Fogelman's mother and says that in "trying to be a woman from New Jersey," she initially went for broad humor. After consulting Fogelman, however, she "modulated that to be a little less New Jersey — but I was playing her."

Fictional or real, mothers can be tricky business. Once Streisand left Brooklyn for Manhattan and her career began to take off, her own mother "couldn't quite understand how I had the courage to stand out there and sing [in public]." And she did not always welcome Barbra's success with enthusiasm. Jealousy was an issue.

"I didn't realize it till one Christmas night," Streisand says, "when people were giving me presents and [my mother] kind of went off a bit and started getting very emotional about, 'Why aren't you giving me presents? I'm her mother. I'm the mother,' that kind of thing. It was the first time I realized she was actually jealous of me. And that was hard to take, I must say."

Streisand wants to make another movie version of Gypsy, the famous musical about the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee and her domineering mother, and it's her relationship with the woman who raised her that's fueling that desire.

"I can totally identify," she says, "but I have to play the other part. I have to play the mother. ... It's almost like channeling my [own] mother."


Interview Highlights

On Release Me, her album of previously unreleased tracks

"I've had these things for a long time — a collection of these unreleased songs — and actually a friend of mine said, 'Did you ever see yourself singing on YouTube?' I was shocked. I thought, 'What?' I thought, 'That was my private property. How did anybody get me singing in a booth? ... [T]hese were songs that I did basically in very few takes, a lot of them one take, because we ran out of time by the end of a session. ... Three days, I completed my album in basically three days. We didn't do that many takes. We didn't have any way to fix things, and there were flaws in some of these things, so I thought, 'Let's put this out. Let's put it out,' and it's OK to expose whatever flaws I might have thought were there. I kind of enjoy things now that I don't think are perfect."

On how she got to know her father, who died when she was 15 months old

"I read his theses. He had written two theses [for a Ph.D.]. ... He was a teacher, you know. ... The first one was on the behavior of my brother. It was written almost like a play, but it was based on the truth. ... And I never read my father's second thesis until I was 39 years old and wanting to see if I should direct Yentl. ... It was all about how he taught English to prisoners and juvenile delinquents at Elmira Reformatory by using Chekov and Shakespeare and Ibsen. And so you see so much is in the genes, you know?"

What she expected to be when she was 13 and she was singing

"I was known on the block when I was a child as the kid with no father and a good voice. That was my identity, you know. ... So somehow I wanted to be recognized or seen or something like that, I guess. But it's interesting, the end of that record when I was 13 was the first time I experienced an improvisation, or something that came out of nowhere, because we had rehearsed with the pianist that my mother had found in the Catskill Mountains, and he played these long interludes, you know, as a break before you come back for the last section, and I remember saying to him, 'I think that's too long. The break, it should be shorter and then I'll come back in,' and I remember standing in front of that microphone, and something came out of my voice at the end that was a whole other thing than I'd rehearsed with him. And it was like a shocking kind of, 'Where did that come from?' and I like that. It so surprised me."

On her famous 1963 TV appearance with Judy Garland

"I can remember it distinctly. ... She was holding my hand and I thought, 'Gee, she seems nervous.' At that time, I wasn't nervous. I was still very young, I think, about to do Funny Girl, and now, when I think back on it, I think, 'Oh, my God, I know exactly what she's feeling.' Or, you know, the fears. It's like, as you get older and people are kind of looking for you to fail more, I think — not people, not the audience — but, you know, critics or producers or whatever. And I just felt her. I felt her anxiety. ... Part of me is much more relaxed than I've ever been, less frightened, less anxious. On the other hand, it's a coming-of-age-thing, and she was much younger than I am, but there are things with careers. ... I just understand the anxiety even though in a sense I'm calmer. It's a dichotomy. It's hard to explain. ... You wonder, 'Well, do I give it up? Do I retire? Or do I get more in before my time is up?' "

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Today is our first broadcast since learning about the shootings in Newtown. Our thoughts are with everyone in that community. My guest today is Barbra Streisand, and I wish I could sing my introduction of her the way Judy Garland did when Streisand was a guest on Garland's show back in 1963.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM)

JUDY GARLAND: We have a very exciting show planned for you tonight. We've got marvelous people.

(Singing) We've got Barbra Streisand. I think she's nice, and she has such poise, and she's got such elegance. It's a joy to have her on my show.

GROSS: Before we talk with Streisand about her long career, including that appearance with Judy Garland and her new movie "The Guilt Trip," let's get in a Streisand mood with an excerpt of her wonderful 2009 concert at the Village Vanguard. This is "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPRING CAN REALLY HANG YOU UP THE MOST")

BARBARA STREISAND: (Singing) Spring is here. There's no mistaking robins building nests from coast to coast. My heart tries to sing so they won't hear it breaking. Spring can really hang you up the most. Morning's kiss wakes trees and flowers. And to them I'd like to drink a toast. I walk in the park just to kill the lonely hours. Spring can really hang you up the most.

(Singing) Love came my way...

GROSS: Barbra Streisand, from her CD and DVD "One Night Only." The occasion for my interview with Barbra Streisand is her new film comedy "The Guilt Trip." Seth Rogen plays a 30-something scientist who has invented a new eco-friendly cleanser that he's trying to convince one of the major chain stores to stock.

He plans to rent a car in New Jersey, where he's visiting his mother, played by Streisand. He intends to make stops in every place he's managed to make an appointment to plug his product. Just before beginning the trip, he decides to invite his mother to accompany him. He has an ulterior motive, which he isn't going to reveal to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE GUILT TRIP")

SETH ROGEN: (As Andrew Brewster) Do you want to come on my trip with me, Mom?

STREISAND: (As Joyce Brewster) You want to drive cross-country with me?

ROGEN: (As Andrew) Yeah, no, it's - you know, we won't be gone long. It's only eight days in a car together.

STREISAND: (As Joyce) Wait a minute. I want to make sure that I'm hearing this correctly: You want to spend a week in a car with your mother?

ROGEN: (As Andrew) More than anything in the world.

STREISAND: (As Joyce) Don't you think I might get on your nerves a little bit?

ROGEN: (As Andrew) No, it was just a thought. And if you don't want to do it, then fine. I don't want to push you into it.

STREISAND: (As Joyce) What? What? Am I so awful that you can't spend a little time in a car with me?

ROGEN: (As Andrew) I'm inviting you. Do you want to go - do you want to drive across the country with me?

STREISAND: (As Joyce) Well, I'd have to reroute my mail.

ROGEN: (As Andrew) You have five seconds to tell me whether you want to go or not.

STREISAND: (As Joyce) I can't wait. What are you kidding me? Honey, that is so exciting. (Unintelligible) oh, my God. My boy just - oh, my God. I can't - I have to touch up my roots, though, before I go. What am I going to pack? You've got to fill me in on all the weather conditions in all the states that we're going to go through.

GROSS: Barbra Streisand, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's such a pleasure to have you on our show.

STREISAND: Thank you.

GROSS: Did you think of anybody or any people in particular when you were creating your character for "The Guilt Trip"?

STREISAND: Well, it was based on a true story. Dan Fogelman's mom...

GROSS: He's the screenwriter.

STREISAND: He's the screenwriter, yeah, and she was a big fan of mine. And that's why she wanted, before she died by the way, wanted me to play that part.

GROSS: Well, it's interesting that you should say that, because in a way I feel like you are playing the part of one of your fans.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Like and in a way, I almost feel like there's a little bit of Linda Richman, the Mike Myers "Saturday Night Live" character who worshipped you, in the part.

STREISAND: Well, I was trying to be, you know, a woman from New Jersey, and I thought it would be funny, actually. In the reading I did it with a New Jersey accent. And then I thought, you know, I asked Dan and Anne, director and writer, what they thought, and I sort of modulated that to be a little bit less New Jersey. But I was playing her.

GROSS: So when you accept, your son - played by Seth Rogen - when you accept his offer to go on a road trip with him, you call him Tatala, which is a Yiddish term of endearment that I think is mostly...

STREISAND: That wasn't in the script.

GROSS: I figured, I figured, and my other guess is that your mother called you Tatala.

STREISAND: I wish she did call me Tatala. No, I don't think so. It's just, you know, it's the way I feel about my son, I guess.

GROSS: Did you call him Tatala?

STREISAND: Well, when that - you know, it comes out at moments of endearment, and just they're like babies. Some part of them always remains a baby to you.

GROSS: Which is part of what the movie's about, because he objects to the part of you that sees him as a baby.

STREISAND: Yeah, but because we live on two different coasts in the movie, I don't see him that much, and she's living in the past. She's a woman who lives a kind of sheltered life and doesn't really want romance anymore, and has been hurt earlier. And in a sense it's like osmosis, you know, it affects him on a cellular memory, he also has a hard time finding a girlfriend, you know, and he's been hurt, too.

So I think it's kind of a transformative trip. You know, it's more than a road trip. It's time to be set free, you know, and to get to know one another, really.

GROSS: You know, in some of your movies, including "The Guilt Trip," you have, you know, a very, like, New York or Brooklyn or New Jersey accept. How much of that did you actually grow up with?

STREISAND: Totally. I mean, I didn't leave Brooklyn - gosh, I was 16 years old. I had never been to Manhattan until I was 14, when I went to the theater every Saturday and discovered New York City, which was like a different country than Brooklyn.

GROSS: I know what you mean because I grew up in Brooklyn, and Manhattan was like - especially Greenwich Village, it was another world.

STREISAND: Yeah, it's a wonderful world.

GROSS: But, you know, it's funny because most people have to try to lose their regional accent when they break into theater or movies, but early on you were given roles where you had to zets(ph) up your accent.

STREISAND: Yeah, but see, I don't think I have that kind of accent now, when I'm talking to you.

GROSS: You certainly don't know.

STREISAND: In real life. So in a sense I had to, you know, go back there to play her, in a sense, you know.

GROSS: In the new movie.

STREISAND: Yeah, in the new movie.

GROSS: Well, your new movie is called "The Guilt Trip." You have an album that came out recently called "Release Me." And I want to play a track from that. This is an album of previously unreleased tracks.

STREISAND: Right.

GROSS: And the first thing I'm wondering is, like, did you have to be convinced to do this, to bring out previously unreleased tracks?

STREISAND: No, no, no, no, it was my idea because, you know, sometimes when people say to me how come you haven't made a movie in a starring role for so long, I go I'm basically lazy. So I enjoy my free time. But then I also like to work at periods in my life, you know. And I thought I've had these things for a long time, a collection of these unreleased songs.

And actually a friend of mine said did you ever see this, yourself singing on YouTube. I was shocked. I said what? I thought that was my private property. How did anybody get me singing in a booth, you know, something like "Glocca Morra," "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" And I was a little shocked, and I thought you know what? I need to release another album.

I really liked that "Glocca Morra." And these were songs that I did, basically in, you know, very few takes, a lot of them one take because we ran out of time at the end of a session, and we used to do four songs a session, three days. I completed my album in basically three days.

We didn't do that many takes. We didn't have any way to fix things. And they were - there were flaws in some of these things. So I thought let's put this out. Let's put it out, and it's OK to expose, you know, whatever flaws I might have thought were there. I kind of enjoy things now that I don't think are perfect.

GROSS: Yeah, I've always liked things that aren't perfect, things that are more off-the-cuff. There's a track I want to play that I think is just a really interesting document, in addition to being a beautiful recording.

STREISAND: What is it?

GROSS: It's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" with Randy Newman at the piano, recorded in 1970. What's the story behind this session?

STREISAND: I think that was - Richard Perry(ph) was the producer, and he was sort of bringing me into the new century of contemporary music with "Stony End" and so forth. And he paired me with Randy Newman, and I liked that song. I remember coming up to my apartment and playing the piano, and we just did it sort of in, you know, I think one or two takes.

And I like the simplicity of it. I like it a lot. So here it is, you know.

GROSS: Yeah, so here it is, and this is from Barbra Streisand's latest album, which is called "Release Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "I THINK IT'S GOING TO RAIN TODAY")

STREISAND: (Singing) Broken windows and empty hallways, a pale dead moon in a sky streaked with gray. Human kindness is o'erflowing, and I think it's going to rain today. Scarecrows dressed in the latest styles with frozen smiles to chase love away. Human kindness is o'erflowing. And I think it's going to rain today.

GROSS: That's Barbra Streisand, recorded in 1970 with the songwriter of that song, Randy Newman, at the piano. And that's on her latest album "Release Me," which is an album of previously unreleased recordings. Barbra Streisand, your mother sang. Did she want to be a professional singer?

STREISAND: She did, but she said she was very shy. So she couldn't quite understand how I had the courage to stand out there and sing. She would sing at Bar Mitzvahs. My mother had a beautiful voice. My mother took me to Nola Studios because she wanted to record two songs, and so she had me record two songs when I was 13. And she was kind of a lyric soprano.

GROSS: Did your mother sing a lot around the house when you were growing up?

STREISAND: She kind of did sometimes, yeah. My sister and I used to laugh, and I used to record her. I think when I was 18 I got a tape recorder, and I would record my mother. Some of it is on my "Just for the Record" collection.

GROSS: Which I happen to have right here.

STREISAND: Will you hear my mother?

GROSS: Yeah, that's what we're about to play.

(LAUGHTER)

STREISAND: Oh good.

GROSS: And this is - honestly, for any, like, serious Barbra Streisand fan, this has, like, so many interesting, like, demos and TV broadcasts. And it's filled with interesting documents.

STREISAND: Yeah, I said "Just For the Record" because it's - most of these collections, these box sets, aren't they just recordings that we've heard before. But this was really just for the record. So my mother happened to sing "Secondhand Rose" in the same key as I did. I put them together, or me singing with Michel Legrand at a piano before I recorded "What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life?"

I'm very proud of that box set.

GROSS: Oh, it's wonderful. So what I want to play is your mother singing "Secondhand Rose," recorded in 1965.

STREISAND: Oh, cute.

GROSS: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SECONDHAND ROSE")

STREISAND: Where's mother. Mother, mother? Come sing a song for us, mother.

DIANA ROSEN: (Singing) Father has a business, strictly secondhand, everything from toothpaste to a baby grand. Stuff in our apartment came from father's store. Even things I'm wearing, someone wore before. It's no wonder that I feel abused. I never have a thing that ain't been used.

STREISAND: (Singing) I'm wearing secondhand shoes, secondhand hose. All the girls hand me their secondhand bows. Even my pajamas...

GROSS: That's Barbra Streisand cross-faded with a recording of Streisand's mother singing "Secondhand Rose" in 1955. That mix is on the Streisand box set "Just For the Record." Streisand stars in the new movie comedy "The Guilt Trip." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: My guest is Barbra Streisand. She stars as Seth Rogen's mother in the new movie comedy "The Guilt Trip." When we left off, we heard a recording of Streisand's mother singing. So was your mother jealous of you or competitive with you when you started to have, you know, a career?

STREISAND: It's interesting you should ask that. I didn't realize it until one Christmas night when people were giving me presents, and she kind of went off a bit and started getting very emotional about why aren't you giving me presents, I'm her mother, I'm the mother, that kind of thing. It was the first time I realized that she was actually jealous of me.

And that was hard to take, I must say.

GROSS: I know you're trying to do a movie adaptation of "Gypsy." Does that feeling that she was jealous have anything to do with you wanting to do this classic musical about a stage mother who becomes jealous of her daughter's stardom?

STREISAND: Yeah, I think that's true. I can totally identify. But I have to play the other part, right. I have to play the mother.

GROSS: Right, right.

STREISAND: But I - it's almost like, you know, channeling my mother, yeah.

GROSS: So I know your father died when you were 15 months old, I believe, of a cerebral hemorrhage. How did you learn about who he was to better learn about who you were?

STREISAND: Well, I read his theses. He had written two theseses(ph), or however you say that word.

GROSS: Like doctoral theses? Oh, he got his Ph.D.?

STREISAND: Yeah. He was a teacher, you know. And one was very interesting. He was also listed in a book called "Great Leaders of Education." And he was very young when he died, he was 35. But the first one was on the behavior of my brother. It was written almost like a play, but it was based on the truth and then his analysis afterwards. That was fascinating to read.

GROSS: All about your brother?

STREISAND: Yeah, about my brother. I wasn't born yet.

GROSS: Wow.

STREISAND: Now, I never read my father's second thesis until I was about 39 years old and wanting to see if I should direct "Yentl." And with this experience that I had, I was able to read that second thesis, and it was all about how he taught English to prisoners and juvenile delinquents at Elmira Reformatory(ph) by using Chekov and Shakespeare and Ibsen.

And so, you know, so much is in the genes, you know.

GROSS: I guess that made you think about how there could be, which you already knew by then, like so much meaning in great works of literature or theater.

STREISAND: Yeah, exactly.

GROSS: You tell a story in the liner notes for the recording that we just heard from when you were 13 about how back in those days, you wanted to buy sheet music, but you and your mother didn't really have any money. So you convinced your mother to pretend that she was Vaughn Monroe's secretary and pick up sheet music.

(LAUGHTER)

STREISAND: That's right.

GROSS: And I thought: That really is chutzpah. And was your mother game to do that? And why, of all the singers in the world, why Vaughn Monroe?

STREISAND: You know, he was famous at the time.

GROSS: Well sure, but so were a lot of other singers.

STREISAND: I didn't know them. But I thought gee, I don't know if somebody told me, or how did I figure that if you called, since they want you to record their songs, the publishers would send you free sheet music. But it worked.

GROSS: Oh I get it, I get it. Oh, that's really funny. And so what songs did you order? Do you remember?

STREISAND: Yeah, as a matter of fact, I just found the letters that I wrote my mother when I was 17, 18, my first job away from New York City after the Bon Soir. So I was 18 years old, and I was giving her a list of songs to get the sheet music to, some - you know, Harold Arlen, I loved Harold Arlen. I discovered him when I was about 17.

GROSS: Don't tell me when you were already performing at clubs, your mother had to pretend she was Vaughn Monroe's representative?

STREISAND: I think so.

GROSS: Really? Oh boy.

(LAUGHTER)

STREISAND: I think so.

GROSS: Barbra Streisand will be back in the second half of the show. She stars with Seth Rogen in the new movie comedy "The Guilt Trip." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Barbra Streisand. She stars with Seth Rogen, playing his mother in the new movie comedy, "The Guilt Trip." When we left off, we were talking about her childhood and getting started as a singer.

So we heard a very early recording by your mother. I want to play a very early recording of you. This is something you did at age 13 in 1955, that's...

STREISAND: Mm-hmm. That's the same day. Yeah.

GROSS: The same day? OK.

STREISAND: As my - well, as my mother recorded her two songs. Yeah.

GROSS: So this is also from the Barbra Streisand box set from a few years back called "Just for the Record." And let's hear it, and then we'll talk about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'LL NEVER KNOW")

STREISAND: (Singing) You'll never know just how much I miss you. You'll never know just how much I care. And if I tried I still couldn't hide my love for you. You ought to know for haven't I told you so, a million or more times?

(Singing) You went away, and my heart went with you. I speak your name in my every prayer. If there is some other way to prove that I love you, I swear I don't know how. You'll never know if you don't know now.

GROSS: That's Barbra Streisand, recorded in 1955 when she was 13. And she and her mother went to a recording studio and just, you know, made a couple of tracks. And, of course, Barbra Streisand is in the new movie "The Guilt Trip," with Seth Rogen.

It's so interesting to hear you before you were really formed as a singer, before you're, you know, an adult. When I know it's you, I can recognize that it's you. If you just played it for me, I'm not sure - if you give me a blindfold test, I'm not sure I'd recognize you. But so many of the characteristics that you're kind of famous for as an interpreter aren't quite there yet. What were you expecting to be when you were 13 and you were singing?

STREISAND: Well, I was known on the block, you know, when I was a child, as the kid with no father and a good voice.

(LAUGHTER)

STREISAND: That was my identity, you know. But...

GROSS: A negative and a positive.

STREISAND: Mm-hmm. So, somehow, I wanted to be recognized or seen or something like that, I guess. But it's interesting, that was, the end of that record when I was 13, was the first time I ever experienced an improvisation, you know, or something that came out of nowhere. Because we had rehearsed with the pianist that my mother found in the Catskill Mountains, and he played these long interludes, you know, as a break before you come back for the last section. And I remember saying to him, I think that's too long, your - the break. I mean, it should be shorter, and then I'll come back in. And I remember standing in front of that microphone, and something came out of my voice at the end that was a whole other thing than I'd rehearsed with him. And it was like a shocking, kind of, where did that come from? And I like that. It so surprised me. It was, like, where does - where is that coming from?

GROSS: What were your aspirations then?

STREISAND: Probably to be just famous, I think.

GROSS: It's funny, because once you became famous, I think you receded from - I mean...

STREISAND: Exactly.

GROSS: You know, you, like, you don't make many movies. You don't get many concerts.

STREISAND: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You don't seem to really like the limelight that much anymore.

STREISAND: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. That was kind of shocking, too. It's, like, with stardom, you mean they shake your car as you get out. And Marty, who you spoke to, once got punched by a...

GROSS: Your representative.

STREISAND: Yeah. Punched by a photographer, and the blood is coming down his face in the opening night of a movie. And I thought: This is fame? This is stardom? I don't want it, you know.

GROSS: Mm. Yeah.

STREISAND: I like to stay home. I just like the work process. I like the creative experience of, like, that, you know, that word that I felt at 13, is it inspiration? What is it? You know, it's, like, where did it come from? What part of the mind or the heart or wherever that comes from?

GROSS: My guest is Barbra Streisand. She stars with Seth Rogen in the new movie comedy, "The Guilt Trip."

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: Let's get back to my interview with Barbra Streisand. She stars in the new movie comedy, "The Guilt Trip."

When you were young, you went to a yeshiva for girls. A yeshiva is a Jewish school...

STREISAND: It was a yeshiva for boys and girls.

GROSS: For boys and girls.

STREISAND: Yeah.

GROSS: OK. So how did what you studied compare to what students in public schools got? Did you get a lot of Jewish education in the yeshiva?

STREISAND: Half the day was Hebrew, half the day was English. So we learned how to read Hebrew. Of course, they didn't teach you how - what it meant. That was odd, you know, to not understand. You could read it, but you didn't understand what we were saying. Yes, so that's my first public appearance since the yeshiva didn't have a stage, was at PS 25, was like the first time I went into a public school. Oh, this is different, you know. It was big.

GROSS: So did going to yeshiva influenced you wanting to make the film "Yentl," which is about a girl whose father is a rabbi and the girl really wants to - this is based on an Isaac Bashevis Singer story.

STREISAND: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: The girl really wants to study Torah, but you have to be - this is set in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s.

STREISAND: Mm-hmm. Turn-of-the-century. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. And the only way you could study Torah then was to be a boy.

STREISAND: Exactly.

GROSS: And so when her father, the rabbi, dies, she doesn't want to be on the wife-homemaker track...

STREISAND: Right. Exactly.

GROSS: So she dresses as a boy and goes to a yeshiva, where she hopes she will never be exposed as a boy. So did going...

STREISAND: And falls in love with a boy...

GROSS: And falls in love with a boy.

STREISAND: ...who thinks she's a boy.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Yeah. So did going to yeshiva yourself influence you wanting to make that story into a movie?

STREISAND: No, it's - the parallel was me wanting to direct a movie, and people saying, but she's an actress. How is she going to direct the movie and be in it, and so forth? That's the parallel. So you have to - I had to put on a man's gear to be accepted. It's like to be accepted in a man's role as a, you know, that handles finances, as well as just the, as just, you know, acting. You know, it's kind of a man's role to handle money, produce something, actually. It was just so paralleled in a way that it was - it worked for me.

GROSS: I want to play a clip from "Yentl." This is the scene in which you've entered the yeshiva. Mandy Patinkin plays another yeshiva student who thinks you really shy, so he's kind of taking you under his wing. And the yeshiva students, the boys, are all like stripped naked and swimming in the lake. And you're sitting with the book over your eyes, because you don't want to see them naked. And they're all saying hey, take off your clothes and come on in, you know.

And in this scene - so Mandy Patinkin is saying, come on in. And he's just gotten out of the water, and he standing next to you, stark naked. And you're just, like, like horrified. And so this scene covers, like, him telling you to take off your clothes, come in the water, you being horrified. And then, as he's shaking you and telling you come on, come into the water, you - something switches in you and you realize you're feeling things you never felt before, and that you love him. And that segues into a song that we'll also hear, which is called "The Way He Makes Me Feel."

So this is Barbara Streisand and Mandy Patinkin in "Yentl."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "YENTL")

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WATER SPLASHING)

MANDY PATINKIN: (as Avigdor) Come on, Yentl. I'll teach you.

STREISAND: (as Yentl) No. No, no.

PATINKIN: (as Avigdor) Don't be afraid.

STREISAND: (as Yentl) I don't really want to learn.

PATINKIN: (as Avigdor) Don't be afraid. You're not going to drown. I'll hold you.

STREISAND: (as Yentl) No. I don't like swimming.

PATINKIN: (as Avigdor) Take off your clothes.

STREISAND: (as Yentl) No. Stop it.

PATINKIN: (as Avigdor) I'll hold you. Take your clothes off.

STREISAND: (as Yentl) No. No.

PATINKIN: (as Avigdor) You're going to get all wet.

STREISAND: (as Yentl) Please stop it. I don't - no...

PATINKIN: (as Avigdor) Aw, stop it. Come on. What are you ashamed? You embarrassed?

STREISAND: (as Yentl) I don't want to. I don't want to. Just drop it.

PATINKIN: (as Avigdor) All right. All right. All right. All right. If you're that scared. I'm not going to force you.

STREISAND: (as Yentl) Next time.

PATINKIN: (as Avigdor) Sure. When you're ready.

STREISAND: (Singing) There's no chill, and yet I shiver. There's no flame, and yet I burn. I'm not sure what I'm afraid of, and yet I'm trembling. There's no storm, yet I hear thunder. And I'm breathless. Why, I wonder? Weak one moment, then the next I'm fine.

(Singing) I feel as if I'm falling every time I close my eyes. And flowing through my body is a river of surprise. Feelings are awakening I hardly recognize as mine.

GROSS: So that was my guest, Barbra Streisand, and Mandy Patinkin in a scene from "Yentl," which Barbra Streisand also wrote and directed.

So one of the things I find really interesting about this movie is the way you wanted to make a musical, but it's not like the characters are getting up and singing songs.

STREISAND: Exactly.

GROSS: It's all, like, these are thoughts that they're thinking that they express - when I say they, I mean you. It's only you who sings.

STREISAND: Because It's her point of view.

GROSS: It's your point of view. So it's singing what's in your mind.

STREISAND: So it's an interior monologue.

GROSS: Exactly. An interior monologue.

STREISAND: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And so I'd like you to talk a little bit about the kind of musical you envisioned this being and the kind of transitions you wanted to make between dialogue and singing, which I think is always the most difficult part of a movie or a stage musical, but more so a movie musical.

STREISAND: Well, that's why I chose to do a lot of it, you know, in her head, so that transition becomes easy as you're talking about it. She's thinking these things, and only when she's alone, when she's far away from people, can she sing out and be heard, you know, in terms of her own voice. I think it made it much easier. And believe me, I would've loved to use Mandy singing, but the Bergmans, Michel Legrand and I all agreed that that would've made it more a conventional musical.

GROSS: Right.

STREISAND: By the way, I always like to sing live, which I did - did you know "A Star is Born" was done live?

GROSS: I didn't know that.

STREISAND: I had a - Phil Ramon was the producer, and we had a truck following us so that I could sing live. If you notice - if you know the movie at all - but I sing "Evergreen" in it. I actually sing the wrong lyric, because it's live.

GROSS: Oh, I did notice that.

(LAUGHTER)

STREISAND: Isn't that funny? But I felt, I'm a very bad lip-syncher.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

STREISAND: And I have to be in the moment, and I can't lip-sync to something that I've recorded, you know, a month, three months before.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

STREISAND: I did it, actually, the first time at the end of "Funny Girl" when I sing "My Man" at the beginning. Even though the studio really liked it lip-synching, I said, you know, but I feel like I want to - I don't know where I'm going to cry. I can't lip-sync that. So can you reshoot the first part, so I could do it live? And we had just a piano offstage - as I hear they do "Les Mis" like this - a piano offstage, and you sing live. Because every time I did it, was slightly different, you know?

GROSS: That's the kind of singer you are. But...

STREISAND: Yeah.

GROSS: ...I enjoy that kind of singing much more.

STREISAND: Yeah, me, too. And that's the way I knew I had to do "A Star is Born." We did all the close shots first, you know, and then when I picked the take, you know, we would do the wide shots.

GROSS: My guest is Barbara Streisand, and she stars with Seth Rogen in the new film, "The Guilt Trip."

You worked with Jule Styne on your second Broadway musical "Funny Girl." Great composer. Did he work with you directly on the songs?

STREISAND: God, I don't remember. I adored Jule. He was very funny, very kind, very supportive. And he had come down to the Bon Soir to hear me and then he brought everybody there to...

GROSS: That was a club in New York.

STREISAND: A club in New York, in the Village. Yeah. I remember at one point questioning the validity of "People Who Need People." I thought isn't it people who don't people are the luckiest people in the world?

GROSS: Good point.

(LAUGHTER)

STREISAND: But I loved the song, so.

GROSS: But of course he didn't write the lyrics so he'd be the wrong guy to challenge on that.

STREISAND: Well, you know, I meant Bob Merrill.

GROSS: Yeah.

STREISAND: But Jule was so prolific. Can you imagine that he wrote "Gypsy" too? I did a little bit in my show recently which is going to come out around Mother's Day, I think. I put together a Jule medley that goes from "Hallelujah, Baby" to "Gypsy" to "Funny Girl."

GROSS: If you took liberties with the melody in "Funny Girl", in any of the songs, would Jule Styne say anything to you? Or would he appreciate that?

STREISAND: Marty has a funny story about "Wholesale" because I would sing it slightly different and the conductor at that time...

GROSS: This is your first show, "I Can Get it For You Wholesale."

STREISAND: Yeah. "I Can Get it For Your Wholesale." He didn't like that. He would complain to Marty.

GROSS: Your agent, manager.

STREISAND: My manager - of 50 years. But when I did "Funny Girl" I had a fantastic conductor, Milton Rosenstock, who I adored. And we loved each other and he loved following me. Just like Bill Ross or Marvin Hamlisch, you know, because they had to be - it's like somebody breathing with you, somebody watching you, seeing how you're phrasing it that night. You know? And that is a great asset to any musical performer.`

GROSS: Well, that's a way - I'm wondering if you think that that might be a way that you changed Broadway. Because I think you probably took more liberties with melodies than Broadway singers typically did or do. And it was a very, you know, for its time a very contemporary style of singing that was maybe also, you know, a little different for Broadway.

STREISAND: Well, I didn't have a kind of a soprano voice.

GROSS: Exactly. Right.

STREISAND: Yeah. Yeah. I guess it was new. I don't know.

GROSS: And you have a way of reworking melodies and holding certain notes longer than they were written to be held.

STREISAND: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: It's probably stretching...

STREISAND: Carrying it over to another phrase or another sentence, you mean?

GROSS: Yeah. And also just - especially, like, on the higher notes, I think you tend to hold certain notes and bend certain notes and change certain notes in a way that is distinctively Barbara Streisand.

STREISAND: Hmm.

GROSS: And when people imitate you I think that's one of the things they're picking up on.

STREISAND: Really?

GROSS: Yeah.

STREISAND: I'm not aware of it.

GROSS: I was wondering if you were, like, if you had any sense of what...

STREISAND: No. I just get inspired by the music, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

STREISAND: Maybe a horn line or something.

GROSS: Right.

STREISAND: But I just play with it, you know. As long as it doesn't interfere with the integrity of the lyric.

GROSS: Right.

STREISAND: And I love to state the melody as written in the beginning. And then play with it, you know.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear - since we're talking about "Funny Girl" why don't we hear "People" from the original cast recording.

STREISAND: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And here's my guest, Barbara Streisand.

STREISAND: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEOPLE")

STREISAND: (singing) People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Where children needing other children and yet letting a grownup pride hide all the need inside acting more like children than children. Lovers are very special people...

GROSS: That's Barbara Streisand from the original cast recording of "Funny Girl." She's now starring in the new movie comedy "The Guilt Trip." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: My guest is Barbara Streisand. She stars with Seth Rogan as his mother in the new movie comedy "The Guilt Trip." So there's a very iconic moment in television history in which you and Judy Garland sing together.

STREISAND: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: This is on the "Judy Garland Show" in 1963 and it's like the end of her career and the very beginning of your career.

STREISAND: An amazing moment. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. And, you know, I've seen this. Like, public television has shown...

STREISAND: Yeah.

GROSS: ...the "Judy Garland Shows" at various times over the years. And it's really an incredible moment. You're singing your famously slowed-down version of "Happy Days Are Here Again" and she's singing "Get Happy," which she did in the 1950 film "Summer Stock." Was she a hero of yours? Did she influence you? I mean, I know you remade "A Star is Born" but...

STREISAND: I didn't know of her in my early years and I wasn't particularly a fan until I walked in to a recording session that she was doing live on some place on 30th Street. And it said Judy Garland and asking people to come in, like an audience. And then she astounded me. It was like oh, my god is this woman great. So I became a big fan.

I was already living in New York, I guess. I was probably 16, 17 years old. And so it was really a thrill to be on her show. And she was wonderful to me and very kind and very sweet and very supportive. And we became friends.

GROSS: Oh, you did?

STREISAND: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Do you have any memories of that night when you performed together?

STREISAND: Oh, yeah. I can remember it distinctly.

GROSS: Anything you'd like to share?

STREISAND: No, just she was holding my hand and I thought, gee, she seems nervous. At that time, I wasn't nervous. I was still very young, about to do, I think, "Funny Girl." And now, when I think back on it, I think, oh, my God, I know exactly what she's feeling.

Or, you know, the fears. It's like, as you get older and people are, kind of, looking for you to fail more, I think - not people, not the audience - but, I don't know, critics or producers or whatever. And I just felt her. I felt her anxiety.

GROSS: So does that mean, like, you've gotten more nervous?

STREISAND: Well, that's a difficult question. It's like part of me is much more relaxed than I've ever been.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

STREISAND: Less frightened, less anxious. On the other hand, it's a, you know, coming-of-age-thing - and she was much younger than I am, but you reach a certain age and you wonder, well, I give it up? Do I retire? Or do I get more in before my time is up? It's kind of a dual thing. One day I think, god, you know, I don't need this pressure or, you know, promotion or whatever.

I could just travel around the world. But then I think I'd get bored and I'd need to create. I need to be creative and time is going so fast. And, you know, I do wonder how I want to spend the rest of my life.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Barbara Streisand, I know you have to leave now. You're on a tight schedule. I want to thank you so much for talking with us. And whatever you decide to do about performing or not performing onstage or screen, I wish you the best with it.

STREISAND: To be or not to be. That is the question.

GROSS: To be or not to be. Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

STREISAND: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Thank you so much. Barbara Streisand stars in the new movie comedy "The Guilt Trip." Our thanks to engineer Carlos Ascencio. Let's close with that now famous TV duet between Streisand and Judy Garland on Garland's TV show.

(SOUNDBITE OF "JUDY GARLAND SHOW")

GARLAND: (singing) Forget your troubles...

STREISAND: (singing) Happy days...

GARLAND: (singing) ...come on, get happy.

STREISAND: (singing) ...are here again. The skies...

GARLAND: (singing) You better chase all your cares away.

STREISAND: (singing) ...above are clear again.

GARLAND: (singing) Shout hallelujah.

STREISAND: (singing) So let's sing a song...

GARLAND: (singing) Come on, get happy.

STREISAND: (singing) ...of cheer again.

GARLAND: (singing) Get ready for the judgment day.

STREISAND: (singing) Happy days are here again.

GARLAND: (singing) The sun is shining.

STREISAND: (singing) Together.

GARLAND: (singing) Come on, get happy.

STREISAND: (singing) Shout it now.

GARLAND: (singing) The lord...

STREISAND: (singing) There's no one...

GARLAND: (singing) ...is waiting to take your hand.

STREISAND: (singing) ...who can tout it now.

GARLAND: (singing) Shout hallelujah.

STREISAND: (singing) So let's tell the world...

GARLAND: (singing) And just get happy...

STREISAND: (singing) ...about it now.

GARLAND: (singing) We're going to...

STREISAND: (singing) Happy days are here again.

GARLAND: (singing) ...the promised land. We're heading across a river. Soon your cares will all be gone.

STREISAND: (singing) There'll be no more from now on.

JUDY GARLAND AND BARBARA STREISAND: (singing) From now on.

GARLAND: (singing) Forget your troubles.

STREISAND: (singing) Happy days...

GARLAND: (singing) And just get happy.

STREISAND: (singing) ...are here again.

GARLAND: (singing) You'd better chase...

STREISAND: (singing) The skies above...

GARLAND: (singing) ...all your worries away.

STREISAND: (singing) ...are clear.

GARLAND: (singing) Shout hallelujah.

STREISAND: (singing) So let's sing a song.

GARLAND: (singing) And just get happy.

STREISAND: (singing) Of cheer again. Happy times...

GARLAND: (singing) Happy times...

STREISAND: (singing) Happy nights...

GARLAND: (singing) Happy nights...

STREISAND: (singing) Happy days are here again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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