Barbra Streisand has not had the lead in a film since The Mirror Has Two Faces (which she directed) in 1996. She’s back onscreen as Joyce Brewster, Seth Rogan’s mom in the road comedy The Guilt Trip. The biggest challenge for the film is making Barbra look like a regular mom and while I know they tried really hard, Barbra is Barbra and she’s not the kind of person who can just disappear. There were times when the interactions between mother and son were painful and not terribly funny, but seeing Barbra attempt to eat a massive steak in a eating contest is a high point. It’s also interesting to see her character discover that by getting out of the house and going on the road that her life is not over, and that she can still find love.
Director Anne Fletcher who last directed the massive hit, The Proposal talked about making The Guilt Trip.
Women and Hollywood: You have said that after reading the script you only saw Seth Rogan and Barbra Streisand in the roles. What made you think that immediately?
Anne Fletcher: When you are reading something and you have people pop up in your head you are just sort of stuck with it. I knew that all decisions I make are based on my instincts and my hunches. I knew that they were going to vibe off of each other – the younger generation and the older generation, and when you have Barbra Streisand who is a mega star you’re going to need someone who is going to meet her and balance with her and I knew that was Seth.
WaH: How long did it take to get them to sign on and was one of them harder than the other?
AF: Barbra took a year. I dated Barbra for a whole year, that’s what it felt like and I loved every second of it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Deservedly so, she has a very comfortable life. She loves her home in Malibu, she’s worked very hard for her life. But to commit to a film for 3 to 4 months of her time every day coming in and dealing with hair, makeup and costumes, having to learn lines and work on character, that was a huge commitment for her. She asked for a lot of stipulations and I think she did that in hopes that we would so no to her so she wouldn’t have to be the one to say no. I wanted her and that’s all I knew and the things she was asking for were not really ridiculous
WaH: Do you think it helped getting Barbra because you were a woman director?
AF: I don’t know if that helped or not. I know that we got along extremely well from the word go. We were very connected. We spoke the same language. I adored her and I think we created a great friendship. On set, I would say it was never spoken and I don’t know from Barbra if it was conscious or unconscious, but she had my back 100%. She was my ally. And I think – conscious or unconscious – she wanted to have my back because I was a female director. During the time she was directing I’m not sure she had that support. I think it was important for her to be there for me. To be that support for a female director. We never discussed it but I knew it was always there.
WaH: Did you know she had to give back half her acting salary on Yentl because she went like $50,000 over budget?
AF: That does happen. Look at Jim Cameron on Titanic. I’m just saying. They do that stuff when you go over. You can’t go over. I’m looking at the business end of it. I can’t look at that as a male or female.
WaH: I wasn’t saying that. I was just saying that it was about the crazy deal she had to make in 1983 (when she was the #1 star) in order to get to direct Yentl.
AF: Yeah. But she also has a lot of deals connected to her directing that people cannot and will not get in this day and age. So there’s the pros and the cons to it all. On her directing deals she has final cut. I can’t get that. Lots of the directors can’t get that. It’s just the times. The times have changed.
WaH: Building on that, you are one of very few female directors who work at the studio level who make commercial films. Why do you think this is still the case that there are so few women and do you feel pressure about that?
AF: I absolutely feel no pressure. There is nothing that is holding anybody back from doing what they want to do. There are so many female directors coming into the industry and a lot of them have important stories they want to tell that seem to fall a little bit more on the indie level. A lot of time it is hard to break into the commercial world and that has only to do with money and that has nothing to do with being female or male. I think there are a ton of new female directors coming up the ranks. I happen to work in the studio system in the commercial end of it.
With my dancing and my choreography it was an easy transition because I was already working with the people who worked in that world. Nobody said I couldn’t do it because I was a woman. Nobody stopped Kathryn Bigelow from making the movies she did because she was a woman. It’s changing and it’s changing rapidly and one of the things I like to say is I grew up as a dancer and as a dancer you are just that. You are not a female or a male – you are a dancer. And when I started going into choreography I became part of a team of people making movies. I wasn’t a woman choreographer. I was a choreographer. We succeed when we continue to move forward and not let the mind or the consciousness hold you back because you are a woman. You can’t let those things stop you from doing what you want to do.
I know it (sexism) exists, I know it does exist out there, but for me it didn’t. I attribute it to the way I was raised and the way I think about how things are. Right is right. It’s a very sensitive subject for me because I do know that a lot of women struggle but I know from being on the inside that it is changing drastically and I am a perfect example. I am out here, I am working, it is happening.
WaH: To me this is a romance – a bit of a different romance that The Proposal – but a romance nonetheless. Do you agree?
AF: Yes. Even Barbra likes to say it is a different kind of love story. It’s about relating. Whether it is between men and women or parents and their children. It’s a love story and how these relationships intertwine with one another and how they work and at the core is always love. At the very core is unconditional love and that nothing between these two people will truly change. They will always have each others backs even if they are in a horrible fight. That’s what it is the true nature of love.
WaH: The danger with a character like Joyce is the potential for her to become a stereotype. How did you work to prevent that from happening?
AF: We did a couple of things. In my year of working with Barbra it was very important to have her understand the woman I wanted to create on screen which was an “everymom”. Everyone needed to identify with her. With Barbra she is beautiful and glamorous so I wasn’t trying to make her dowdy or frumpy but I needed her to understand what real women look like. They wear cotton blends and it is not high end cotton blends. It is always comfort before fashion. Their t-shirts and their yoga pants are well kept and they will be tennis shoes. But their makeup and hair will always be done because they have pride in the way they look. They haven’t given up on life, they just want to be comfortable. So we worked really hard on her look and tried to really nail down what is real to most women.
I said to Barbra the way we are successful is to completely capture the real essence and the complex character of a real mom. It all had to be grounded in a genuine place. It’s not an over the top comedy. We don’t have great big set pieces. We have great dialogue and interwoven layers between these two people. So it had to stay grounded.
WaH: What were the biggest challenges in making the film?
AF: The challenges were Barbra had a 12 hour day which is very normal and sometimes the locations would be very far from her house so that would eat time away from my shooting day so that made it difficult to try and get everything I needed to get. Some of the scenes that were brilliantly written were five minutes long so the challenge was how to cover a five minute long scene with 8 or 10 hours and also needing to take a lunch break and do touch ups. None of it was hard. We always made it happen. That was one of our biggest challenges. We shot most of the car stuff on a sound stage in green screen, we shot everything in LA.
WaH: Any advice that you want to offer?
AF: I would say always stay true to your nature. Anything that you are being hired for in any aspect of life whether it is a banking job, acting directing, whatever it is you have to stay true to who you are because they hired you to do what you do. They didn’t hire you so you could imitate something you think they wanted. It’s very important to stay who you are.
The Guilt Trip is now open nationwide.