In an oral history of the iconic 1973 romance “The Way We Were,” director Sydney Pollack recalled Redford voicing his concerns over working with Barbra Streisand due to her perceived “controlling” reputation on set. (The pair, five decades later, are now, of course, friends.)
“She has never been tested,” Redford told Pollack, according to Robert Hofler’s “The Way They Were: How Epic Battles and Bruised Egos Brought a Classic Hollywood Love Story to the Screen,” on sale January 24, 2023. “Her reputation is as a very controlling person. She will direct herself. It’ll never work.” While director Sydney Pollack died in 2008, author Hofler compiled years of past interviews for the book.
Redford was particularly concerned with the “Funny Girl” Oscar winner’s musical background, saying, “She’s not going to sing, is she? I [don’t] want her to sing in the middle of the movie.”
The “whole concept of basing a movie on Barbra as a serious actress,” per Pollack, proved to be a pivotal factor for Redford, while Streisand and the director were determined to get Redford to commit to the role, despite the studio and producer Ray Stark pushing for Ryan O’Neal.
“Barbra had never worked with a really strong leading man,” Pollack said. “She has a tendency to take over a picture, just by the size of her talent and larger-than-life presence. It’s hard for a costar to stay in the same ring with her.”
According to Pollack, only Redford could go toe-to-toe with the star. “In acting, you have to sense that there’s a reserve somewhere, that you’re seeing the top of the iceberg,” Pollack said. “Redford makes you come to him as a performer. He holds his ground, and you either enter his turf or you don’t get it. Period. He will not court you…I spent literally eight months beating him to death in order to get him to do it. I would not let him off the hook.”
Pollack would not helm the feature if O’Neal was cast, while Streisand said, “Ray Stark seemed to think that any blond actor would do, but I wouldn’t give up on Redford.”
The “A Star Is Born” actress added, “In those days, I wanted to be an actress, not a singer.”
The tension between Redford and Streisand continued during production, with Redford wearing “two athletic supporters for his love scene with Streisand, who chose to don a bikini” to not get too close with the actress, who was known for being romantically involved with her co-stars.
The success of “The Way We Were” spurred rumors of a sequel, with Redford and Streisand reportedly both receiving $8 million for the follow-up feature. Pollack told gossip columnist Marilyn Beck that Streisand’s Katie and Redford’s Hubbell would reunite “when she phones for help with their daughter, who’s grown up to be a Berkeley hippie with a drug problem. They’ll get back together permanently. And happily.”
Yet Pollack later told an audience at an event hosted by critic Judith Crist in 1982 that Hubbell (Redford) would have an affair with his daughter’s roommate at Berkeley, but that “I know that Redford and Barbra should end up together somehow. I don’t know how.”
Screenwriter Arthur Laurents penned a sequel titled “The Way We Changed,” straying away from Streisand’s character and instead focusing on Redford’s relationship with his daughter. However, Redford said he was done with the role of Hubbell.
“I didn’t, but Barbra did,” Redford said of wanting to make a sequel.
Streisand noted, “It’s a powerful love story, and the sequel was important to me because these characters were so compelling. I wanted to know how their lives unfolded and I envisioned a story in which their daughter, now in college and politically active herself, inadvertently brings them back together. Both have changed in ways that make them more aligned politically, while their feelings for each other remain the same, so it’s inevitable that they reconnect. I still regret that we didn’t make it.”