Barbra Streisand would really rather relax than star in a movie.
"I like not to be bothered," she says. "I like to look at the ocean and swim in my pool and play with my dog and see my son."
But for the makers of The Guilt Trip, released in UAE cinemas on Thursday, Streisand was the only choice to play Joyce Brewster, a loving but meddling mum who sees the bonding opportunity of a lifetime when her only son, Andy (Seth Rogen), invites her on a cross-country road trip. Streisand declined the role for a year. Then her real-life son, Jason Gould, joined the chorus of voices urging her to do it, so the legendary 70-year-old entertainer made a few "requests" of producers.
Could they promise weekends off and no call times before 8.30am? Would they consider renting a warehouse closer to Streisand's Malibu home rather than shooting on a proper sound stage?
"I get a little carsick sometimes so I didn't want to schlep to Paramount, which is an hour-and-a-half to two hours that time of the morning," Streisand says. "So if you rent a warehouse and built the sets … it's ridiculous what I was asking."
Yet the filmmakers obliged her every demand and in the end Streisand and Rogen shared one of the most pleasant, fun and creatively comfortable acting experiences they've ever had. The two approach work similarly, they say, and they really became like mother and son on set. "Aw, you were proud of your mommy?" Streisand asks Rogen sweetly, laying her head on his shoulder playfully after he compliments her performance in the film.
Rogen, 30, says Streisand reminds him of his own mother. "I think there's a whole generation of mothers who kind of model themselves off Barbra," he says. "A lot of people see the movie from all races and nationalities and they're like: 'Oh man, she reminds me so much of my mother,' and I think it's probably because your mother is a fan of hers and acts like her."
Rogen and Streisand also bonded as filmmakers. As stars who work on both sides of the camera, they brought a broad understanding of the filmmaking process and a resulting openness to their roles. For example, during one scene where Streisand's character tries to eat a four-pound (1.8kg) steak to win a free meal, the actress in her didn't want to do it, but the director in her knew she had to.
"Because, as a filmmaker, I don't care what the actress has to go through," she says.
"Some actors are like that," Rogen says. "Ones who've made movies are like that. You can see that even though they don't want to be doing that, they know that they have to because it's the best thing for the movie."
That director's sense of story and filmmaking also informed their improv scenes. Streisand says ad-libbing comes naturally to her - "not that I've had to use it before in something like Prince of Tides."
Though their characters may seem Jewish (like the actors that play them), both said they tried to make them more generic.
"But then your natural instincts come out," Streisand says.
"And you go Jewish," Rogen adds with a laugh.
The mutual respect between the two is evident when they discuss their forthcoming projects. Rogen just finished his co-directorial debut, The End of the World, which he also wrote and produced.
"How did you find dealing with your actors?" Streisand asks him. "Because your actors were all your friends, right? So you could say anything to them."
Rogen says it made it easier in some ways and more difficult in others. The actors all play themselves, he says, and he and Streisand share a laugh about potential character discussions on set between actor and director. "You hired me for me, and this is what I want to do!" Streisand laughs.
When she reveals that she's having trouble finding financing for her next directorial project, Rogen commiserates. "It's tough to get a movie going," he says.
Though Streisand's reputation as a legendary talent and reported diva precedes her, Rogen says he was impressed by the Oscar-winner's approach to her work and demeanour on set.
"If anything, it showed me that I should maintain sanity," he says. "There's no excuse to be crazy. Because Barbra's not crazy. She acts very reasonably and she can get away with a lot of stuff. I've seen people with much less power than her get away with crazier things than she's ever pulled."
"I'm like this nice person," Streisand says. "Why do I have this strange reputation?"
"I'm saying you could," Rogen says. "I think people project what they would maybe do if they had as much power as you."
The Guilt Trip opens in cinemas across the UAE on Thursday.
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