Oprah Talks to Barbra Streisand
Oprah: Tell me about your husband, Jim. I read that after you met him, you went home feeling hopeful.
Barbra: Yes. I remember being in a supermarket around that time. I was at the checkout counter and read the headline of one of those tabloids that said an astrologer predicted I would marry again that year, but I hadn't met anyone special. I thought it was crazy.
Oprah: And you've been together for ten years, right?
Barbra: Ten together, eight married. Time goes so fast. It's hard to understand where all the years go.
Oprah: How did you meet?
Barbra: At a dinner party, a blind date. I walked in and saw him with a buzz cut. No hair! It wasn't pretty. I went and played with the children, but eventually I had to come back to the table and sit next to him. We started talking about architecture, because I was building things and his father was a contractor. Then I touched his head, which I'd normally never do, but because I was in director mode—I was working on The Mirror Has Two Faces —and dealing with male actors all day, I was much freer. So I said, "Who fucked up your hair?" He now says that's when he fell in love with me—because I told him the truth.
Oprah: Does his presence make you calmer?
Barbra: Yes. My husband is much more easygoing than me. He'll live to be 100! [Laughs] The night we met, he wouldn't let me go back to editing my movie. Before the dinner, I'd told the crew, "I'll be back." But he took me home. I was a nervous wreck in the car. Dating is the worst.
Oprah: What is it about him that made you say yes?
Barbra: He's the yin to my yang. I wanted a companion in my life. My husband and I still have to work at our marriage every day. Relationships are about kindness. You have to constantly watch what you say and how you say it.
Oprah: Tone of voice is so powerful. You and James seem easy together, but I'm sure it's not because you're easy.
Barbra: Neither is he. He has a lot of quirks. I like things in their places. He doesn't.
Oprah: Do you have a lot of quirks?
Barbra: Probably. I'm just not aware of them as quirks.
Oprah: Tell me about your relationship with your son [Jason Gould, whose father, actor Elliott Gould, was Barbra's first husband].
Barbra: It's really good. He's a kind, thoughtful, intelligent person. I am so proud of him. It's hard for a child of famous parents. But as Jason has grown older—he turns 40 this year—he has understood how many people go through challenging childhoods. Who has it perfect? Very few. And sometimes difficulty builds character. As we become more conscious and less angry, we become more grateful.
Oprah: That's right. What matters most to you in your life?
Barbra: The happiness of my son, my relationship with my husband and friends and the state of the world. The unconditional love a mother has for her child is amazing and rare. My puppy, Sammie, has that kind of unconditional love for me, and it's so satisfying. She's happy every time I walk into a room. Jim made the perfect choice for me.
Oprah: And you're perfect for her. Are you looking forward to your tour?
Barbra: I'm looking forward to the challenge.
Oprah: So when I come to see you onstage, you're not going to be having fun up there?
Barbra: Well, I did have fun during the final shows of the last tour. I surprised myself. What I like about music is that it marks time for people—like "I got married to that song." One reason I can perform now is that they have pills for stage fright. I wish somebody had told me about these pills years ago.
Oprah: Will you use a teleprompter?
Barbra: Yes, or I might go blank. I'll think, "What am I doing on this stage? Holy mackerel!" But then I realize that fear has an energy behind it. The whole point is to go beyond the fear and do it anyway, because I know I'm singing for a good cause.
I can sing before a full stadium because it's like looking into a black hole. I can't perform in front of a few people in a living room. I was once with Donna Karan and Liza Minnelli, and Liza just got up and sang. I was fascinated. I'm thinking, "Where do you look in a room lit up like this?" In a black hole—a theater—I can escape into my own little world.
I never remember my good reviews, so when I hear something good about myself, I go, "Really?" But I can tell you about the bad ones, because there's part of me that thinks, They're right. And that's an age-old point with many performers. That goes so deep. On the surface, I can tell you that I'm famous and I'm good at what I do. But there's also that part of me that never quite hears the nice things. But I'm much better than I used to be. First of all, I care less about what critics say about me, I don't read reviews, I just want to live each day to the fullest.
Oprah: And you'll be living a lot of those days on tour.
Barbra: I haven't really performed much. In my entire career, I've played in a handful of cities in the United States and only three outside of America. Performers like Neil Diamond, U2, and Madonna tour every two years and sing in hundreds of cities all over the world. My friend Diana Krall told me she used to tour 300 out of 365 days a year. I've worked so little, which is why the idea of retirement is ridiculous. Actually, I didn't sing in public for 27 years, except for charity. That's the main reason I'm going back on the road now—to give to organizations that my foundation supports.
Oprah: So, you want to do big things?
Barbra: Yes. That's why my foundation just gave the first million-dollar grant from my upcoming tour to the Clinton Climate Change Initiative, which will fight against global warming. I'm interested in setting up more professorships in universities, perhaps one about truth in journalism. Why are the facts so often distorted?
Oprah: It's propaganda. People are fed whatever makes money.
Barbra: There are stories about me that are so ridiculous. My husband looked it up. He said there are 36 unauthorized biographies about me. One day I'm going to write my own book.
Oprah: What's the worst thing you've heard about yourself?
Barbra: Well, there have been so many silly things. One story was that I walk into a room full of musicians, and if a guy plays the wrong note, I fire him. It's all just diva crap. I'm a normal person. Why would I fire a musician because he played the wrong note? If I sing the wrong note, do I get fired? It's absurd.
You know what it's about? It's about the Aristotelian rule of drama. It's about the fall of kings and queens. The Greek tragedies are not written about the common man. They're written about the fall of people in high places. Part of me understands it: People want to see kings and queens fall because it's the great equalizer; it makes them less envious. The gap between the rich and the poor has become so huge, so terrible. The world is in a chaotic state. People are living in fear and denial.
Oprah: There's a lack of critical thinking on the part of the public.
Barbra: Well, you can't listen to negative news 24/7. But the public should be informed to make intelligent decisions, especially about who they vote for. I value intelligence. If you were to go into surgery, would you want to put your life in the hands of a C student or an A+ student? I'm sure President Bush is a very nice guy, but some people voted for him because they thought he was a person they could have a beer with. What is that about? Do you want to have a beer with the doctor who's going to operate on you, or do you want him to be the top of his class...be a bit in awe of him?
Oprah: You are not optimistic at all about these times.
Barbra: Yes, I am, because people are finally realizing the truth about what happened in Iraq, even though, sadly, some of the public is still confused by the good job this administration has done bending the facts. In 2002 I had a meeting with Scott Ritter, a weapons inspector who'd been in Iraq for seven years. He told me there were never any weapons of mass destruction. Even if they'd had biological or chemical weapons, he said, they would be dust, because they have no shelf life. Experts agree that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
Oprah: Do you fear for our world?
Barbra: Oh, yes. I fear global warming. I fear nuclear proliferation. I think we have to do everything we can to prevent self-annihilation. I have a knot in my stomach all the time. How can I not? Before the election, the public gave President Bush high marks on fighting terrorism, but he ignored all the warnings. Before 9/11 he didn't even beef up airport security. He was negligent. During the last election, I begged John Kerry to attack Bush on terrorism, to make his "strong" point his weak one...because it was true! Imagine how different it would have been if Al Gore had been president. We would not be in a war.
Oprah: I once did a show titled "Is War the Only Answer?" In the history of my career, I've never received more hate mail—like "Go back to Africa" hate mail. I was accused of being un-American for even raising the question.... In the coming months, what are you looking forward to?
Barbra: On tour I want to be in the moment and really appreciate the love that's given to me. During my last tour, when I kicked off my shoes and said whatever I wanted, I actually enjoyed myself. Performing is not about perfection. I could never perform live if it were. For me, it's about raising the money to do good in the world. It's about self-acceptance. It's about believing that I am enough.