SAG honoree Barbra Streisand on acting, Oscar snubs and singing with Bob Dylan

Barbra Streisand’s 970-page memoir, “My Name Is Barbra,” took her 10 years to complete. So it didn’t seem like that much of an ask for me to spend 48 hours listening to her read it, which I did over the course of a couple months.

Exhaustive, but never exhausting, digressive, sure, but usually to fine effect, intimate and honest, Barbra — I feel like we’re on a first-name basis now that we’ve spent so much time together — made for good company. I’d listen while making dinner, making lists of what I’d heard and, by the end of it, making up for lost time because, again, 48 hours.

Streisand will receive a lifetime honor Saturday at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, another trophy for a woman who joined the EGOT club long ago. Even after that deep dive into her life, I still had questions, which Streisand was happy to answer — by email. (If you’ve read the book, you know she likes to fuss over the details.) After spending so much time focusing on her voice, it felt like a novelty to zero in on her words.

Here’s our correspondence.

Barbra. It’s Glenn. I listened to your memoir for more than 48 hours, so I know that you appreciate getting to the point. So let’s go …

First of all, I’d like to say thank you Glenn for listening to all 48 hours of my audiobook!

You often talked about how you hated attending awards shows, tracing it back to walking across the stage at your high school graduation and feeling all eyes upon you. Did writing the memoir help you work through that? Is that why you’re going to the SAG Awards?

Well, I’m attending this award show because they told me in advance that I got the award! No trauma or drama. And I’m very proud to be a member of SAG since 1961. I also like the fact that Fran Drescher and so many actors marched and worked very hard to get what they campaigned for.

Any other reasons you agreed to show?

The numbers were right — my lucky number is 24. The number 2 and the number 4, and this award falls on 2-24-24.

As an actor, you say you try to find a connection to the character you’re playing. What character did you feel most connected to?

I guess Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl.” She wasn’t the conventional leading lady, she spoke up when she thought something wasn’t right for her and she wanted so much out of life … just like me when I played that part.

And what character most challenged you to find that connection?

Dolly Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” I was too young for the role, and it was far from who I am.

The level of detail in your memoir is remarkable. Did you write in journals throughout your life? I’m half-joking, but when you mentioned the shot in “The Prince of Tides” of the little girl dragging a blanket and how it reminded you of your own baby blanket that you’d rub while sucking your thumb to put yourself to sleep, I thought, “I wonder if little baby Barbra wrote about it in her journal?”

Baby Barbra couldn’t write.

It’s a ridiculous thought, but the image crossed my mind. And I had it because of the exceptional, specific detail in the book.

Yes, I’ve written many journals. Some were called “Observations.” They were just my thoughts, and I needed to write them down. I notice that I wrote more during the making of my movies, especially when I was directing. By the way, it’s fascinating to watch my 3-year-old granddaughter trying to disconnect from the need to suck her own thumb while holding a blankie. I understand the feeling and really empathize with her.

Talking about being overlooked by the Oscars for directing “Yentl” and “The Prince of Tides,” you used the word “snub.” For “The Prince of Tides,” you noted that the movie had been nominated for best picture but that you had not as its director. “So what’s going on here?” you wondered. People were asking the same question this year about Greta Gerwig and “Barbie.” Do you think the directors’ branch of the academy is still a bit of a boys’ club?

I think a bit. And it’s also odd that there are 10 best films at the Academy Awards but only five directors nominated. How can that be? A director is responsible artistically for his or her movie. So maybe they should have just one category — every best picture could also come with best director attached. Bradley Cooper also wasn’t nominated for best director even though his picture [“Maestro”] was.

You wrote of a story where someone asked if they should become an actor. Your answer: If you have to ask that question, then the answer is no. Can you remember the specific moment that passion was ignited for you? And … do you think there’s a chance it might be ignited again?

I do remember … it was when I first saw Marlon Brando when I was 13. I had to become an actress, there was no turning back. Acting has to be a passion that you can’t ignore. It’s like a calling. If it’s just a simple decision like between one career and another, forget it. You have to be strong enough to take the kind of rejection actors get.

And as far as me acting again is concerned, I’ll never say never again.

I can’t remember the awards show, but on one occasion, you had to borrow a friend’s Size 8½ pair of heels because yours wouldn’t fit. Is that the most screwball moment you’ve had attending a ceremony?

It was the American Society of Cinematographers Board of Governors Award in 2015. I loved getting that award because it gave me the opportunity to honor the cinematographers whom I loved and were such an important part of my career. Nowadays (to get back to the heels), the shoes are a little more comfortable because they come with platforms. They make you taller and are less painful to wear!

Are you double-checking to make sure your shoes fit this year?

I am double-checking, but I know as soon as I sit down at a table I’m going to take them off.

Bob Dylan says he wrote “Lay Lady Lay” for you. Is there a song in your catalog that you could sing that contains a message you’d like to send to him? (Also: Please follow through on your impulse and collaborate with him.)

As a matter of fact, I was going to reach out to him this year as one of the people I’d like to make a record with.

You casually mentioned — just once, I believe — that you may be making a documentary about your life. Are we going to have to wait another 10 years to see it?

Back in the early ’90s, I started putting together all this historical material from the ’60s, the ’70s and the ’80s, but then so much was going on in my life that I didn’t have time to revisit it. And after 30 more years, there’s much more footage to go through. But now that I’ve finished the book, I’m finally ready to tackle it again with a documentary team. And I don’t know how long it will take.

Because of your father’s early death, you wrote that you became “obsessed with mortality.” But that’s not a bad thing, I think. The Dalai Lama says you can only begin a real meditation on life with a meditation on death. What do you think about that now that you’ve spent so many years thinking about your own life?

Well, I want to think about other things now. I’ve always been concerned with the world and what’s going on and how it feels out of control … gun violence, climate change, women’s rights and the threat to our democracy.

And now for something completely different. McConnell’s discontinued Brazilian coffee ice cream. That changed, right, after the book was published? Now I have to look it up, and I’m finding it on their website.

Perhaps it’s available for a limited time only, but McConnell’s is so wonderful. They were thanking me for bringing so much exposure to Brazilian coffee ice cream that they sent me 24 pints. Which is my stash for the year!

Is this the best development to come from your memoir? If not — or even if so — what would be some other things that have satisfied you since the book came out?

My dreams are less anxiety ridden. I used to wake up and just write from what my thoughts or dreams were early in the morning but now I can sleep later. I wasn’t able to read other books during that 10-year period but now I’ve started to really read again, and it’s so lovely to get out of my own head. It’s fun to inhabit other writers’ minds and think about other characters in their books. And just today my editor reminded me I’m on the 100 Notable Books of 2023 list from the New York Times, which she said was extremely unusual for a celebrity memoir. It makes me quite proud.

Last question — and, again, it’s food-related. Sorry. Your book made me hungry. Before stardom, you write of your love for going to delis — but not Jewish delis because you “couldn’t get your mouth around those sandwiches.” Do you still feel that way? What’s the best deli in L.A.?

I still feel that way. You could feed three people with what they pack into those sandwiches! That’s why I used to like gentile delis where I could get pork. I used to love sliced roast pork on white bread with mayonnaise to take to my acting classes. Now I would say Brent’s Deli in the Valley is very good, and they deliver. When we order from delis now, I ask them to separate the meat from the bread so I can control the amount of meat in between the two slices. And every once in a while, we send for a goodie box from Zabar’s in New York. But not the bagels. Those I get from Canada!

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