With the notable exceptions of her supporting turns in Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers, two-time Oscar winner Streisand has not appeared in a film since directing and starring in The Mirror Has Two Faces in 1996. She explained her sixteen year absence from starring roles and directing, saying, "It's not the same as when I last made a film. They're not interested in love stories or any movie that's over 15 million dollars, but it could be a 100 million. That's okay. Two hundred million is okay to lose. But, the movies that I'm used to making or liking, what draws me, they are movies that cost 18 million, 20 million. They're not interested in those movies. So it's a different time. I don't like it as much."
As for how this particular piece of material lured her back to a starring role, Streisand said, "I prefer things that are private, so I love recording, and I love making films as a filmmaker because it uses every bit of what you have experienced or know, whether it's a graphics composition, decorating, psychology, storytelling, whatever it is. It's a wonderful thing. Well, I was dealing with very talented people. I had loved Anne's movie, The Proposal. And Dan, I looked you up too. What was that musical called? Tangled. I love that. I loved it, and then I saw his name on it. But he's very gifted writer. And Seth is terrific at what he does."
"I think I was actually working with John Schwartzman who was the cinematographer on Meet the Fockers at the time this came up," Rogen recalled. "And I think I asked him what he thought of Barbra, and he said she was great. I know [Meet the Fockers director] Jay Roach a little, so I think I might have asked him. I think he said that she was awesome too."
"Ben Stiller, you called," Streisand chimed in almost maternally.
"Ben Stiller, I think I might have run into and asked," Rogen agreed. "Yeah, everyone – she checked. This Barbra Streisand lady checked out. So I thought I'd give her a shot."
Streisand, laughing, added, "I didn't know who to call. I don't any of those people from his movies. So what I was going to do? No. I thought he was adorable. So I thought, this is interesting, unlikely which makes it interesting, and yet, we're both Jewish. I could be his mother."
Though the iconic musician and actress was interested in The Guilt Trip, both Fletcher and Fogelman lobbied extensively over a long period of time to actually secure her to play Joyce Brewster. Before her son eventually helped convinced her to take the role, The Guilt Trip was on hold awaiting Streisand's involvement. "I only would have done it if Barbra was doing it," Rogen said. "No, for me, it was funny. I was just there. They want you to do this movie with Barbra, and Barbra's not sure if she wants to do it. And I was like, 'Well, just let me know if she says yes.' And then I literally made like two movies during that time. And we were like, editing 50/50, and I got a call, like, 'Barbra said yes.' Oh, okay. Great."
"I don't make that many movies, and I don't make that many appearances," Streisand explained, prompting Rogen to declare, "Leave them wanting more."
"That's it. Less is more," she agreed. "And maybe that keeps a little mystery or something. I don't know. I like to stay home a lot. I like to do other things. You know what I mean? Like decorate, build."
Nonetheless, Streisand was persuaded to set aside decorating and building to star in this film, which is more comedic than one might expect. Asked about the differences between drama and comedy, the Funny Girl star replied, "Oh, no. They're both the same. If anything is based on what reaches an audience is the truth, is honesty. So if you're saying something truthful that's a funny line, it's going to be funny. If it's a serious line, it's going to be serious, but I don't think there's a distinction between how you play drama or comedy if it's based in the truth."
Rogen, meanwhile, is adept at finding the sweet spot between raucous comedy and heartfelt emotion. Accustomed to playing a scene stealer or a more directly comedic presence, in The Guilt Trip Rogen often had to play the straight man, embodying that collective sense of embarrassment with parents. He explained, "I really thought of it as kind of it's like a very real time performance. You kind of are just thrown into the movie with him. So I kind of thought I should just try to be as real and natural as possible. He's not a particularly funny guy. He's not even in a particularly good mood for the majority of the movie, but I thought that if you seem a little vulnerable, people seem to relate to that."
"And I think that was kind of the balance," he continued. "And we got options, obviously. I would do takes where I was more harsh with Barbra and takes where I was less harsh. And takes where I was more annoyed and less annoyed and takes where I was just fully entertained by her, and takes where I was like, 'Oh, shut the fuck up.' And we knew that it would be somewhere in there. To me, that's kind of how I act sometimes, especially when you don't know. We knew that that was going to be the line, how annoying can she be versus how annoyed can he be, and when does that start to get grating? You've got to make sure you relate to both of them. Is it too much on her? Is it too much on him? So we talked a lot about it while we were filming as far as like, 'Okay. That last take was harsh. We should make sure we get one that's less harsh.'"
The relationship between mother and son was an element that attracted both actors to the movie. Despite the myriad difference between herself and Joyce, Streisand still identified with her character, saying, "Mothers develop guilt trips. I mean, when I was working a lot, and I feel guilty as a parent that I couldn't pick up my son every day from school, bake him cookies, that kind of thing. So I know that feeling. I know that feeling a lot. And so you try to compensate and everything they do is great. They sense that guilt, children, and they're going through their own rebellious times or whatever. Having a famous parent is an odd thing, you know? So I thought it was interesting to investigate this trying to be my son's friend, trying to be his friend versus a mother. And when it comes to time to really say, 'You abuse me. You disrespect me. You talk back to me. You don't honor what I say. You won't take my advice.' That kind of thing, in terms of this movie, it hit on all those things that I thought I could explore."
"And it was a true story," she went on. "It's Dan and his mother, and she was a fan of mine. And it's something right about it. And Dan wrote this lovely script. It just felt like it was meant to be, meant for me to come back to work in a starring role rather than six days on a movie which I really like, just six days on a movie. But it was time to challenge myself again, you know? Of course, I made it very difficult for them to hire me because I kept wanting an out some way. So I made it really hard. I really don't want to go – I never do this normally, right – I really don't want to schlep to Paramount. It's two hours each way. So would you rent a warehouse and build the sets in the Valley no more than 45 minutes from my house? And they said, 'Yes.' And on these Focker movies, I had to get up early, and I'm not an early bird. And Seth says, ‘It's very hard to be funny at 7:30 in the morning.’"
"I think my mom drives me crazy sometimes. I have a good relationship," said Rogen. "I see my parents a lot, but, yeah, it's a lot like in the movie. For no reason, I get annoyed. I'll just find myself kind of reverting back to like a mentality of like a 14 year old kid who just doesn't want to be around his parents. Yeah, it's one of the things I related to most in the script, honestly. It was just that dynamic where your mother's trying, and the more she tries, the more she bugs you. And the more it bugs you, the more she tries. And you like see her trying to say the thing that won't annoy you, and she can't. Yeah, all that is very, at times, real to my relationship with my mother."
The Guilt Trip hits theaters nationwide tomorrow, December 19th.