Streisand Relishes 'Complete Control'

But she welcomes clever improvisation by current co-star Jeff Bridges

Barbra Streisand is no longer apologizing for being a perfectionist. "It used to hurt me when I was described as a control freak," she admits. "Critics made it sound more like a felony and a fault."

But today her reply is, "Are you kidding? Of course, I want utter and complete control over every project I do. The audience buys my work, my records, my films, because I care so deeply."

In her current movie, "The Mirror Has Two Faces," she wears several hats. Streisand was producer, director, and star. She also wrote some of the script.

"After directing two dramas, 'Yentl' and 'The Prince of Tides,' it felt nice and relaxing to do a comedy. I'm ready for a happy ending," she says with a smile.

She is no stranger to comedy. In 1962, she made her Broadway debut in "I Can Get It for Your Wholesale," and in '68, she won her first Oscar for "Funny Girl."

"The Mirror Has Two Faces" is partly autobiographical. It's about a smart woman, a professor of literature at Columbia University, who who spends more time reading than romancing.

"I can relate," she says. "As a kid I was a loner, kind of an outcast. In high school, I only had one date. I was in the honor society, so I hung around all these smart kids who wore glasses and loafers, while I was an oddball who wore strange clothes and bleached my hair."

Even then, she dreamed of being an actress, but she felt that her looks would hold her back. "In those days," she explains, "you had to be a great beauty like Vivien Leigh, or cute like Sandra Dee."

Now, 35 years later, Streisand stands by the theme of her new movie: Beauty is in the heart, not the eye, of the beholder.

The original script for "The Mirror Has Two Faces" portrayed its star as an ugly duckling who turned into a swan with the help of plastic surgery. Streisand couldn't buy that. "I thought, that's not right; the woman should have self-esteem from within, not without," she says. So, it was cut from the script.

She understands her character Rose Morgan, who lives with her self-obsessed mother, brilliantly played by Lauren Bacall, and under the shadow of her tall and beautiful sister, portrayed by Mimi Rogers.

Rose enjoys a platonic relationship with a Columbia University professor, played by Jeff Bridges. They talk freely and enjoy the same things. But Rose wants more. She suspects that if she were more attractive, his admiration would turn to love. So, she begins a beauty regime - only to find he does love her, but for none of the surface changes.

Bridges says the story was autobiographical for him, too. He met his wife 20 years ago while scouting locations for a movie. She was the assistant at the hotel where they stayed.

"There was something about this girl I couldn't forget," the actor recalls. "It wasn't her beauty, for she had just been in a car accident and had two black eyes, a wired jaw, and split lip."

The star power in Streisand's film didn't end with Bridges, Bacall, and Rogers. Director Streisand also chose Pierce Brosnan, George Segal, Brenda Vaccaro, and Elle Macpherson.

But it was Bridges who surprised her the most during filming. They'd shoot a scene several times, until director Streisand was satisfied. Then, Bridges would say, "Can we do just one more take? This time let's wing it and improvise."

The final scene in "The Mirror Has Two Faces" is a perfect example of this approach. Streisand's character and his were in a residential section of New York City, standing in front of Rose's apartment. He was struggling to explain how he felt about their relationship.

While the actors were waiting for the fog to clear enough to film this scene, producer Streisand began worrying about details such as placing ice chips in their mouths, so their breath wouldn't freeze, and figuring out ways to even off their height. (She's 5-foot, 4 inches; he's 6-foot, 3 inches.)

Instead, Bridges took shivering Streisand in his arms, and they started dancing in the street. As the exercise warmed them, the chill morning air wasn't so frigid. Someone said, "This is great, it should be on film."

The unabashed perfectionist knows a good suggestion when she hears it.

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