Are you more likely to see a movie in the theater if it’s followed by an exclusive, live Q&A event featuring that movie’s stars? What if it’s free? What if the Q&A is only via satellite and only temporally but not locally exclusive, and so no possibility of autographs or hugs? What if you still have the chance to submit a question to a relatively reclusive living legend of screen and song, such as Barbra Streisand?
What if her answer is that she smoked pot with Peter Sellers?
“I was married to Elliot [Gould] and he was with Britt Ekland,” the actress said while being broadcast to viewers in 20 theaters nationwide following a sneak preview of her upcoming film, The Guilt Trip, “and the funny thing is that we went to a restaurant and we started to riff on, like, should we have steak ice cream? It was funny at the time. It’s not funny now, because you’re not high.”
People were turned away from the AMC Barrett Commons outside Atlanta on Sunday for this national sneak preview. But that happens all the time with complimentary, invite-style advance screenings. It’s hard to be sure whether there was more interest in this particular film and this particular showing of it that wouldn’t otherwise be there simply because the show was to be followed by a live interview with Streisand and her co-star, Seth Rogen. In my experience at film festivals and special events in New York, I’ve found that the opportunity to see talent discuss the film, in-person, is a popular attraction. But that’s in-person. There’s less appeal of seeing what’s basically a TV talk show segment on a big screen, regardless of the fact that it’s happening in the now and that it allows for minor audience participation.
But I’ve been to plenty of Q&A events with broadcast rather than physically present talent over the past decade — increasingly as more and more theaters switched over to satellite-ready digital projectors — and they’re really no different. So what if you’re not breathing in the same air as a celebrity? You still get to hear what Streisand, who won’t travel for in-person promo ops anyway, has to say about Captain America: The First Avenger (“is that the Avengers one?”), Cowboys and Aliens (“that was really weird”), Bad Teacher (“that was really funny”) and Jason Statham (“he’s the bald guy with the cheeks and the stubbly beard”). And you get to hear her do a great Mel Brooks impersonation after Rogen picked the comedy legend as his dream road trip buddy.
And who was Streisand’s pick?
“Marlon Brando, who I actually went on a road trip with,” she answered, referring to a short daytime trip they took to the desert in the mid-’70s. “He wanted to stay overnight, and I said, ‘No, I don’t know you well enough. But I’ll go with you for the day.’ And it was funny. It was a daytime trip to see the sagebrush and all the beautiful wild flowers. We went into a little hamburger joint, I remember, with a creaky screen door, and I remember just sitting there at the counter ordering hamburgers and thinking, ‘this is Marlon Brando!’ I’ll write about it in my book someday.”
Honestly, somewhat surprisingly, I couldn’t get enough of this interview, which was moderated by journalist Joel Stein. While I can’t yet critically discuss the film itself, I can say that Streisand and Rogen’s chemistry during the Q&A was wonderful. If they were to do another one of these and charge for tickets, I would definitely encourage people to attend. On working with the rising comedy star, Streisand confessed to being familiar with his work, though she admitted to accidentally referring to one film as “Coconut Express” during another interview. “I had seen a few of them,” she said. “I was a little shocked. ‘He just said that? He did that? He showed that? Oh my god!’ But I thought he was really cool.”
The genius of something like this sort of event is that, no matter if the viewer loved or just liked or even hated the film, the laughs experienced following the film are what they will leave thinking about (actually if someone hated the movie they probably won’t stick around, unfortunately). It works best for lighthearted and especially funny interviews. A George Clooney Q&A will always bring a house down regardless of the quality of the film he’s promoting. And when I saw Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story the second time, it didn’t seem as hilarious to me as I had remembered it, and that’s probably because the first time included a post-screening Q&A with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.
It was especially a treat to see Streisand participate in something like this, given that she doesn’t typically venture out and do a lot of these kinds of things. Early into the interview, she asked if this sort of event is common or unusual. The truth is, I’m not positive whether or not it has ever been done before or if it’s done regularly. Rogen joked back to her that Stein does them all the time and had just done with Life of Pi featuring the tiger. But seriously, Streisand hardly leaves her house, in part because she hasn’t really driven in a decade.
“I once found myself going up an offramp,” she told the audience. “Then I didn’t drive anymore. I’m thinking of too many other things. It’s not safe. It’s worse at night. The lights are so pretty…”
And this event was hosted at and transmitted from an AMC theater in the Los Angeles area, presumably somewhere further away from Streisand’s home than even the film’s set.
“I didn’t want to shlep to Paramount,” Streisand explained, “which was a long way from Malibu. I didn’t want to spend four hours a day in a car.”
“First it was like, ‘I’m not leaving California.’ Then it’s, ‘I’m not going to West Hollywood.’ Then it’s, ‘I’m not leaving Malibu.’ And there’s a snow storm in the movie. It’s all fake, literally, all done within ten minutes of Barbra’s house.”
“45 minutes! I said you have to find a warehouse and build the sets. 45 minutes from my house is fine. But I wasn’t ready to do a full-length movie. I made it very difficult to hire me, and they hired me anyway.”
Streisand noted that today you can do anything with CGI, which apparently helped in accommodating her. But in one part of the movie, practical effects were used instead. Her character is tasked with eating one of those enormous steaks where you get the thing free and win a t-shirt if you do so under an hour. She told the crowd that CGI could have been used, “But then I would have had to act more.”
“I had three days where I had to eat that,” she elaborated. “I don’t love steak. I’m afraid I’m going to choke on it. I love the first bite, and then yuck. It starts to get disgusting. But because it really happened to [screenwriter Dan Fogelman‘s] mom, I said okay. At times we had to substitute burnt watermelon and make it look like steak. That was like a scene in Hello Dolly. I had to have an eating scene, and that was pretty disgusting. Some white crap.”
Both stars discussed what drew them to the movie, the script for which might have literally made Rogen cry. He found the fresh idea of a buddy road comedy between a mother and son to be very interesting, and he was also drawn to the idea of playing a character who looked liked he’d never smoked pot. “That might be the hardest acting I’ve ever done in my life.”
For Streisand, all it took was a read-through with her own son (Jason Gould), who convinced her. “I didn’t want to do this long movie,” she remembered. “The movie I did before this was like six days.”
“I like to call this a different kind of love story,” she added. “It really is an experience of a mother and son who live apart, across the United States from each other, and have had problems in their relationship. But actually they’re more alike than not alike, as they’ve found on this trip. The heartache of love in her life and in his life. Just being together and really getting to know each other changes the whole dynamic for the better. It’s a journey that’s nice to take.”
But while she could relate to much of the material, she didn’t see much of Jason in Seth. “Jason’s very quiet,” she said of their difference. “You both have curly hair.”
“They’re both Jewish ladies,” Rogen noted about the comparison between Streisand and his own mother. “That’s a lot of common ground. My mom was more hippy-ish. My mom is more like her character in Meet the Fockers, I realized. She’s a social worker, talks about sex way too much. She’ll literally post on her Facebook about pap smears that she’s gotten. It’s terrible.”
These quotes clearly show that it was a candid and amusing Q&A, and Paramount likely got a lot of good out of doing it. Could we see more of these happening, possibly to even more theaters and for a fee (or just included in the ticket price) during a film’s opening weekend?
It wouldn’t be a bad idea for the movie business to give the people a little something extra. It’s like having a DVD bonus feature during your theatrical experience. Is that something you’d be interested in, especially if you live out in the middle of nowhere, not New York or Los Angeles or Austin or anywhere else the stars make in-person appearances?
The Guilt Trip opens everywhere on December 19th.