She is a siren of a certain age, the feminine half of one of Hollywood’s great love stories, and known for her sharp wit, short temper, and grande dame demeanor. She is a legend (a word she hates), and so why is it such a surprise that Lauren Bacall is the best thing in Barbra Streisand’s The Mirror Has Two Faces? It’s because Hollywood seems to have forgotten that Bacall is a movie star, and she will tell you that this is her own damn fault.
She was the one who chose to put her promising career on the back burner in 1945 when she married Humphrey Bogart, who died of cancer in 1957. Bacall emerged from her semi-hiatus a diva without a domain, cast adrift in silly projects (1964’s Shock Treatment) and bit parts (1990’s Misery). Bereft of quality offers from the studios, she has kept visible on stage and in bookstores (her 1978 autobiography, By Myself, and the 1994 follow-up, Now). And yes, that smoky growl peddling Fancy Feast cat food on TV (”Good taste is eeeeeasy to recognize”) is the same one that told Bogie how to whistle. But at 72, starring as Streisand’s funny, vain, and unhappy mother in Mirror, Bacall has at last found a movie role that is scaled as grandly as she is. While the movie’s reception has been lukewarm, Bacall has been rediscovered. ”It’s one of those moments in film when an actress, a character, and a legend are all in one place at one time,” says screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, who had Elizabeth Taylor in mind for the role until Streisand insisted on Bacall. In December, Bacall will show up again, as an acerbic former First Lady in My Fellow Americans, with Jack Lemmon and James Garner. Here Bacall speaks out about what does — and doesn’t — become her most.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I saw you on Live With Regis & Kathie Lee, and you bristled when Regis implied he was intimidated by you. Do you hate it when people say that?
Lauren Bacall: That’s right, I do. I say it’s your fault, something in your mind, nothing that I’ve done.
You have also said that you feel lucky to have this role in Mirror. Does Lauren Bacall really have trouble finding work?
I’m still auditioning. I mean, not literally, but I am still having meetings and things with people. And I’m still rejected … I have never been thought of as much of an actress. The critics have a right to say what they want to say, although God knows they’re insulting.
Did you know Streisand well when she cast you in Mirror?
No. We still don’t know each other well, but we like each other. We’re both women alone. We’re both Jewish girls.
But now there’s a lot of speculation that Mirror could lead to your first nomination for an Oscar.
Stop using that word! That word makes me crazy. I think that it’s a mistake to get hooked on that idea and to believe in it. There’s always the chance that nothing will happen.
What about a TV series?
What about it?
Would you do one?