"Holy cow," whispers Barbra Streisand as she struggles to explain how she's managed to remain relevant for more than half a century.
"I don't make that many movies and I don't make many appearances, maybe that's it?" offers the superstar who has two Oscars, eight Grammys, five Emmys and a Special Tony award; one of few entertainers to boast this quadruple achievement.
"Less is more 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 too, like decorate or build," says Streisand, suddenly back in the spotlight, starring in The Guilt Trip, her first leading movie role in 16 years, as well as returning to the Oscars last weekend performing The Way We Were, the Oscar-winning theme song from her 1974 movie of the same name, co-starring Robert Redford.
Dedicated to her late dear friend, Marvin Hamlisch, the song's composer, it was her first time singing on the Oscar stage in 36 years, and her performance predictably drew a standing ovation, with everyone from Oprah to Jennifer Lopez tweeting and gushing afterwards.
It's not as if she's exactly been quiet since her last major film outing, starring, singing, producing and directing 1996's The Mirror Has Two Faces. There's been a recurring role in the Fockers comedies as well as the sell-out concert tours, auctions, politics, philanthropy, books and almost annual CD releases.
But, more than anything, she's been enjoying married life. Wed almost 15 years to actor James Brolin, their unexpected romance came after she'd practically given up on finding lasting love. Thus the notion of stumbling upon love, is actually one of the themes that resonated most deeply when comic actor Seth Rogen first approached her to play his mother in The Guilt Trip, a bawdy road-trip comedy.
As Rogen's neurotic widowed mother, she gamely attends singles soirees, although Streisand herself doesn't advocate dating clubs in real life: "They [women] shouldn't look. I wasn't looking when I first met my now husband," she confesses when we meet in a romantically themed Beverly Hills hotel room filled with flickering perfumed candles, pink and cream roses tastefully arranged in silver vases.
"Sometimes love comes when you don't try so hard. I think that's what happened with us too. I was editing my last movie [Mirror Has Two Faces] when I was supposed to meet Jim on a blind-date thing. I had a night shift because I like to work into the wee small hours of the night, and I said to my editors, 'Stay here. I'm just going into town for a dinner party and then I'll come back and work'.
"I think Jim had the same feeling before he met me like, oh my God, what am I doing? But we got along great and talked about architecture and relationships. He said I'm going to take you home. I said, I have to go back to work. No, he says, I'm going to take you home. And that was it. I wasn't looking for a man. It's too hard to date and see if you have chemistry. But then it all fell into place."
Just 20 years old when she wed Elliott Gould, their marriage lasted eight years before Streisand famously went on to date Ryan O'Neal, Don Johnson, tennis player Andre Agassi, former hair- stylist Jon Peters, Liam Neeson, Kris Kristofferson and Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
Throughout those turbulent years, the one constant man in her life has always been her son Jason Gould, now 46. If most people are terrified to voice their real opinions to the legendary diva, then her son is unafraid: "Actually, he was very important in my decision to make The Guilt Trip because he was in bed recovering from back surgery when I brought the script over. It was interesting because actually his father was in the room too," she says, offering a rare glimpse into her private world.
"Isn't that funny? So we were both there, coddling our son, and Jason said, 'I think you should do it, Mom.' I really trust his integrity and his opinion. He has great taste, and whatever he chooses to do, it's amazing, so he clinched the deal."
At 70 years old, it turns out that Streisand is more clued in than most septuagenarians, mercilessly teasing her "movie son" Seth Rogen throughout the process of making The Guilt Trip.
Streisand confesses to her own guilt: "Sometimes you resent the people you love and need the most. Love is so fascinating in all its forms, and I think everyone who has ever been a mother will relate to this.
"And mothers do develop guilt trips. When I was working a lot, I felt guilty as a parent. I couldn't pick up my son every day from school, bake him cookies and that kind of thing. So I know that feeling a lot, where you try to compensate and everything they do is great, but children sense that guilt, and they're going through their own rebellious times or whatever. Having a famous parent is an odd thing, so I thought it was interesting to investigate this.
"And it also just felt like it was meant for me to come back to work as a star; as a starring role, rather than six days on a movie," she says in reference to her Fockers roles. "It was time to challenge myself again.."
Meeting Streisand, up close and personal, she's everything you might imagine, the perfectly coiffed hair, pearly glossed lips and long, manicured nails. A perfectionist to a fault, she admits she still can't help herself: "I'll be in somebody's house and just move something an inch because it's off. That's the way I see things. It's a blessing and a curse. It just bothers me. I feel it viscerally if something is out of balance."
If The Guilt Trip failed to ignite the US box office, then Streisand continues to trust her nearest and dearest in terms of quality control: "I trust my manager of 50 years," she says. "Other than that, it's hard to choose between my husband and my son. I don't like to be 'schmuckled'. Do you know what that means? Schmuckled is a great Yiddish expression which means smeared. I prefer the truth."