Elliott Gould talks to Closer about family, fatherhood and Barbra Streisand.
The film and TV vet opens up about fatherhood, fame and former wife Barbra Streisand
On his new sitcom, 9JKL, Elliott Gould co-stars as Mark Feuerstein’s hands-on dad. In real life, he’s an equally involved parent to Jason Gould — his son from his marriage to Barbra Streisand — as well as son Samuel and daughter Molly, with Jenny Bogart, whom he has married three times! “People will presume how things should be, but things are the way they are,” says Elliott, 79, of his unconventional family tree. “To me, it’s all about us. It’s not about any one part.” And that includes Barbra. “I’ve said to her: ‘I know you’re married to someone else now and I only wish you well, but this is a small family unit and you’re a part of it, so I’ll always be there,’ ” he says. “Barbra is a very significant part of my life, no less significant than the rest of my family. Jason is the light of our lives. Barbra adores him. So we have contact. She’s happily married to James Brolin. And he is very nice to me.” Elliott opened up about some other famous pals like George Clooney and Warren Beatty as well as his roles in everything from the original film M*A*S*H to the beloved sitcom Friends. — Bruce Fretts
Barbra turned 75 earlier this year. What did you get her?
We don’t ordinarily exchange material gifts. I sent her an acknowledgement with love and respect and understanding and admiration. I always acknowledge her birthday.
Who does Jason take after?
Both of us. He’s got my eyes. And he’s brilliant. He sings. He’s artistic. In some ways he and Barbra look alike.
You live apart from your wife, Jenny. Why?
I need my solitude sometimes. I have no complaints as far as having taken the road less traveled. As I said to Jenny, ‘‘Thanks for letting me go — it’s allowed me to get centered and to do all this work for the family.” Although we haven’t lived together for 27 years, I take care of her. I also have two wonderful grandchildren, and they are terrific to be around.
Who were your early influences?
The Lone Ranger, Superman, the Marx Brothers and Gary Cooper. And my parents were my major influences.
What was your mother like?
She told me, “I’m your severest critic. All you have to do is please me.” That wasn’t fair because that meant I couldn’t please myself unless she was pleased.
“A grain of pride is good for the heart, but more than that, it becomes blinding.”
How did you get into acting?
I always liked to play. That’s what acting is. Shakespeare calls us “the players.”
What led to your casting in M*A*S*H?
Robert Altman said, “How would you feel about playing Duke, the Southerner?” I said, “I never question an offer, I can do it, I have a musical ear, but if you haven’t cast Trapper John McIntyre, I’ve got the juice you need.” And he gave me the part. He let me cast myself. I’d never worked his way before. We did a few more pictures together.
How was it working with Warren Beatty on 1991’s Bugsy?
I have a love for Warren. He’s very sensitive and talented and rather smart. He’s the consummate professional. He’s a perfectionist — totally committed and excellent to work with.
You’re close with your Ocean’s Eleven through Thirteen co-star George Clooney…
The first TV series I did was a half-hour sitcom called E/R that George was in.
He’s down-to-earth, and he comes from a wonderful family in Kentucky. He’s very intelligent, has a great sense of humor, and I couldn’t be happier for him now that he’s finally become the father of twins.
Do you have a preference between doing TV and movies?
My priority is to make a living for the family. It’s fundamentally all the same to me. The one thing I have neglected that I can’t change is my life in the theater. I didn’t really cultivate it after I got into movies.
Did you enjoy playing David Schwimmer and Courteney Cox’s father on Friends?
It was gratifying. I got along with everybody. They were all lovely people.
What’s left on your bucket list?
There’s so much. Not materialism. Peace and harmony. Security. I want to be able to work and to continue to help and participate in any way I can with my family. That means everything to me.
What’s the biggest life lesson you’ve learned along the way?
[Sings] “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with Mister In-Between…” My life is a lesson. Sometimes I’ve been irresponsible, but I’ve always meant well. I’d never want to hurt or mislead anyone.
How would you sum up the essence of Elliott Gould?
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — without ever losing sight of the family. So the essence of me would be the family.
Do you ever look back or only forward?
Life is a circle. Everything that goes around comes around. I’ve gone very far, and I’ve still got work to be done.
— Reporting by Barbra Paskin