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Life of Amy Irving, Bruno Barreto

April 26, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ The table is loaded with cold pate, lukewarm steak tartar and chilled arugula salad. The sizzle is provided by Amy Irving and her husband Bruno Barreto.

She’s the Oscar-nominated actress with the tangle of golden curls; he’s the acclaimed Brazilian filmmaker with very little hair. Amy’s the quiet one, Bruno’s the type-A, waving his arms about and restless.

``We’re a very volatile couple,″ Irving says. ``It’s been 11 years, so I think this is the way we are. Men and women _ that’s hard enough, but when you have two different cultures?″

Fire and ice _ hence the sizzle.

Over lunch at an upscale bistro, the couple spar playfully as they discuss their latest _ and third _ film together, ``Bossa Nova,″ a quirky romantic comedy that mines their kind of humor: culture clashes.

The film, set in Rio de Janeiro, features nine oddball characters who miscommunicate, fall in love and generally just blunder about. Director Barreto calls it a ``valentine to Amy and to Rio.″

``This came straight from what’s going on in my life. I just turned 45 and I really think that there is glamour after 40 _ you can be sexy, you can be romantic, you can be attractive,″ he says.

With a mouthful of salad, Irving, 46, nods her head.

``I never thought that I’d be starring in a romantic comedy at my age. That’s been a real big kick in the pants for me. Woman over 40? It’s a tough situation,″ she says.

Irving’s career has ranged from starring in ``Yentl,″ ``Carrie″ and ``Crossing Delancey″ to supplying the singing voice for a sexy cartoon rabbit in ``Who Framed Roger Rabbit?″

But she’s perhaps most famous for her marriage and messy 1989 divorce from director Steven Spielberg. Irving walked away with millions _ then vanished into obscurity.

``I had said that I wanted to retire, but I think that was basically because I didn’t want to feel rejected by the industry .... I don’t really ever want to retire _ I love acting.″

Barreto, meanwhile, was making a name with ``Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands,″ ``Gabriela″ and ``Story of Fausta.″ More recently, he earned a foreign film Oscar nomination for ``Four Days in September.″

The couple met at lunch _ where else? _ while Barreto was eyeing her for the lead in ``A Show of Force,″ his 1990 American directorial debut. He was smitten; she was hired.

``Both of us left that lunch thinking, ‘OK, we’re out of here!’ We were both attracted to each other but we had a job to do,″ Irving recalls. ``He was thinking, ‘I’m not going to get involved with my actress.’ I thought, ’I’m not going to get involved with my director.‴

``It took about 10 days into the shoot for us to not be able to listen to that little voice anymore,″ she says.

Love sprang up, even if the film fizzled at the box office.

``You can’t concentrate on what you’re doing if you’re falling in love,″ Irving says. ``Probably the film would have been better had we not fallen in love. It kinda took precedence.″

``It’ll never happen again,″ says Barreto, laughing.

Soon, they’re gazing at each other with the mushiness that comes from a kind of new honeymoon _ they actually like working together.

``When we’re shooting, it’s always a very romantic time for us because we do fall deeply in love again,″ she says. ``The home dynamic, when we’re not working together, that’s when the culture clash happens and the fights start.″

Barreto agrees. ``So we should work together as much as possible,″ he says.

``Yeah,″ Amy says in a singsongy voice. ``Find me a movie, honey.″

Lunch winding down, their differences re-emerge. He harasses the waiters about details of a praline-filled caramel tort; she doesn’t make a peep, even when a hair is found floating in her tea.

Irving admits to being neurotically early; Barreto confesses he’s neurotically late. Ultimately, the biggest crime she accuses him of is tunnel-vision, a trait she’s found in other directors, including Spielberg and her father, Jules Irving.

Barreto pleads guilty.

``When someone decides to earn a living making films, it is very, very hard,″ he says. ``I think it’s because one has a huge need to make life perfect and better and more harmonious. You’re recreating life the way you want life to be.″

``A little bit of a control freak there?″ Irving teases.

``It’s true,″ Barreto acknowledges. ``It’s a different way of saying control freak, but I think if you are a control freak, it’s a good way of channeling what could be a neurosis.″

Irving shoots him a look.

``What IS a neurosis,″ he corrects himself.

``Let’s call a spade a spade, honey,″ she says, laughing.

Then, in a whirl, Barreto is gone, pecking his wife on the cheek, brushing off crumbs and barreling through the restaurant. Irving, who must now pick up her two sons, watches him go.

``Directors are a very neurotic group,″ she says. ``That’s why we butt heads. He wants to direct our life. That’s where I draw a line. I’ll give him everything on the set, but nobody directs my life.″

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