10/25/2011 01:11 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2011

Ellen Barkin's Sea of Love

Ellen Barkin says the film that made her a household name, Sea of Love, was not her best performance, and she doesn't really like her work in it. She may be the only one on the planet who thinks this way.

Barkin told a rapt New Yorker magazine audience at its annual festival in October she didn't think the director liked her. She told interviewer John Lahr, the magazine's senior drama critic that directors had changed at the last minute right before shooting began. That she was forced into doing the sensual grocery store scene where she caresses yellow peppers while wearing little under her raincoat other than a sly thigh to entice co-star Al Pacino.

Barkin said she had a big fight with the director over it since she really didn't want to do it. Hard to understand why. She did such a great job with it, and the scene actually leaves much more to the imagination than it physically reveals.

Her chemistry with Al Pacino throughout is among the best in celluloid history. According to Barkin, Pacino was "brilliant" and "very generous" to work with, but the reason it's hard for her to watch is when she views Sea of Love what the audience sees as "attitude"on her part, is really a "tenseness." But through her training in method acting at the Actors Studio, she made her tenseness in that scene work for her in front of the camera. It was her first role where she was cast as "an object of desire."

Barkin displays a touching vulnerability both on screen and off. Yet she grew up a fighter and ran with a girl gang. Not to worry, says the street savvy kid from Queens. They didn't carry switchblades. They just beat up girls they didn't like.

It wasn't easy being Ellen Barkin growing up. At Manhattan's High School for the Performing Arts, her parents were called in and told that she had "very little talent and absolutely no spark," and would she please voluntarily withdraw from the school. She didn't. She kept going, and it paid off. At 57, she won a Tony for her Broadway debut in the revival of Normal Heart as a paraplegic doctor in a wheelchair. (Boy, could I relate to her turn in a wheelchair having been in one myself earlier this year recovering from a trimalleolar leg/ankle fracture.)

Let's not forget her Emmy win in 1997 for Oprah Winfrey Presents: Before Women Had Wings where she plays an abused wife opposite actor John Savage, also known for his role as a photojournalist in Oliver Stone's Salvador celebrating its 25th anniversary at the New York Film Festival last week.

Did I mention Barkin's New Yorker Festival event with John Lahr, was titled Drop Dead Gorgeous after her 1999 film of the same name where she plays the dueling mother of a beauty queen?

So it came as a big surprise to her audience when she revealed through Lahr's masterful questioning that her agent once told her when pressed for reasons why she lost roles that the feedback he had been getting was she wasn't pretty enough. Someone had even said she looked like Diane Sawyer with her face smashed against a windshield.

Barkin's being so open about her struggles in reaching the pinnacles of show business, was so generous of her. It gives others encouragement who are trying to make it and also illustrates how times change. Poet Robert Browning's "Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be..." comes to mind with her.

For example, internet surfers can find plenty of references to a perceived physical resemblance between Barkin and actress Cameron Diaz. Both exhibit not only beauty but brains and a certain gutsy realism that is refreshing. Perhaps a film together playing mother/daughter now that Barkin has her own production company?

Barkin graduated from Hunter College, the largest college of the City University of New York (CUNY) where she double majored in political science and Spanish. No slouch she. She learned her craft at the Actors Studio, but did not go out on her first professional audition until she was 25 years old. But then at 27, she was cast in Barry Levinson's Diner (1982) with Mickey Rourke. It was his directorial debut and her film debut.

Divorced twice -- from fellow actor Gabriel Byrne and then Revlon magnate Ron Perelman -- she is currently single. Perhaps she and Al Pacino will create a sequel to Sea of Love. In real life or on film. Either/or. Their fans are waiting.

Her first producing project, Another Happy Day is to be released November 18th. In Another Happy Day, Barkin plays a mother in a family going through a lot of turmoil. Coincidentally, the writer/director is 26 year old Sam Levinson, son of Barry and also like his dad before him, making his directorial debut in a film starring Ellen Barkin. First Diner with dad directing (1982), then almost 30 years later Another Happy Day with the son directing.

As the French say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.