Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal Find 'Love' Again on Beverly Hills Stage

Lovestory Spread - H 2015
Austin Hargrave

Lovestory Spread - H 2015

The 'Love Story' duo are reuniting for the play 'Love Letters,' which, according to producer Nelle Nugent, was inspired by the duo's "chemistry" in a THR photo spread in 2014.

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Love Story stars Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal are reuniting for the Gregory Mosher-directed two character play Love Letters by A.R. Gurney opening Oct. 13 in the Wallis Annenberg Center's Bram Goldsmith Theater in Beverly Hills.

It's a gig that has significance for MacGraw: "It's my first paying job since I left [Hollywood] for Santa Fe, N.M., 22 years ago." O'Neal says the idea came from producer Nelle Nugent, who noted the pair's chemistry in a 2014 THR photo. "We have this job because of The Hollywood Reporter," says O'Neal. "And now we're booked for the next several years."

He's joking, but there will be a seven-city tour through June. The two actually laughed a lot during a sit-down chat at the Wallis with THR ahead of the show's opening.

Tell me what this ride with Love Letters has been like?

MacGraw: We did it once in Florida this summer for a week. Most of what we are going to be doing starts early next year.

I read that you have stayed in touch with calls or emails over the years, but what has the reintroduction been like?

O'Neal: Has there been sex? (Laughs.) No, sorry.

MacGraw (to O'Neal): That will be enough of that.

Has there been a reintroduction of the friendship?

O'Neal: We always had a bond, and now it's just going.

MacGraw: I live in New Mexico and I'm [in L.A.] very rarely, and Ryan lives in Malibu, so we haven't really seen each other very much. But we're often asked as a couple for something around Love Story — the Oscar for dear Arthur Hiller and other stuff. So we have seen each other, but not as much as we're going to see each other this year.

O'Neal: I have to be on my best behavior.

MacGraw: It's going to be fun. A real privilege to be doing this play, for me. Let's start with one thing: It's read, not memorized, and that is such a miracle because my memory isn't …

O'Neal: Why did I memorize it then? (Laughs.)

MacGraw: It's a wonderful play, and having more time under one's belt only makes it more meaningful to do. It's a lifetime from second grade to the early 70s and nobody with any sensitivity can help but relive their life and choices when they said yes and choices when they said no.

Why say yes?

MacGraw: Only with Ryan because it feels right. It's a beautiful piece of writing.

O'Neal: Do you think it was a mistake? (Laughs.) Tell me now. We had to blow the dust off of us. I was thrilled with the idea.

MacGraw: Me too. It's a wonderful play that has been around since the '80s and everybody you've ever heard of has done it. It just finished a very successful Broadway run with a lot of our friends in it. I thought it was an absolute miracle to be asked to do it and especially and only with Ryan. It makes sense. And it's my first paying job since I left for Santa Fe 22 years ago. So that's an added plus, right?

O'Neal: Wait a minute, they're paying you?!

I'm sure you've had offers over the years?

MacGraw: Nothing that was remotely interesting. I work all the time but I do a lot of stuff for nothing. This is just all terrific as far as I'm concerned. We have a wonderful director — Greg Mosher, is a big, big, big Broadway director and it's an honor to be directed by him. And it feels right. Right?

O'Neal: Yeah! What did she say? Yeah. We have about 10 cities to do. Our launch is here in Beverly Hills and then we hit the road.

So much is made about Hollywood being unkind to actors of a certain age.

MacGraw: We'll see! Call me tomorrow.

Some people continue to work, while others find it difficult to find the right parts. What do you make of that?

O'Neal: That's tragic.

MacGraw: It's not so in England. As a woman, I look at the incredible actresses who continue to work and are their age doing world-class work out of the U.K. And this industry is pretty brutal to women over 40, I would say. I'm not really working, so I'm not beating that drum, but I do go to the movies all the time and marvel at a part written for someone in their 60s played by a 38-year-old. It's disrespectful. It's nuts.

Have you gone to the theater recently and seen any performances from women, peers or colleagues that you loved?

MacGraw: I love to go to the movies. I love to sit in a dark theater and just leave my seat and go into that reality. I live in a city that has six alternative movie theaters so I see every documentary and every foreign film. It's a luxury but it's very, very different from what the media thinks women should be like aging on the screen here. It's shocking.

So much has been written about the chemistry between the two of you. Is that a lot of pressure?

O'Neal: Yeah, I hope we can live up to it.

MacGraw: No.

You say no and he says yes.

MacGraw: I say no because I adore Ryan and we're doing this together with 45 years of history together. All kinds of layers. For me, judgment is pressure. But if I just concentrate on doing this lovely play with him, whatever those 500 to 1,000 people think, they are on their own. For real. I never learned it as a performer, I was so frightened every waking minute in front of that camera — every waking minute. But here we are on this little tiny bubble doing a story that has many crossovers probably from our real lives, and as long as I stay there, it's going to be a joy.

It's a joy to see you both and you both look wonderful. What is your secret?

O'Neal: Makeup. There are no secrets.

MacGraw: Living in the present and finding the very best thing you can about it. That is about as much as I can say about that. The past and the future are inventions and re-embellishments. And in this frightening world we live in, I try to find something great. This is going to be it for the next two weeks.

I hope you come back and do another photo shoot with us sometime soon.

O'Neal: Who knows where it will lead us!