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45 Years After Love Story, Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal Reunite to Tour Love Letters

The on-screen lovebirds rekindle their relationship in A.R. Gurney's acclaimed drama.

Once upon a time in 1970, Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal made an indelible mark on the world of cinema when they starred in Arthur Hiller's seminal romantic tragedy Love Story. The roles of the ill-fated star-crossed lovers Oliver Barrett and Jenny Cavalleri (and memorable quotes like "Love means never having to say you're sorry") introduced the pair to the Hollywood landscape, catapulting them to stardom.

Cut to 2015. Love Story is No. 9 on the American Film Institute's top 100 list of the most romantic films in cinema history. And now, 45 years after they first set the world ablaze, MacGraw and O'Neal are getting ready to work together again. On July 21, they'll lead the seven-city national tour of A.R. Gurney's epistolary drama Love Letters, playing would-be lovers Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner, two characters who bear a resemblance to their on-screen counterparts.

As MacGraw and O'Neal prepared to hit the road, they talked with TheaterMania about their affection for each other, the similarities of Oliver and Jenny to Andrew and Melissa, and their mystification about Love Story's continued popularity.

Top: Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw in the 1970 film Love Story; bottom: Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal in a 2015 promotional image for Love Letters.
(© Paramount Pictures and Austin Hargrave)

How did the two of you get involved with Love Letters?
Ryan O'Neal: Ali and I had done a story about the anniversary of Love Story. We did some pictures up in the Malibu mountains while we did the story, and someone [involved with Love Letters] saw the pictures and said, "Hey, what about them?" [And] we met in New York with the director [Gregory Mosher] and we did [a reading of] the play. I thought I was back in Love Story.

Ali: Ryan is the obvious person to do it with...[and] it's a wonderful opportunity to work together and do justice to this wonderful piece of writing.

Speaking of working together, is this really the first you'll be acting opposite each other since Love Story?
Ali: Working that way, sure. But every once in a while, they find us and say, "Would you give an Oscar together?" or "Would you do an autograph show together?" So Ryan and I periodically...I guess you call it work, but it's the first acting thing we've done together, certainly, for one hundred and forty-five years. Close. [laughs]

Ryan: We've seen each other, but not often. She moved away to New Mexico, which is kind of a hard place to get to.

Are you surprised that Love Story is still a part of the cultural zeitgeist?
Ali: It amazes me that it had the impact that it did. Now, there is such a thing as talkback movie going. We certainly get that at Harvard. I've heard many times that the freshman class has to watch it and they all shriek back "Shut up, preppie!" or whatever, which I think would be really fun to watch. [laughs] But there are people in Africa and Asia and South America whom I see and they say, "Oh my god, I loved your movie!" We're talking about a movie that's so long ago. It's an entire surprise.

Top: Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw stroll through Harvard Yard in 1970's Love Story; bottom: Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal stroll through Central Park in 2015.
(© Paramount Pictures and Jeremy Daniel)

Is this your first experience with Love Letters?
Ali: I did it once, years ago, with a couple of different actors, in Texas and Los Angeles. A long time ago.

Ryan: I've never done a play. I rehearsed a play when I was a young actor, Tiger by the Tail, but we never opened. This will be my first gasp at the theater, so that's exciting. Years ago, they asked me to do the play with Farrah [Fawcett, O'Neal's longtime partner] in Las Vegas. I didn't like the idea, so we didn't do it, which is a relief, because now, I'm fresh. And Ali is probably the best choice.

Why is that, Ryan?
I love her. I've always loved her. I've always had a crush on her, and she went with Steve McQueen and broke my heart. So I've always had to keep it in, but not now. Now, I can let it all go.

Ali, in that respect, what does Ryan bring to the table?
He's a complicated man. He's a very good actor. He has endless talent. I love working with him. It's going to be wonderful to bat that back and forth in the name of this piece. It feels like a very wise combination. People will be curious to see we're still breathing.

Do you identify with Love Letters characters Andrew and Melissa in any way?
Ryan: I recognize Oliver Barrett, who is who I played in Love Story. There's a lot of him in it. So I just segue as best I can.

Ali: I find Melissa rather heartbreaking. The saddest thing, maybe it's a big problem of the time [the play is set], is that these people couldn't quite express themselves and they blew it off. They missed it. In this case, the man is a bit more to blame, but I'm old enough to know that it takes two people to create a relationship and destroy it. There needed to be a way for them to say what was really going on. At a certain time, it was cute and coy, and then the moment passed and they missed it.

Left: Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw in a 1970 promotional still for Love Story; right: Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal in a 2015 promotional still for Love Letters.
(© Paramount Pictures and Jeremy Daniel)