In many respects, the marriage worked. She loosened him up and turned the townhouse into more of a home, persuading him to lay off half his uniformed staff of armed security guards, waiters, butlers, and chefs. “I don’t want to walk downstairs at midnight to get a bag of potato chips and find two people in my kitchen,” she once said. “If you need tea,” she said of her husband’s wishes, “I’ll get it for you.” She expanded the kitchen (which was said to be small because Perelman ate virtually every meal out) and made it kosher. Before she moved in, the townhouse was decorated in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russian furniture, but Barkin didn’t like the Russian-baron look, she said in one interview. With Perelman’s blessing, she converted the house into something lighter, airier: French modern.
“It was easy,” Barkin once said of her interior-decorating gig. “I had $8 billion to spend.”
In the Duff custody case, which continued to linger in the first months of Perelman and Barkin’s marriage, Barkin went to bat for her husband, testifying in 2000 that Ronald was a good father. “He’s always patient, never scolding,” she testified, and she said that he drove Caleigh to school on the days when she was with him. “He wakes her each morning and tucks her into bed each night, after Hebrew prayers, with her stuffed bunny, Hoppy.”
“The whole story here is that Ron Perelman couldn’t recognize what he had to lose. Finally, he had someone who loved him and his family, someone he couldn’t buy with all the money in the world.”
For Barkin, the toughest part of dealing with Perelman was his jealousy. In April 2005, on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, Barkin told the story about a time she and Perelman were watching television in bed and came across a scene from a movie she did—several years before she married Perelman—with Laurence Fishburne, an espionage thriller called Bad Company. She told him to change the channel.
“Oh, no, honey,” she recalled saying. “Click! Click! You don’t want to watch this!”
But Perelman didn’t change the channel. “Yeah, yeah,” she remembered him saying. “I want to watch this!”
Though there is no nudity, Barkin straddles Fishburne on a dock and has a shrieking orgasm. Perelman didn’t seem to appreciate the artistry. “I’m not speaking to you!” he said, to her recollection, and didn’t talk to her for two weeks. Perelman tried to palm off the incident like a joke at the time. He said, through a spokeswoman, “I think my wife has a terrific sense of humor.”
Although Barkin enjoyed the fruits of Perelman’s wealth, she felt suffocated by it as well. In interviews she did to promote her movies, Barkin complained about his maids’ ironing her son’s T-shirts and said that his kitchen was so big she could never find the spatula or the olive oil she liked to use. The spatula and olive oil were virtually useless anyway, she once said, because Perelman would consider it a “compromise” if they had one cook instead of three. She suggested that all the square footage and butlers made her uncomfortable. She said once, “Sometimes we talk about buying a little apartment, like a normal apartment, where we’d go on weekends, and I’d have my own kitchen, and I could cook. ”
Barkin also took roles in more movies: Spike Lee’s She Hate Me (2004) and Palindromes (2004), a Todd Solondz film. Barkin was so eager to take the part in Palindromes that she accepted it without even looking at the script.
Barkin believed that her work caused friction. “This is not a smooth-sailing relationship,” Barkin once said. “Ronald doesn’t do this for a living. It’s one thing if you say to your actor-husband, ‘I’m going to go to Tunisia for three months with George Clooney, and we’re going to do a love story—come visit me! And by the way, I’m taking your whole family with me, and see ya.’ But try saying that to a businessman, and he’ll look at you like you’re from Mars.”
The first time they split up was when Barkin was offered a role in Ocean’s Twelve, in the spring of 2004, says a friend of Barkin’s. Perelman was opposed because filming was in Chicago, Barkin’s friend says. Barkin went anyway, and when she came back, tensions between the couple were so high that she and her kids went to stay at Soho House, the friend says. Barkin, says the friend, considered asking Perelman for a divorce, but they ultimately patched things up by going to a marriage counselor recommended to them by Claudia Cohen. To Barkin, the issue was control. “Ronald’s not used to a wife who has taken care of herself since she was 18, so it’s a struggle—occasionally hilarious,” she once said. “The other day, he said, ‘The problem is you want to be me.’ I laughed and said, ‘I am you. We’re not in your office; we’re in the house, and I am the boss.’ ”