The Morning Call
The Amazing Meryl Streep
February 16, 1997 / Written by Eirik Knutzen
First, last and foremost, Meryl Streep is a mother.And, make no mistake about it, America's premier screen actress is a powerful matriarch fiercely protective of her husband and brood of four. Although Streep is highly visible when promoting certain projects - currently the motion picture "Marvin's Room" and the telefilm ... "first do not harm" airing at 9 p.m. Sunday on ABC - her husband of 19 years, sculptor Don Gummer, tends to stay at home with Henry, 17; Mary Willa, 13; Grace, 10 and Louisa, 5, on their splendid 89-acre estate in northwest Connecticut.
Streep, relaxing recently in a Los Angeles-area luxury hotel suite betweeen press conferences, makes it plain that she does not care to see ehr children follow in her footsteps despite the fact that they have appeared on screen with her as ordianry kids from time to time. "They have acted (with her), but under other names, pseudonym," explains the articulate 47-year-old performer. "I haven't published (their screen credits) or alloweds them to be photographed because it's very hard to protect kids... fame is a funny thing." The reason the childrejn have elected to act with her on screen at all, according to Streep, is "basically to keep me company." She's not about to encourage her offspring to take up the acting profession professionally. "It's a hard life unless you're very, very successful - and there's only a few who are. So I try to keep my kids aware of our friends who are still struggling and what that's like. All they see is my fame and the goods that they perceive as fabulous aspects of it. But I still think that acting is a respectable, wonderful profession when it's taken seriously."
Streep says she rarely allows her children to watch her film either on the big screen or on cable television. "They like `The River (Wild)' because it had exciting action, but I haven't let them see too many of my movies because a lot of them are R (adult) rated," she explains. "But I was very happy to take my two older children recently to a big-screen showing of `Sophie's Choice' at a film festival in Prague. "They were very moved by it, but in a way they really don;t want to see my movies," she continues softly while unconsciously brushing a speck of lint from her simple black pants suit. "It's an interesting thing... they don't want to watch my films because they want a separation. They want to think of me as me. They don't want to share me, have me be owned by a fiction, another family or a situation that isn't there." The devoted mother and two-time Oscar winner - who reportedly earns approximately $6 million per picture - rarely strays from from home these days. "Marvin's Room," a comedic drama revolving around an ill member of a dysfunctional family, was filmed in Manhattan. The convenient location enabled her to commute between her home and set every day in a comfortable helicopter hovering above New York's gridlocked traffic. "I like (doing) films because it gives me a lot of freedom to get in and out. It's nice and accommodating," she explains. "Mostly, my career choices now are proscribed by my needs and the needs of the big family I have. Film is easy when all the elements are right. They're shooting it near my house and it's not a long-term commitment. For me, it usually involves one project a year."
But Streep made an exception during the past year by also starring in "...first do no harm," a heartbreaking "fictionalized dramatization inspired by actual events" in which she plays a desperate mother on the edge searching for a way to cure her four-year-old's acute epileptic seizures. Written by Ann Beckett, the two-hour drama is produced and directed by Jim Abrahams ("Airplane!" "Naked Gun") - himself the father of Charlie, an epileptic child. "Streep, who won an Emmy for "Holocaust" in 1978 to go along with her Oscars for "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979) and "Sophie's Choice" (1982), took a giant pay cut in order to bring "... first do no harm" to the small screen. According to Abrahams, the television movie offers hope to thousands of parents suffering through their children's unspeakably violent epileptic episodes, according to Abrahams, who co-founded the Charlie Foundation To Help Cure Pediatric Epilepsy as a non-profit organization promoting awareness and use of the Ketogenic Diet.
After fruitless conventional drug therapy and brain surgery in 1993, the Abrahams' 1-year-old son was administered the Ketogenic Diet, a tightly controlled high-fat diet with a restricted fluid intake - at Johns Hopkins University. Charlie has been drug free and seizure-free ever since, as have one-third of similar cases receiving the same treatment. The diet has been around since the 1920s, but is seldom prescribed by neurologists because the only people who profit by it are patients, said Abrahams; there is no medication to buy, no surgery to perform. Delighted to have completed her socially conscious role opposite performers Fred Ward, Seth Adkins and Allison Janney, Streep is looking for work again. "I have no agenda and the line is so indistinct now between television and movies," she says, leaving the door open for future television projects. "I'm just looking for interesting parts, relying on my agent to send things I may like."
Mary Louise Streep, the daughter of a commercial artist and a pharmaceuticals company executive, was born in Summit, N.J., and got started on the musical stage while attending high school in nearby Bernardsville. She subsequently focused on the craft at Vassar College and the Yale School of Drama on her way to off-Broadway and Great White Way productions. The strong-willed woman has been flying by the edge of her skirt ever since. "I'm not one of those people who carved out a (career) master plan," she says with a shrug. "I was trained as a comedic actress and didn't do serious roles until the movies. I've done a lot, but there are still levels I'd like to attain professionally.
"I recently watched Fiona Shaw recite `The Wasteland' on a bare stage. Her once-in-a-lifetime performance was really inspiring, like food. I have the guts to do that piece, but I don't know if I have the artistry."
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