The Associated Press
Mighty Meryl Streep
September 17, 1998 / Written by Mark Kennedy
Actress is reluctant to play centre stage in media eventNEW YORK - A trailer fit for a movie queen was waiting for Meryl Streep when she arrived in rural Ireland last summer to begin shooting a lowbudget ensemble film. It was a massive, ugly aluminum thing, fully equipped and noticeably larger than the trailers assigned each of the five other actors. No one said a word. Streep made a mental note. By week's end, the trailer was gone, discreetly replaced by a more modest one. "That's pure Meryl," Pat O'Connor, the director of the forthcoming "Dancing at Lughnasa," says. "She's so likable, she's so lacking in fijssiness. That trailer bothered her." When Streep arrives for an interview, there is no pushy entourage or yelping cell phones. In fact, just the opposite. There are times when Streep acts more like a 49-year-old soccer mom who, purely by accident, has stumbled into a career as one of the most revered actors of her generation who has picked up 10 Academy Award nominations, two Oscars, a Tony and an Obie. "People think I know something that I don't know. They see me as not who I really am," she says. "It's like I'm now sort of emeritus on some level, you know? Like Stella Adler. But I don't know anything! And very quickly on they realize this." Wearing sensible black trousers and a red blazer over a white T-shirt, Streep carefully ponders her responses. Ask about her craftsmanship, and you are met with puzzlement.
It's as though she has a guilty conscience, as if at any moment the movie police might break down the door, confiscate her Screen Actors Guild card and frog-march her to theatrical prison. "Look, I really don't know how people act," she says. "I feel like Tm just sneaking by a lot I have great respect for other actors and really don't know how they do i t I really dont It's wonderfiil when you see it done right - and that's what I crave, but I don't know how people light upon that truth." Pardon? She's got to be kidding, right? This is, after all, Meryl Streep - an Academy tested, 100 percent, Grade-A acting icon - confessing to cinematic ignorance. How can this be? "I think sometimes she takes herself by surprise," O'Connor says, laughing. "She can vanish into a role so far that when she resurfaces, she doesn't know what happenedr True, going deep is a big part of Streep's reputation. So deep that if s almost distracting. After all, this is an actress who studied both Polish and German five days a week for three months just to do a scene in "Sophie's Choice."
She later spent 12 weeks before the filming of "The French Lieutenant's Woman" perfecting a Victorian middle-class accent by reading Jane Austen and George Eliot aloud with a voice coadi. And when she signed up for the role of a former white-water rafting guide in The River Wild," Streep actually learned to navigate Class V rapids, the category just below the level deemed unnavigable. Her resimie goes on and on like that. But Carl PrankJin, the director of her latest film, "One True Thing," says that Streep's awesome ability isn't really about just being ready. "She is someone who goes through all the preparation, but I thmk we're talking about something beyond that, too. There's a gift going on: She's blessed," he says. There's a certain amount of it that can be attributed to train- " ing and preparation and being smart and all of that Some of it is just genius."
To that, the actress just laughs. There are, she insists, no geniuses in the Streep household, where she is instead the working mother of four and wife of 20 years to sculptor Donald Gummer. Besides, she's well aware that not everyone adores her. "It very rarely happens that I meet someone new without them already having an opinion about me. I can see them running throu^ the reel when they meet you. Or they think: 1 just can't stand her! I know she's a good actor, but I just can't look at her!'" Streep shrieks in delight.
"How do I know that? ... I know because I've done the same thing about actors - these people that we let into our brains and our hearts when the movie's playing in the dark. You have a visceral reaction." And it isn't always pretty. Streep admits she sometimes gets on people's nerves with her use of accents, facial mannerisms and self-conscious hand gestures. But when critics complain that her performances are too technical, too mechanical - maybe even soulless - or gripe that the actress reveals nothing of herself in her work - her reply is quite simple: That's why it's called acting.
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