34th Annual Kennedy Center Honors

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Release date: December 27, 2011
Directed by: Louis J. Horvitz
Produced by: CBS Television
Running time: 90 minutes

The annual Kennedy Center Honors Gala has become the highlight of the Washington cultural year, and its broadcast on CBS is a high point of the television season. The 2011 Honorees - Barbara Cook, Neil Diamond, Sonny Rollins, Meryl Streep and Yo-Yo Ma - were seated with the President of the United States and Mrs. Obama at the star-studded celebration on the Kennedy Center Opera House and accepted the thanks of their colleagues and friends through performances and heartfelt tributes.

Emily Blunt, Glenn Close, Barbara Cook, Robert De Niro, Neil Diamond, Sutton Foster, Anne Hathaway, Kevin Kline, John Lithgow, Rebecca Luker, Patti LuPone, Yo-Yo Ma, Audra McDonald, Mike Nichols, Kelli O’Hara, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Laura Osnes, Sonny Rollins, Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, Tracey Ullman, Sam Waterston

Below you’ll find transcripts of the speeches. A video montage of clips, stills and interview soundbites was shown, hightlighting her childhood in New Jersey (with home video footage), the early years on the stage and the milestones of her career. Later, Mike Nichols introduced four of Meryl’s co-stars in a stage setting similiar to Meryl’s singing scene in “Ironweed”, performing a special version of “He’s me Pal”.

Tracey Ullman: Good evening! I’m here to talk about my friend Meryl Streep, which is a great honor, but it’s not easy. I was talking to my daughter Mabel a couple of weeks ago, and she’s known Meryl all her life. And I said, “Mabel, what shall I say?” I said, “I know, I’ll talk about how amazing she is in her latest movie “The Iron Lady” as Margaret Thatcher. Oh my goodness! I just can’t believe how the girl from Jersey became the girl from Grantham. I mean, only you could give this compassionate portrayal of a woman that I just raged against in the 1980’s. But Mabel said, “NO! Don’t get political. There is nothing more annoying than an actress getting political”. Then I said, “what shall I say?” Mabel said, “ok Mom. Is there anything Meryl’s crap at?” You know, I don’t think there is. She can sing, she can dance, she can act, she cooks. She can cook like bloody Julia Child, right? I am officially in awe of you, my dear friend. I mean, you work harder, you give more, and you are the most humble person I know. And, actually, there is something you’re crap at – getting all dressed up and having everyone tell you how fabulous you are. But you are Meryl bloody Streep, so you can act like you like it.

Robert De Niro: As an actor, looking at those moments of Meryl’s life, my first thought is, “I was amazing in The Deer Hunter”. I was nominated for an Academy Award for “The Deer Hunter”, and so was Meryl. That was her first. She’s up to sixteen now. You know what that means? She sat through the Academy Awards sixteen times. I saw Meryl for the first time in 1977 in a production of “The Cherry Orchard” at Lincoln Center starring our late friend Raul Julia. Since then I’ve been privileged to work with Meryl three times. In each of those movies, and in everything I’ve seen Meryl do, I’m continuously struck by how perfectly she inhabits, humanises and honestly portrays such a wide range of characters. There is never a false note, never an overlooked detail, truly no one does it better. The Kennedy Center is honoring you tonight for your super human gifts as an actress. I honor you, always, for your very human gift of friendship.

Mike Nichols: Dear honoree. Like everyone on the stage and in this hall, I love you. Thank you for the memories. We did four movies together and a play. She became a different person in each body, soul and all. We read the script, we talk about it, get on the set. Maybe one like this, from “Ironweed”. I step back and then say the magic word: “Action”

Kevin Kline: Meryl doesn’t take short cuts. And neither in her work, nor in her friendship. She insists on going the extra mile. Sometimes literally. We were doing our first dress rehearsal on “Mother Courage” at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. We’re finished, I’m exhausted, about to hail a cab to take me three blocks to my home. And I see Meryl getting on her bycicle. Meryl lives at the other end of Manhattan. About six miles. I tell her, she’s crazy. “You can’t go all that way after all that work.” Into the dark New York streets, she paddled away, and over her shoulder, she said, “I have to build up my stamina”.

Emily Blunt: But Meryl needs the stamina, as she’s always doing double duty. You see, in every scene she actually has two jobs. The first is her own performance, which is always just breathtaking. And secondly is a task of stabilising the other actor who is having a nervos breakdown, because they’re in a scene with Meryl Streep.

Stanley Tucci: There’s one thing that I want with me in every scene. And that is Meryl Streep. Meryl and I, we have always such great chemistry. But then, Meryl has great chemistry with everyone. And everything. Meryl can have chemistry with streetlights, props, costumes, even Kevin. As an actor, you always pray you go to work with Meryl Streep. Then your prayers are answered and you become the most nervous person in the universe. And then you meet her, the nervousness, the crush, everything, becomes love.