Simply Streep is your premiere source on Meryl Streep's work on film, television and in the theatre - a career that has won her three Academy Awards and the praise to be one of the world's greatest working actresses. Created in 1999, we have built an extensive collection to discover Miss Streep's work through an archive of press articles, photos and video clips. Enjoy your stay.
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One of the greatest actresses of all time (just don’t ever ask her to admit it) rushes into a little café in downtown Manhattan with soaking wet hair. “I’m so sorry,” Meryl Streep says as she gives me a hug. “My hair is a mess becaused I just washed it.” The importance of this statement would be made clear a few moments later, as we settled in to talk. Today, Meryl could pass for nearly anyone else in this quaint corner of the city. Clad almost entirely in black, she has tossed on a emeral-green scarf for flair and is wearing almost no makeuo. But as she speaks, flashes of what makes Meryl more than your average actress come through. The gleaming blue eyes, the flawless complexion, the litling cadence of her voice, and that straight blond hair – which looks good even damp-attract discreet stares and hushed whispers from our fellow patrons. It doesn’t take long for them to realize they are in the presence of a legend.
If Meryl notices, she doesn’t care. Ordering a salad and leaning back in the booth, she is still the picture of normalcy. Nominated an astonishing 12 times for an Academy Award and twice a winner, she insists that her greatest accomplishments are her marriage to sculptor Don Gummer and her four children: Henry, 22; Marie, 19; Gracie, 16; and Louisa, 11. As we chat, it becomes clear that Meryl, with her fierce intelligence and quick wit, is more down-to-eart than her lenghty list of accolade would suggest. She admits being a lousy cook and housekeeper, talks freely about mistakes she made with her kids, and even reveals a beauty secret not everyone would own up to. She may well be the greatest actress ever – but she’s also a fabulous lunch date.
LIZ SMITH: It’s been so long since we’ve seen each other! How has the worlds’s greatest living actress been doing lately?
MERYL STREEP: Oh, Liz! You’re too much.
Seriously, you must know that nearly every single thing that’s written about you calls you the greatest, or a legend, or something like that.
Oh, well, how can I respond? You have to work through a lot of publicity – because that’s all it is.
You don’t see the reality behind it?
I recognize that I’ve hit in certain parts, in certain times of my life. But the longer I go on acting, the less I understand it.
Have you noticed any problems getting roles now that you’re over … 35?
Ha! Just a little over 35! Well, my career hasn’t depended very much on external appearances. All that slaving to look a certain way is an affliction of our time and of my profession. My husband says it’s almost like, you reach a certain age, then you go out and buy the mask. That’s what you’re going to look like from now on. It doesn’t quite fit and it doesn’t really look like you, but at least it looks good.
How do you feel about plastic surgery?
Joni Mitchell once said, “Happiness is the best face-lift.” And I believe that. I will say this about plastic surgery: It is not a wonderful development for our culture. And I’m really sad about it in terms of my daughters. My son appears to have this freedom to grow into his body and himself, but girls don’t have it that simple.
As a woman and an actress, you must occasionally worry about your looks…
I’ve always thought of my looks as something to manipulate, something to undercut or reinvent. And I’ve seen in my own life, with some of my frieds, how great beauty can be such a terrible handicap for an actor. If you want to really be seen in a fresh light with each film and not be like anybody you’ve ever been before, that’s hard when you have this big indelible beauty that enters the movie before you’ve even opened your mouth.
You’ve got woderful stuff ahead of you, though. I mean, you have two movies coming out back-to-back! And you’re still young.
Bless you. It’s hard to feel that way in this business. You know, I read something the other day about an actress and it said “the aging…,” but they would never say “the aging Sean Connery.”
Even though you don’t care about this sort of stuff, do you have any beauty secrets?
Here’s one: I don’t wash my hair that often. My record was three weeks, back when I was in college. It’s good for your hair, or mine anyway, because my hair is dry and needs oil. I guess that’s kind of a seedy admission.
I think it’s great. Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Yes – sleeping late. But I usually have to take a Tylenol PM to do it, because I’m so used to waking up at 5:30 in the morning and just starting my list – you know, my list of everything I have to do, everyone I have to call, all that. So sleeping late is really something.
Did you get up at 5:30 today?
I got up at 5:30. Even so, my kids wound up eating breakfast on the bus because they always cut it right down to the absolute last minute [Laughs] So I give them food for the bus.
Pretty soon you’ll have an empty nest. won’t you?
Actually, not for a while. My youngest is only 11. I had my kids spread out over a long period of time. One graduates from college this year, God willing. My son, Henry. No one’s in jail yet. We’ll see. They’re good kids.
Do you have help at home?
Oh, yes. I couldn’t have worked and raised four kids without all the help I’ve had. These days, I have someone who cooks, because I am a terrible cook. I really don’t like it. But I do love to eat. I am a great audience for good cooks. I get that from my mother, she was the same way.
She didn’t like to cook?
Not at all. Mom liked to keep house, but not to cook. I’m actually not very good at that eiter – at keeping house – but propably I shouldn’t admit it! There was a time in my children’s lives when they wanted to be little housekeepers and to organize their spaces. Then they hit their teenage years and this explosion in their rooms happened, and I thought, what have I done wrong? This is the person who used to lay her clothes out the night before school, an now they’re blown all over the place! I’d straighten up, and think the whole time, I should make her do this. But eventually, they straighten up and fly right. Still, I didn’t really get the housekeeping gene from my mom.
I know her death past year was a great blow to you…
Oh, yes. I just have a terrible ache. I miss her every day. I still can’t really believe it.
Did you have a chance to take care of her at all. Was she sick for long?
No, I didn’t. It was really quick. She got something, a sort of fast-moving staph infection. I mean, she was taking a trip with a bunch of her buddies, an then she got a headache, and a week later she was dead. She wasn’t even sick. It was horrible. Just horrible. I guess you can’t really say it’s a shock when somebody dies at 86, but it was. A complete shock. When Mom died, morality stepped in and woke me up. Time now seems short. She lived 86 years, and I knew her for 53 of them, and that was too short. So certain things seem more urgent – life and just all the issues of living happily seem to count more, to be more precious and more pressing.
You have siblings, don’t you?
Yes, two brothers. One is a teacher in a New York City public high school. He teaches history, coaches basketball, and teaches dance. He was a dancer until he realised that he had to get what my father called a real job. The other one is a sports coach, and a great dad, and an insanely good golfer, who does something with investing that he has explained to me 700 times and I still don’t understand.
That’s hilarious. Tell me about your husband. You’ve been married for 24 years, a rarity in Hollywood
Oh, God. I don’t know what I’d do without my husband. I’d be dead, emotionally at least, if I hadn’t met him. He’s the greatest.
What compromises have you two made for each other to keep your marriage strong?
I’m not sure we think about it as compromising as much as it is trying to keep a certain balance in the relationship. We’re lucky to have found each other, and we both recognize that. Our marriage and our four children and their future well-being inform all the decisions we make. Of course, we’re fortunate that our lives are flexible enough to accommodate everybody’s changing needs.
What do you think your life would have been like if you’d moved to Los Angeles and done the whole Hollywood thing, instead of being baded on the East Coast?
Oh, we did go to Hollywood. We were there for four and a half years. And, in a way, we came back because of our son, Henry. He was the most agreeable, affable kid. He had gone through preschool in both New York and Texas, and then first grade in England, and then four months of school in Africa, because of all the different locations I’d been on. Then he did half of second grade in Connecticut and half in Australia. Finally, by third grade, he sat down and said, “I never want to be moved again.” This good little guy. And my husband and I, we heard him. And I realized that since I was going to have to settle down, I just was not happy being there, in Los Angeles. So we moved back east to Connecticut, where we’ve been for years and years.
And all your kids seem to have benefited from it.
Yes, they have, but you learn as you go. I mean, if Henry hadn’t said what he did, I might have tried dragging them all to various sets around the world. I’m so glad there’s Louise, my youngest, so I can fix all the mistakes I made with the other ones.
How have you kept them from becoming spoiled brats?
To the extent that they are unspoiled and the jury is still out on that . it’s because from the time I was a young mother, back in the Jurassic era, they’ve been kept apart from the limelight. I get unhappy when my family is corralled into the promotion of a film I’ve done; where photographing or publicizing them somehow helps sell the movie I’ve made. So I strive to keep them separate from that.
What about your friendships? Are you friends with other actors?
I would say most of my friends are civilians. My best friends are the girls I went to college with, actually. I also have friends that I’ve made over 20 years of raising kids – nothing bonds you quicker than play group. As for actors, there are some I keep in touch with, like Liam Neeson, but we’re all so busy; we have to make an enormous effort just to stay up-to-date. You wind up understanding why movie stars can’t stay married to each other . it’s hard enough just maintaining a friendship!
What advice do you have for people who are hoping to have what you have, which is pretty much everything: good marriage, good kids, good career?
Well, one thing I’d say it: If you can, go to college. If I hadn’t gone to college, I would be Cher, whom I worked with in “Silkwood”. She’s this great vivid intelligence, and the only thing that has ever held her back is her lack of confidence. And I think she would have gotten that in college. And is she had that education, she would be running Paramount today, believe me! It’s a huge self-esteem boost, on top of everything else. I mean, where else can you spend four years reading and interacting with other people all facing the same big question in life?
Do you have a temper? What really gets you worked up?
Latley? Everything! Do you want the long or the short list? Here’s something: For a couple of years now, I’ve driven a car made by Toyota called the Prius. It’s a hybird car – a gas-and-electric vehicle that gets approximately 52 miles to the gallon in the city and has the lowest possible emissions on the road. It costs about $20,000, seats five, and it goes faster than I’m supposed to by law. And yet, I see these nice women roaring down the road in these big SUVs, and I think, Her husband’s ego needs that car – she doesn’t. It gets 17 miles per gallon, and all those extra emissions polute my air and my kid’s air. If I could buy an American-made hybird car, I would, but my country doesn’t even offer such a car yet, though they’ve had the technology to do so for years. So, that’s what really makes me mad.
It seems like none of the glamour and glitz of Hollywood has gone to your head. For instance, is it true that you left your Oscar for Kramer vs.
Kramer in the bathroom the night you won?
Well… I set it down momentarily. [Laughs] You can’t wipe and hold the Oscar the same time! But then I forgot about it. I remembered before I left the room, though!
Where do you keep your Oscars?
On a shelf – a high shelf. I had to put them up high, because my kids at some point realized what they were and wanted to play with them.
Tell me about the films you have coming out – two very unconventional movies. You play a lesbian in The Hours…
She’s a wonderful character and pretty heroic, but I wouldn’t characterize her by her sexual choice. The movie is about three different women from different eras whose lives are loosely related. It also stars Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman, and wait until you see Nicole in this! She plays Virginia Woolf, and she is amazing; she didn’t stint when it came to compromising her beauty to advance the story. It’s sort of like what I was saying about beauty being a hindrance sometimes. For Nicole, doing this made her free in a way she hasn’t had the opporturnity to be before. It released her from the obligation of that poise she normally has.
And you’re doing a movie with Spike Jonze, the wacky director who did Being John Malkovich?
Yes, it’s a film called “Adaptation”, and it also stars Nicolas Cage, who is hilarious. It’s almost too odd to describe, but it was a lot of fun. It’s very moving and funny and strange.
You’re also still busy with charity work, aren’t you?
I do my best. Right now I’m working with a group called Equality Now, which is a human rights organization operating on behalf of women around the world. It is a fantastic group. They work in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Ethopia. There’s a lot of emphasis on things like getting women the right to vote – it is incredible to me that women are still denied that right in so many countries – and there’s a huge movement to put a stop to female genital mutilation. People can get more information by going to the Web site www.equalitynow.org
Now, to go from the serious to the sureal. Even through you’re clearly on the Hollywood A-list, did you feel left out because you weren’t invited to Liza Minnelli’s wedding?
Oh, Liz, that shows how much you know! I was invited! I couldn’t go, but I was actually invited, and I thought it was so strange – I don’t really know Liza! When I was in drama school, I came to New York by train to see her in concert. I had this nosebleed seat way, way up, but she made me feel like she was performing two feet in front of me. I hear from my friend Carrie Fisher that the wedding was quite a spectacle.
You know, speaking of Carrie, I caught you in Postcards from the Edge on television the other night, which is based on her book. You were so fabulous in that film.
It’s such a shock to see that movie! When I was doing it, I thought, I’m fat, I’m too old to do this… I mean, look at the women who were in that film. Shirley MacLaine looks incredible and Annette Bening had this great, sexy part. But now I watch it and think, Geez, what were you whining about?
And you sing this great song at the end of the film. Why didn’t you pursue a singing career?
Honestly, because the kids hated to hear me sing! That’s the truth. I guess if I had been truly driven to pursue singing, they just would have to put up with it.
It’s never too late, you know.
Yes, I could become a torch singer and sing in smoky little dives…
You’d be great, and I don’t think you’d be singing in dives.
Well, here’s the deal, Liz. If I decide to turn myself into a Marlene Dietrich, you’ll be the first to know!