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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Meryl Streep loves to tell the story about how one learns to be king. It dates to her days at Yale Drama School, when the instructor asked the students how to portray a monarch. “And everybody said, ‘Oh, you are assertive’, and people would say, ‘Oh, you speak in a slightly deeper voice’. “And the teacher said, ‘Wrong. The way to be king is to have everybody in the room quiet when you come in’. The atmosphere changes. It’s all up to everybody else to make you king. I thought that was really powerful information.” It’s hard not to think of that story after meeting Streep, perhaps the reigning queen of American movies, who in the past several years has had an unexpected career renaissance – at 59 playing women who make the DNA of people who encounter her flutter and mutate. It’s a rare achievement. In modern Hollywood, only Robert De Niro and Clint Eastwood have had comparable return engagements with audience affection, and they’re not actresses, who routinely are considered washed up at 40. Now, after almost 30 years of being perennially more admired than beloved, the double Oscar winner has been connecting defiantly with the masses, first with her turn as the malevolent but unexpectedly vulnerable fashionatrix in The Devil Wears Prada, and then as the single mother singing Dancing Queen in the Abba musical Mamma Mia!, which has taken close to $US600 million ($930 million) worldwide.
Her summer slot for 2009 has been claimed by the much-buzzed-about Julie & Julia, a Nora Ephron film due for release in Australia next October. It blends the tale of a young temp secretary’s (Amy Adams) obsession with chef Julia Child (Streep) with the actual story of Child’s years spent in Paris in the 1940s and ’50s. Streep thinks of her incarnation of Child as a homage to her own mother, who died in 2001 but was much like Child – “these outsize women, for some reason, who have decided who they are early on, and they’re fine with it, and that comfort with who they are makes everybody else comfortable and they’re able to live an existence with their energy. It’s energy and light. The room really lit up when she came in. And Julia had that. She really did”. It’s hard to imagine Streep doesn’t also have this when she wants it, which is not always, given the rapacious attention paid to movie stars these days. A recent afternoon found her squashed between round-table interviews and photo sessions for Doubt, her new film premiering in Australia on January 10 (and in the US next week). It’s about the 1964 hand-to-hand between a nun (Streep) and a popular priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) she suspects of molesting a student, although there is no direct evidence. Streep at first seems slightly daunted by the process of perma-sell that has descended on cinema, particularly Oscar-bait films such as Doubt, which require their actors not only to sell their wares to the public personally but also to practically every guild and academy member in America. Still, she quickly rallies, drawing on reservoirs of compassion, intelligence, strategic self-deprecation and a certain insouciant giddiness. She is dressed in jeans, an oversize shirt, with large beads she fingers repeatedly when not brushing her wispy blonde hair behind her ears. Large glasses can’t quite obscure her luminous complexion, the fine points of her famed cheekbones and the faintest of smile lines around her eyes. She does not appear to be in some death-knell battle against nature, gravity and food. Mostly, Streep, who lives in Connecticut and New York, seems gleeful about her professional resurgence, which she says was completely unexpected, and she’s not quite sure how it happened. “I don’t make anything happen. I sit at home and wait for the phone to ring. Really,” she says. “Why these opportunities are coming up has less to do with me than all the things I don’t understand about how decisions are made here.”
Still, she notes that three of the last four movies she has made (including her upcoming untitled Nancy Meyers film) were directed by women, and The Devil Wears Prada and Mamma Mia! were championed by female movie executives and producers. “Donna Langley [the president of production] was our champion at Universal for Mamma Mia! Nobody wanted to make that,” Streep says. “The smart guys banked on Hellboy to carry them throughout the year. The Mamma Mia! wagon is pulling all those movies that didn’t have any problem getting made. Our budget would have fit in the props budget of Hellboy.” In the case of Prada, the filmmakers had to persuade Fox’s co-chairman Tom Rothman, who 30-odd years ago was the adolescent younger brother of a friend. She does a killer imitation of Rothman’s nasally voice: “I … I … I … I don’t get it. I’m going to say it right now: go ahead, make the movie, but it’s not my thing.” “So it’s hard for them,” she says. “People operate on instinct, and they do things that kind of make them feel good on some level, and so every time we complain there’s not enough things for women, that’s because the people that are making the decisions are not turned on by material we are. It’s a very simple equation. But [Rothman] has two daughters, and he has a wife, and he has a lot of smart women executives that said, ‘Tommy, this will make money. This will make you a lot of money.’ And they were right.” Streep gaily says she doesn’t care that Mamma Mia! earned her some of the worst reviews of her career. “I knew it would make lots of people happy, and you know, the reviews came out, and when the bad reviews came out, the blogosphere just exploded with women empowered to say, ‘These people are crazy! What’s the matter with you? Life-hating, life-sucking, desiccated old farts.’ ” The last time Streep won an Oscar was back in pre-history (1983, for Sophie’s Choice), when Ronald Reagan was president. Since then, she has been to the ceremony 10 times as a nominee, including for Out Of Africa, Ironweed and Adaptation. She has spent many evenings looking cheerful as other actresses walked off with the prizes. Sometimes she appeared dutifully glammed out by a professional stylist; on other occasions not.
The Oscars are still “very nerve-racking,” she says, laughing. “It doesn’t stop. It’s just like I had four children, and it was just as terrifying and unsettling with the fourth one as it was with the first. I supposedly knew more but you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s just overwhelming … It’s not like childbirth, although some evenings feel like it,” she giggles. As for her fashion sense, she chortles, “I don’t know how to be a movie star.” She likes getting to meet people whose works she admires but finds daunting the anarchy of the awards night red-carpet walk. She recalls her mother telling her to enjoy it, to “stop being such a hairshirt”. “Well, I wish I could, but I haven’t really figured out the way to act my way through it.” Doubt is the kind of movie that could instigate another trip to the red carpet. In the first scene, Streep’s character, Sister Aloysius, is seen striding down the aisle during a church sermon, stridently imposing order on wayward parishioners, mostly children. She’s swathed in the dark fortress of the nun’s habit, but its dark folds only partly contain Sister Aloysius’ ferocious energy. She moves her arms with sharp little jabs and speaks in a thick New York accent.
Sister Aloysius is not meant to be initially sympathetic, and indeed, that’s part of the point of John Patrick Shanley’s film, based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Sister Aloysius is a disciplinarian, a seeming killjoy in a battle with the popular, empathetic priest determined to make the church more accessible, more modern. Yet she’s also a relatively powerless woman fighting against the tide of ingrained patriarchy and occasional misogyny of this particular church. And she’s carrying out a private crusade against Hoffman’s character, based primarily on her intuition. “My friend Gavin de Becker [the security consultant] wrote a book called The Gift of Fear. It was about women’s intuition, and it was about … just basically saying if you sense that something’s off, if you feel unsafe, you probably are on some level. You’re not paranoid; you’re probably right,” she says. “We’re animals. We smell it. We smell danger, and I think that Sister Aloysius senses something whether it’s from something she knows deep, deep in her past or what it is. She’s seen this before.” Streep loves the nun. “I sympathised with her plight, with where she found herself in this world.” Streep recently was trying to explain to her three daughters – 17, 22 and 25 – how different the world was in 1964. “The opportunities were different for smart, ambitious, directed women, and I think [Sister Aloysius] is somebody who has a real pain in her past and sought the church for the solace, certainty, structure, ritual, the purposefulness of a life within the church.”
Of course, this is Streep’s view, not necessarily the author’s. Doubt is inherent in every aspect of this joust over faith and authority, and since the play appeared on Broadway, audiences have debated whether the priest is guilty. Cherry Jones famously played the part on stage, but Shanley explained that when making the film, he wanted to make the experience his own, not simply repeat what stage director Doug Hughes had done. And Streep was perhaps the obvious choice. The writer-director says Streep is conscious of her stature as Meryl. “She uses the fact that she’s Meryl Streep in her initial situation with new people. She doesn’t give up being Meryl immediately, but it’s totally conscious. It’s just a ploy,” he says, laughing. In fact, although he marvelled at her diligence and her facility in running the crescendo of human emotion, it was not until a day of reshoots that he finally glimpsed Streep’s doubts, the uncertainty that often accompanies great artistry. “I saw suddenly her vulnerability about the role, how deeply she cared, how worried she was that we got it. She was like a young girl, very vulnerable and very shaky.” It’s that unadorned humility that’s fostered many of Streep’s greatest performances. In the early part of her career, critics noted that Streep often seemed devoted to bringing compassion to marginalised women, such as the Holocaust survivor Sophie Zawistowski or activist Karen Silkwood.
Older women can feel marginalised, mistrusted or simply ignored. It’s hard not to think Streep is doing her best to imbue recent characters with traits that our culture sometimes denies them, qualities like sexuality, humor, dignity, compassion and basic humanity. “We’re conflicted about women in power. We saw it in Hillary’s campaign. We see it in Sarah Palin,” Streep says. “There’s a reason it was called The Devil Wears Prada. That’s why it was made. If it was ‘The Angel At The Head Of Vogue Magazine’, no one would go.”