By Tim Nasson
Meryl Streep: The name is synonymous with flawless acting. Not just in tearjerker dramas like The Bridges of Madison County and Angels in America. Don’t forget the comedic side of Meryl Streep in Defending Your Life, She-Devil and Death Becomes Her.
It’s not hard to figure out why many bestow the title Greatest Living Actor upon her. In 27 years, Streep has managed to accumulate 13 Academy Award nominations, with two wins to her name: Supporting Actress in Kramer vs. Kramer, Best Actress in Sophie’s Choice.
At 55, Streep has many years to go, and who knows how many more Oscar nominations, before she packs up her bag of acting tricks and retires. And to think, she hadn’t always wanted to act. “I wanted to be an opera singer. That was my dream as a girl and as a teenager,” Streep told me. Not until she was a student at Vassar did the acting bug bite her.
This is a great year for Streep. She has won the Golden Globe and SAG award for Best Actress for her triple role in the HBO movie Angels in America, and is poised to win the hat-trick, the Emmy, for the same role in September.
Congratulated on her wins and nomination, Streep said proudly, “You can be the first to report the correct number of Emmy nominations for Angels. It’s 22, not 21 as the press has been incorrectly reporting.”.
I sat with Streep recently at the Essex House in New York City to discuss her illustrious career and one of her busiest years. In addition to Angels, Streep co-stars with Denzel Washington in the big-screen remake of The
Manchurian Candidate, opening Friday. She has the role that Angela Lansbury made famous in 1962. “I’m a copycat. If I had seen the original film before I made this, I would have stolen from her,” she said of Lansbury’s Oscar nominated performance.
This new Manchurian Candidate, Paramount’s second remake of the summer following The Stepford Wives, is directed by Jonathan Demme, whose Silence of the Lambs swept the Oscars in 1991. Based on Raymond Chandler’s classic bestselling novel, it tells a story of mind control and abuse of political power. Poised to open between the Democratic and Republican Conventions, the film is sure to stir up debate.
“Shut up, Denzel!” shouted Streep to Denzel Washington, who was in the next room, being interviewed. “His voice has a tendency to project,” she said, her voice also projecting so Washington can hear her. “If you gave my
character a penis, no one would be troubled by her behavior,” she said of Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, hell-bent on securing her son’s nomination as Vice President of the United States, regardless of the cost. Liev Schreiber plays Streep’s son.
“I just love the way Ellie Shaw is described in the screenplay,” she laughed. “‘Ageless, with soft curves that conceal razor and titanium backbone.’ How could I possibly not relish portraying a juicy character like that? Ellie is a woman who adores her son and believes in him. But she’s also a mother who is achieving, through her son, the political position she feels has been denied her. While Ellie grooms her son for leadership, she is also fulfilling her own destiny.”
Conversing with Streep, it’s easy to see how down to earth she is, a far cry from what one would call a Hollywood diva. The mother of four children — the oldest, a son, 25; the youngest, a daughter, 13 — Streep consciously avoids the West Coast unless “on assignment.” She makes her family’s home in Connecticut, and enjoys being an East Coast actress. “I grew up in New Jersey,” she said, “and will always be fond of the ever-changing seasons and the hustle and bustle of New York City. But I also like my space, and Connecticut has the same seasons, yet gives me a little more room to spread out.”
If you think Meryl Streep has conquered it all, think again. Her next movie will give audiences a look at another side of her acting abilities. Her upcoming Christmas family film is Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the beloved children’s book of the same name.
“Oh, yes, that,” Streep said sheepishly. “I had so much fun in paying tribute to the actress/singer’s signature role, movie legend Judy Garland, in their More Movie Music Madness pops program. OK, we got the Judy reference in, we can close now. But not before — playing that role and working with Jim Carrey and Jude Law. I hope children and adults are both equally entertained.”
Chances are Streep will garner another Academy Award nomination or two for her work this year. Since Angels in America was not released theatrically, that film is ineligible for Oscar nominations. But look out, Academy. The Manchurian Candidate and Lemony Snicket await.