MERYL STREEP – Greatness Personified


Academy Award Nominee Meryl Streep in ‘Doubt’

When one is asked to name the finest, and greatest actors of our time, one is invariably left to utter the name, Meryl Streep. When a filmgoer is left to decide, should a film be seen, will it be good? One can generally without fail use the mark of measure, oh, but Meryl Streep is in it, so it must be good.

The living film legend, Meryl Streep is a two-time Academy Award® winner and recipient of a record breaking fourteen Oscar nominations. Most recently, Ms. Streep starred in the box office smash Mamma Mia, a film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical based on the songs of ABBA. She will next appear in Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia as the famed master chef, Julia Child and will lend her voice to Wes Anderson’s animated Fantastic Mr. Fox based on the novel by Roald Dahl.

Meryl Streep has given us some of wit and wisdom concerning her life and her career. Concerning stage or screen presence, she states, ‘It's a lesson I learned in drama school: the teacher asks, how do you be the queen? And everybody says, 'Oh it's about posture and authority.' And they said, no, it's about how the air in the room shifts when you walk in. And that's everyone else's work.’ Without doubt, Meryl Streep shifts the air in a room. When she enters, you know she is it. And although her work is profound and relevant to the culture of our times, she is often, self deprecrating, when she states, ‘Let's face it, we were all once 3-year-olds who stood in the middle of the living room and everybody thought we were so adorable. Only some of us grow up and get paid for it.’

Breaking boundaries as a female artist in what is perhaps the most sexist work climate of all in the United States, the entertainment industry, Meryl Streep, broke in to Hollywood with the battle of not only being a beautiful grace to behold on screen, but also, as a being of depth and intelligence. Of this challenge, she mentions, ‘It's hard to negotiate the present landscape with a brain and a female body.’ And she continues, concerning the political climate of our times, ‘It would be nice to have a woman President. I think half the Senate should be women, half of Parliament, half the ruling mullahs…’

Ms. Streep made her film debut in 1977’s Julia opposite Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. In her second screen role, she starred opposite Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter which earned Streep her first Academy Award® nomination. The following year, she won an Academy Award® for her role opposite Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer. She then received her third Academy Award® nomination for The French Lieutenant’s Woman and later went on to win the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Sophie’s Choice, where she starred alongside Peter MacNicol and Kevin Kline.

Yet her success didn’t come over night, as she retells,’ When I was 20 I busked to afford accommodation. One night I hadn't earned enough, I actually slept in the open in Green Park (in London). The view was of the Ritz Hotel and I vowed I'd stay there one day (at the Ritz), and I have.’ Such is one small example of the fierce determination and lofty goals of Meryl Streep that she has envisioned high above her, yet achieved.

Other early film credits include Oscar-nominated performances in Mike Nichols’ Silkwood, Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa, and Fred Schepisi's A Cry in the Dark, which also won her the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival, The New York Film Critics Circle, and an AFI award. She also appeared in Mike Nichols' Heartburn and Woody Allen’s Manhattan. In 2003, Meryl Streep’s work in The Hours won her SAG and Golden Globe nominations. That same year, her performance in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation won her a Golden Globe for Supporting Actress and BAFTA and Oscar nominations.

Ms. Streep’s other recent works include The Manchurian Candidate, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion and The Devil Wears Prada, which earned her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress as well as Academy Award, SAG and BAFTA nominations.

While many young actors of our day are too occupied with telling their story, with talking of themselves, or with the attitude, ‘it’s all about me,’ talent today can learn some wise lessons from the true masters of the craft of acting, such as from the wisdom of Meryl Streep. Concerning speaking vs. listening, she states, ‘Listening is everything. Listening is the whole deal. That's what I think. And I mean that in terms of before you work, after you work, in between work, with your children, with your husband, with your friends, with your mother, with your father. It's everything. And it's where you learn everything.’

In theater, Meryl Streep appeared in the 1976 Broadway double-bill of ‘27 Wagons Full of Cotton’ and ’ Memory of Two Mondays,’ the former which won her the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Theater World Award and a Tony nomination. Other theater credits include ‘Secret Service;’ ‘The Cherry Orchard;’ the New York Shakespeare Festival productions of ‘Henry V’ and ‘Measure for Measure’ opposite Sam Waterston; the Brecht / Weill musical ‘Happy End;’ ‘Alice at the Palace’ which won her an Obie, Central Park Productions of ‘The Taming of the Shrew;’ ‘The Seagull,’ and most recently in the Tony Kushner adaptation of ‘Mother Courage.’

In television, Meryl Streep won Emmy ® Awards for the eight part mini-series ‘Holocaust,’ and for the Mike Nichols directed HBO movie Angels in America, which also won her Golden Globe and SAG Awards. In 2004, Ms. Streep was honored with an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2008 was honored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Meryl Streep’s appearance in a film alone is usually the barometer for that film's greatness. Her mastery of her craft is timelessly precious, without flaw, and of value beyond words, with a range of emotionality and magnitude of depth that is rarely seen on screen. And her powerful work as an actor is not lessening, it is merely growing stronger. We can only look more forward to the beauty and power of the future work that this magnificent artist has to give the world, yet to come.

© 2009, The Hollywood Sentinel