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Hollywood Confidential

Published: Thursday January 15, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday January 15, 2015 MYT 12:37:37 PM

Meryl Streep is still busier than ever

The award-winning actress talks about family, films and retirement.

The name Meryl Streep is synonymous with great acting – possibly the greatest actor the screen has ever known. But what few realise is she’s also the most maternal and caring artiste ever to wear the mantle of greatness.

Bewitching: In Into The Woods, Streep plays a wicked witch who is able to grant three wishes ... at a price.
Bewitching: In Into The Woods, Streep plays a wicked witch who is able to grant three wishes... at a price.

Who else but Streep would have been willing to sacrifice a promising career for an ailing lover, but that essentially was what she did.

Despite all the acclaim she was getting at the time for her work in The Deer Hunter, she put her career on hold for almost a year to nurse actor John Cazale until he died of cancer in l978.

The first time the Hollywood Foreign Press interviewed her was in 1983 for Silkwood; she had skipped doing press for her earlier films because she felt her children were more important than studio junkets, and films like Out Of Africa and Sophie’s Choice needed no promotion.

But then Silkwood, because of an early negative review (in Time magazine) needed all the help it could get, so she was there.

Four years later another controversial film – A Cry In The Dark – needed help, and she pitched in.

At the time I marvelled at how she listened, how she clarified, how she measured her responses to every question.

How does she manage to do it all – wife, mother, and actress – I asked her then.

“Everyday you give up something,” she replied. “It’s a matter of fitting moments in, trying to parcel out a piece of time for everybody and everything.

“It’ll be more than a year before I go to work again – a lot of people tell me that’s dangerous, but frankly I don’t give a damn. I want a family so that’s what I do. You try to do as much as you can to make things good.”

"I always wish on a star and that's always about my children." - EPA

True to her promise, for the next five years she worked infrequently making some questionable choices (such as She-Devil and Death Becomes Her). But then in 1994 she made a comeback of sorts in The River Wild.

At that junket, she didn’t mind answering questions about her children.

Not only do they not listen to her, they’re not particularly impressed with her body of work, and, worse yet, they’re not well behaved.

“I have very loud children; in airports people say, ‘Look at Meryl Streep’s children, you know, they’re misbehaving.’

“But I feel they’re big, and I want them to be big, I want them to be brave and happy and unafraid of whatever comes their way.”

So being Meryl Streep’s kid is a burden for them?

I used to tell them, “You’re the kid with two noses.” You’re handicapped. It’s your thing to get over.

That’s why I kept them out of the public eye. I wanted them to have as good a crack at a regular life as they could. It’s hard for children of a celebrity.

Are they in awe of your talent?

Going home every evening is a humbling experience. My family don’t think of me as very much at all. My children can barely listen to anything I have to say. I love to come to a junket where everybody listens. It’s a dream.

But they must have been impressed when you played Leonardo DiCaprio’s mother in Marvin’s Room!

That was big, suddenly you’re acknowledged by your family.

I always try to take them back to the scenes of my youthful glory. I take them to the the theatre in New York. I say, ‘And this was my dressing-room at Lincoln Center, and this ...,’ but they’re so bored.

You can’t say, ‘Be interested in me.’ They have to discover it for themselves.

(And later my son) saw Sophie’s Choice, not on a degraded videotape, but on a big screen in Prague. I was so happy to have him see that.

(At that time) my kids don’t have a real sense of what I do. They know that a big car comes and picks me up, and people recognise me in public places, but that’s really it.

They don’t understand exactly what it is I do. So I was thrilled to show him something I was proud of, and he loved it.

He was very moved, although his response was, “Man, that’s a sad movie. Whoa!”

Family is very important, then?

I depend on my family a great deal for a centredness and a feeling of where I am in my life. I’m the oldest child in my family, I have two younger brothers. I don’t have a sister. I’m the responsible one.

I’m the good one who takes care of remembering birthdays. My brothers do not – their wives are expected to do that – but they’re very good sons.

Do you ever think about retiring?

Oh, no, that’s when all the kids will be out of the house, and it won’t be tiring at all to work. I’d like to keep working forever. Why not? I mean it’s a question of stamina.

My great role model is John Gielgud. I worked with him in Plenty, and I was just ravished by his freshness in his approach to character, in his appetite for acting – and for gossip. I just loved him. We should all live so long and work so long.

At 65, you are as busy as ever with three movies in the can.

I’m very much aware of that. Bette Davis was 41 years old when she said, “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride” in All About Eve. And after that her career was finished for all intents and purposes so I have been lucky.

When I began, there were very few women in the executive branch, no women on the crews, a lot of the press corps were men, but that really changed.

I’ve been on the crest of that change. I’ve benefited from it and my experience has shifted it for others as well.

Are you gratified your daughters are following in your footsteps. Can you keep up with their careers? (Grace is on The Newsroom and Mamie on The Good Wife)

No, I can’t. I can’t keep up with it. They’re on so many shows and movies.

I’ve been working sort of non-stop for the past five years – I’ve been jumping on opportunities that came my way so this Florence Foster Jenkins (Streep’s next project which will be released later this year) will be the last for a while.

In Into The Woods, the witch grants three wishes. What are yours?

I wish for a vacation, I really do. But I always wish on a star and that’s always about my children.

Philip Berk, eight-time president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, hobnobs with celebrities to report exclusively from Los Angeles.

Tags / Keywords: Meryl Streep, Actress, Oscar winner, Into The Woods

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Meryl Streep is still busier than ever

15 January 2015

The award-winning actress talks about family, films and retirement.

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