10 minutes with Meryl Streep

The film legend talks about channeling Julia Child, anti-Hillary sentiment -- and the problem with male bloggers

Published August 7, 2009 10:18AM (EDT)

Meryl Streep in "Julie & Julia."
Meryl Streep in "Julie & Julia."

So we were offered a stiff challenge: Interview film giant and legendary chameleon Meryl Streep. The rub? Complete it in roughly the time it takes to holler the line: "The dingo ate my baby!"

Challenge accepted. Salon chatted with Streep, who recently turned 60 -- and is as luminous and articulate as ever -- about channeling Julia Child in the new "Julie & Julia" (her 53rd film role) and anything else we could possibly fit in before time ran out.

You've played plenty of real-life characters through the years, but rarely such a familiar person as Julia Child. Did that worry you? Did you worry about playing it too broadly -- like Dan Aykroyd's caricature on "SNL"? 

Well, probably it should have. But I had just finished "Doubt" and didn't have any time to think about it. And before "Doubt"… I didn't have time to think about  that. I think generally I'm better when I'm thrown out on the stage with a [mimes a confused look] "What, what, what do I do?" [Laughs] I really do. I think the more time you have to worry about something -- actors that prepare for a year to work on something -- I know I couldn't do it, because I'd over-think. I would definitely over-think. 

I just had the same outlines in my mind that everybody had. You know, the voice, the posture and things like that. But really, what I attached to in my imagination was her spirit. She was so similar in spirit and approach to life to my mother that I got to do a little tiny homage to Mary Streep while I was doing this. Which meant a lot to me and sort of located me centrally in a body I loved. 

That's interesting to know, because your performances are closely scrutinized for their potential influences. In "Manchurian Candidate" [2004] you said you'd watched women like Karen Hughes and Peggy Noonan, but a lot of people were convinced you were playing Hillary Clinton, and -- 

I thought it was fascinating that people thought it was her. Because, honestly, I'd never thought about her for one second while I was doing it. But there was so much anti-Hillary vitriol in the press at that time that anybody with a bubble haircut -- you know? Even though [my character Eleanor Shaw] was a brunette and from the South and looked like me! I think the women that are sort of driving, aggressive ambitious presences in films are still terrifying -- and in life, I guess. It's still something society is chafing to accommodate. 

You had a famous quip in the 1990s about how difficult it was for older women to get good roles -- that Hollywood producers don't want to cast women who remind them of their first wives. Recently, you've said that you don't think anything has changed dramatically. And yet you're wildly in demand ... 

I don't think they have changed dramatically, otherwise all the actors my age would be working as much as I am. And I think I have surfed a wave of very good fortune. I guess, starting with ["The Devil Wears Prada"] it has to do with the money coming back in big blockbusters. But if there were more female-driven, interesting projects that were widely distributed ... That audience is there, they want to go. 

There does seem to be a strange amnesia after women-targeted films, like "Mamma Mia," are huge hits.

In the blogosphere. Because the blogosphere is still mostly fellas. Somehow they have all the spare time because -- I guess, someone else is cooking, or cleaning, or doing whatever it is that needs to be done. [Laughs] 

You said recently that you're still "shocked" when you get a role. Is that really true? Come on, you're Meryl Streep!

Yeah. I don't know, I think [pauses to consider] I'm a valuable commodity to a project. But I'm always shocked that there's an interesting, full-fledged, ambitiously wrought role for somebody like me, that somebody's willing to put in a movie, it's unusual, that's what I mean by shocked. I'm not shocked because … "Gosh, me? How do I know how to act?" [Laughs] 

But there's so many unbelievably talented, richly talented women and men that are older, that just don't get a chance. 

In a recent New Yorker profile on Nora Ephron, you talked about the role a personal life plays in one's career, saying that "we're all sustained by good marriages, to the extent that we are." What did you mean by that? 

That was part of a longer thing and I was talking about, we're all sustained by relationships. Sometimes it's by marriages, great friendships, by a sustaining relationship to a parent. But that's the glue of society, it's very home-centered and very simple. It's part of a larger conversation about the rise of fundamentalism and the terror of modern culture and what you're talking about in terms of why we love cooking shows.

We love cooking shows because they take us back home, they take us into the kitchen. It's a very elemental – you know, round the hearth, where we understand safety and nurture and all those good things, all the good things, because the world -- all the things that pull it together -- is spinning out of control. 

By Kerry Lauerman

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