Meryl Streep Interview
Dec. 10, 1982
By Greg Tozian
Dallas — Perhaps more accurately than any other actress working today, Meryl Streep can claim to have played vastly different women in every one of her major films.
There’s no way to typecast Streep, not even as a blonde, since she readily changes her persona and her hair color for movies.
Streep, now 33, has been as mum about her off-camera life as she has been flamboyantly chameleon-like on screen.
In four short years, she’s given us:
- The quiet, Pennsylvania grocery store clerk, Linda, who waited for Christopher Walken and Robert De Niro’s homecomings in “The Deer Hunter.”
- An ambitious, Southern-bred lawyer who fell in love with a married senator in “The Seduction of Joe Tynan.”
- A distraught young mother who abandons her New York ad-man husband, leaving him to rear heir 6-year-old boy in “Kramer vs. Kramer.”
- The shrill, lesbian ex-wife of Woody Allen in the black comedy “Manhattan.”
- The sexually promiscuous, fiery red-haired Victoiran governess, Sarah Woodruff, and and uptight American film actress in the beautifully complex romance “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”
When she recently walked into a small press conference in a large hotel Dallas, where she was filming in the title role of “Silkwood,” Streep again defied expectations. Her hair was chopped off and dyed a dark brown for the new movie, in which she plays Karen Silkwood, the nuclear power plant worker who began protesting nukes and wound up suspiciously dead in 1974. Streep’s conversation embraced three new, different female characters that she’s played for a triro of forthcoming films that all start with the letter “S”: the aforementioned “Silkwood,” “Still of the Night” and “Sophie’s Choice.”
And, finally, Meryl Streep turned out to be much more friendly and open about herself and her feelings toward life and acting than national press stories sometimes give her credit for.
“A lot of the press hype that’s surrounded me at different times set up the expectations pretty high,” said the deep-voiced actress, dressed in a white peasant louse, black jeans and black cowboy boots. “But I try not to pay too much attention to those things. I just try to do the best I can with a script.
“I try to maintain privacy as much as I can, too,” she added. “And I’ve done pretty damn well so far. I don’t run around in a nightlife — that’s where your picture’s taken a lot. I just like my family life. (The low profile) has less to do with my privacy than my family’s privacy. They didn’t get into this business.”
Streep is married to New York sculptor Donald J. Gummer, and with heir 3-year-old son, Henry, they alternate between living in a Soho loft apartment in Manhattan and on a 92-acre, mountaintop estate in Millerton, N.Y.
The Academy Award-winning actress was at the conference primarily to talk about the romantic thriller “Still of the Night,” in which she plays a beautiful blonde working at a Manhattan auction house. Streep, with her hair dyed a shining blonde for the role, physically brings to mind Eva Marie Saint in Hitchcock’s classic, “North By Northwest.”
Streep’s neurotic and wealthy character, Brooke Reynolds, is suspected of murdering her boss-lover near the auction house.
“What attracted me to this role is that I went to school at Vassar, and I went to school with a lot of girls that were like this girl (Brooke). And I had a real prejudice against those women. I really hated ‘em,” said Streep, who was raised in a middle-class neighborhood.
“I thought maybe I could work out some of my mistrust and dislike against like the one I play in the movie,” she explained, “by getting inside her and understanding not just what she looks like but her particular tragedy. (Brooke) was rich and had what I thought o as a rich girl’s ob, and she didn’t have to struggle with the other kinds of struggles that other people have. But she certainly had other, interior problems,” Streep said.
Streep, who can command $1 million or more for each movie she makes these days, was quick to add that she doesn’t still hate the “rich girls” she went to college with.
“I’m different now. When I went to Vassar I was, well … I went to public school in New Jersey and I just hated everybody who went to Miss Porter’s. But I worked it out in this film. And I also got the greatest clothes,” she quipped, acknowledging the legend that actors carry away the clothes that are tailor-made for their movie roles.
Streep’s pre-movie fame was widespread when she was still a 23-year-old student at Yale University, where she got her drama degree in 1975. And she acknowledges that while she often joikes as she talks about her craft, she takes acting seriously and worries about finding ever more demanding projects to take on while she still has the time.
“Every actor is born with that instinct that they’ll never work again after ‘this project.’ So you always want that protection. You’re always hungry for the next thing. And I feel that, especially once you’ve hit the golden 40 (years old), there is isn’t much for an actress,” she said. “So, I’ve got seven years.
“And if you are 40 these days, you’re supposed to look 30! I mean, here’s Jane (Fonda) killing herself (with her exercise routines). It’s true. And I’m not gonna do that,” Streep added. “So I’m working all the time now — sockin’ it away.”
The proof that Streep is “working all the time” is soon to be on the screen again. “Still of the Night” opens Dec. 17 around the country. “Sophie’s Choice” opened in some major cities today and will open in others (including Tampa) in late January.
Much was made of Streep’s extensive preparation for “Sophie’s Choice.” She spent four and a half months learning Polis and German to serve her in the role. In the film, she plays a World War II-era Pole who survives the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp and ends up living in Brooklyn, in 1947, pursued by two lovers.
“I don’t think that ever film takes months of preparation from an actor’s point of view. I think some of how much I prepare for roles has been blown out of proportion. It does take months for (a film’s) pre-production. But I never did the preparation on anything that I did on ‘Sophie’s Choice.’
“I have to psych myself more for some (roles) than others,” she admitted. “On some days, you don’t have to tear yourself apart, you just walk in and out of the building, for the cameras.
“Then there are those days that you have a nervous breakdown in front of the camera. That you get more involved in,” she said.