I first saw Meryl Streep in a terribly unflattering light: in Kramer vs Kramer, as the mother who leaves behind her young son and husband to find herself.
I saw it when I was about 10, and remember hating her with a passion – how could she? The answer is: because she can. Streep can do anything. She is one of the finest film actors of this or any era, with the most Oscar nominations, and the most beatific smile. We should call her Saint Meryl, really. She’s almost holy.
She grew up in New Jersey in the 50s and 60s, a cheerleader who liked to sing and perform. By the 70s, she’d moved to New York to do theatre work, before turning to the movies. By her second big screen release, The Deer Hunter in 1978, she’d been Oscar-nominated; a year later, she’d won her first. She’s been nominated a record 19 times now, winning three. Her expertise is accents (Danish, Italian and RP English among them), and she has the uncanny ability to embody her characters. “Pretending is not just play,” Streep said. “Pretending is imagined possibility.” She has played women at every stage of life, beautifully expressing both the big and small events.
My favourite performance is in a lesser-known film, Hope Springs, in which she plays half of a couple going through marriage counselling (Tommy Lee Jones is inflexible and uncommunicative; she’s a people-pleaser who’s shrunk during their life together). It’s lovely, feels very real, and she’s magnificent in it.
It’s no coincidence that women love Streep so much – she has always seemed so at ease with herself. It’s a love she clearly reciprocates: she’s now 65, and has just launched and helped fund a screenwriting initiative for women over 40. Come October, she’ll be starring as suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst. Is that not cheering news? Long live The Streep.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010