I have been wanting to write a piece on Meryl Streep for a long time now.
Considered by many (me too) as the greatest living movie actress, who has been nominated for Oscars a record 16 times (GASP!!!) and won it twice, she is one hell of a rockstar woman.
So what is it that makes her such a sought-after, revered, valued and loved actress? Is it her beauty? Is it her grace? Has it got to do with talent or sheer genius?
Meryl Streep has gained legendary acclaim throughout her career for her ability to transform herself entirely into each unique character she plays—and yet, somewhat ironically, her own distinctive presence as an actress and individual radiates from each role. In spite of Streep’s tremendous versatility, a certain familiar quality permeates every performance—a strong sense of the real woman behind each finely crafted persona— which makes one wonder where exactly the actress ends and the character begins. However, it seems impossible to draw this kind of boundary in any of Streep’s performances, for the actress and the character are so wholly interrelated each time (in thought, memory, setting, relationships, mannerisms) that they become part of each other.
For every character she plays, Streep has learned to become another person through the close examination of that person’s life circumstances and the use of that knowledge to gain insight into the character’s beliefs, opinions, fears, and desires. This heightened level of artistic prowess, this ability to employ the established elements of modern dramatic method to move beyond them, lies in her unique gift for understanding many different kinds of human beings from the inside out.
For instance, for the role of Sophie ( Sophie’s Choice, 1982, for which, she won her first Oscar), she learnt Polish. She practiced the violin for five hours a day as research for the part of Roberta in Music of the Heart (1999).
Performances like Streep’s (in Sophie’s Choice, Out of Africa, Kramer vs. Kramer, and even The Devil Wears Prada) expand and deepen our own understanding of ourselves through the empathy they elicit and the conscious and subconscious associations they trigger….
Some examples of brilliant scenes ( in my humble opinion) enacted by Streep are as follows:
1) Out Of Africa (1985) – The scene when her lover (Robert Redford) dies in a plane crash, she doesn’t utter a word at the funeral but emotes so well that you actually feel the loss and despair.
2) Kramer v/s Kramer (1979) – The monologue in the court scene where she speaks about her failed marriage, her son, her desires atc make for wonderful Sunday afternoon viewing (with a hand-kerchief). This is no pop-corn stuff.
3) The devil Wears Prada (2006) – Ok, it is difficult to pick one scene from this movie, but my personal favorite is the last scene when a smirk / smile turns into a frown in the last scene.
4) Falling in Love (1985) – The scene where she is zipping in her car to stop DeNiro (wonderfully understated) from leaving town, she stop at a railway crossing and realizes how futile it is. We see the tragedy of her story manifested physically, not through long drawn dialogues.
There are such scenes from each movie she has graced. Wish I had the time and patience to write each one of them!!
By playing each character just the way any common person in that situation would have played out, Streep reveals to us what exquisite, complicated, flawed, heroic characters we really are.
I Love you Meryl Streep…Sigh…..