Post: Interview with Meryl Streep, her 21st Oscar Nomination?

Collaborating with Tom Hanks 

Meryl Streep: Tom Hanks was my boss on “Mamma Mia,” he was the producer.  The truthful answer is that I’m 7 years older than Tom and the reason we probably haven’t worked together is because I’m 27 years too young – too old to be, you know, in a movie in the normal way but that’s just a fact of Hollywood.

Working with Spielberg

As for Spielberg, I think a lot of films that he has made – this is one of the few that he’s made that’s focused on how a woman, a woman’s journey. I wouldn’t have been in “Band Of Brothers” or “Saving Private Ryan.” I wouldn’t have been cast in that. Lots of films, like “Lincoln,” “Amistad.”

Trusting the Press?

MS: You could ask why have we waited 40,000 years because things have been changing in the last 40, 50 years, momentous changes, momentous changes unlike any other period in human history and so the fact that it isn’t proceeding quickly enough or effortlessly enough or without any pain is not surprising and it’s a very exciting time and it started to get exciting in that tumultuous ’60s, you know, when so many groups that had been excluded from the centres of power and decision-making started to have a voice and so yeah, I’m very happy that Steven decided to make a film about this moment in time because it was so seminal. It really did. It was a moment when certainly in the United States things shifted, politically, culturally and in many, many different ways so he tells a number of different stories in this film.

Qualities of Extraordinary Women

MS: I have met some amazing, amazing women. I mean, just last week I met a journalist named Patricia Mayorga, Mexican journalist, who is so unbelievably brave, exposing corruption in Mexico and the nexus between the cartels and the politicians and she’s just a solitary women and her life is threatened endlessly but the thing she shares with other great courageous people is her optimism. It’s shocking that she who sits on the frontlines of all of these issues and has her life threatened and her family’s life threatened every day, she’s hopeful and I guess that quality is really, really important in people who are going to move history forward. You can’t let the bastards get you down, and that’s one thing I think I’ve noticed.

Curiosity and Optimism

MS: I don’t feel even remotely in the same league as the people, many of them that I’ve portrayed who were so brave going all the way back to Karen Silkwood but I am curious about what makes different women be able to stand up and take a difficult decision. It’s always interesting to me how people come from really different backgrounds and how their lives, I’ve always been curious about other people and how they – why they are the way they are and the ones that I’ve been able to make films about many of them confronted really difficult decisions, choices and fears and terrors so yeah, I guess I’m just curious and I think I got that from my mother. You could say nosy too. That’s a different word for it (laughter) but I’m interested, yeah.

 

Melania Trump as First Lady?

MS: I feel anyone who hasn’t asked for that position and who’s pulling along on the caboose of that train I feel, yes, sympathy for the position they’re in.  And yet, we’re dragged into positions of responsibility sometimes whether we like it or not.

Katherine Graham

MS: She took a very costly, brave stand in her life and she did it at a time when she was quite uncertain even about her legitimacy in the position that she held. She should not have been self-conscious or intimidated or insecure but she was and that was by virtue of the time in which she lived because clearly her life proved that over time she had the capacity of the most brilliant leaders that we have but she didn’t know that and she didn’t have the confidence in it and she writes about that eloquently in her book and for every woman who feels maybe less than confident about their own position in the world and who wonders, you know, the impostor syndrome. People feeling that they don’t deserve to be where they are. This is the thing that holds so many brilliant people back, so many brilliant woman. It’s not men. It’s in your own head. It’s the story you tell yourself and that was a discovery that she made over time and she realized how she was undermining herself and her own legitimacy. This is such an interesting character because she is in a way emblematic of many women who at that time some of you were old enough to remember the world was pretty different. There were no women in – really very few women in business who weren’t secretarial level or assistant level. There were very few women lawyers, very few women doctors, there were and still are too few women in government, in law. The famous story about Sandra Day O’Connor graduating from Stanford Law School 2nd in her class. The first was William Rehnquist. He went on to – he’s in there, in our film to become Attorney General and then on the Supreme Court and she on graduation couldn’t get a job and the first question she was asked was can you type? So it’s a pretty amazing thing. That was not that long ago. I mean to me in terms of human so of course things haven’t raced ahead effortlessly.

Balanced News?

MS: Oh, boy, if I knew how to figure this out, you know, it would be great. I don’t know. I really don’t. I mean, there are so many good things about the dispersal of sources and for the news and how people can – journalists can rely on Twitter and all sorts of different crowd sourcing the news is one thing that kind of obviates the state controlled news. I mean, the balance between if your government funds the news, at what point are they controlling so that’s a difficult thing and yet I think we’re entering a world where people are having a harder and harder time controlling the news because it can be fantasized, it can be totally made up, people can ignore the truth, the fact and having that those arbiters, those places where you can rely on the fact that you’re getting a credible source, that you’re getting the bona fides of real news that’s the most terrifying thing about right now but I don’t know if we would benefit from having publicly funded. We do. We have public television, public broadcasting but it’s just one of many voices. I think that’s probably okay.

 

Acting Interrupting Motherhood

MS: Are you a mother? Yes, everybody can do it all the time. Get interrupted.  My most irritating habit? I can’t stand to be late and I really get agitated when people are making me late and I try to rush them along and try to move the – herd the cats, you know. I get a little wild because I think it’s like saying to the person who is at the other end of the appointment that their time is not as important as yours.

Sleeping Habits

I’m a very grateful sleeper. I love to sleep. I have an informal survey that I do, very high powered and high functioning people and I do ask them how much they sleep and it is sort of alarming how many people now sleep very little and they use aids to go to sleep and that’s not a good development I don’t think but it might have to do with our 24 hour news cycle and the 24 hour way we live and these devices that keep us awake and our dis – well, just our separation from circadian rhythms and all that, I think that’s not great for the human animal but yeah, I sleep, you know, 7 hours a night.  I never read in bed. I mean, I just go to immediately asleep. I’m easily tired.

Traveling

I travel so much for my work that my total joy is to be home and have an uninterrupted month at home. That’s just really my greatest pleasure, not that I don’t love to travel and I did travel a lot when I was younger and I still do for my work but you know what that’s like. It’s just sitting inside of a hotel room and doing interviews and not really getting out too much but we did take an amazing, amazing safari in South Africa right at the north border.  And it was really so emotional to see these. It was a 55,000 acre privately owned but publicly accessible parkland and it was just great. If I could remember the name I’d give them a plug but it was a couple of years ago.

Music for Acting

MS: I usually have one piece of music that I listen to over and over. It’s just like a space to enter for each job but in this one I didn’t do that because I had Katherine Graham’s voice reading her personal history, her autobiography and that was music to me and it was also a way of entering her voice, her head, her heart.

She reads so movingly this story. Some parts of it are almost unbearable to listen to because she’s so present and I think that was a quality of hers in that she was so – when she was with you and had her eyes on you, you were the only person in the world and so that particular sense of intimacy and the way she shared herself and her listening self was something really that I could hook into each morning listen to. It was almost like music because her voice was very distinctive. It was a way of speaking that very well educated American ladies of a certain class had at that point in time. Very few people talk like that anymore but it’s distinctive and it has its own musicality.

New Scenes

I hope you get to talk to Josh Singer and Liz (the writers), but that scene is something that came together late in the script. It wasn’t in the original script and it was after Josh had a conversation with Lally Weymouth and she mentioned this list that she had made out for her mother on the day after her father’s funeral and her mother had to go down and address the Washington Post, all the people that worked there and the board and she was still shell shocked and her girl ran out and gave her this little list of things that focused her mother and, I mean, they had a contentious relationship over time.

Lally speaks about that but she was a great, great help to her mother through that time and Josh wanted to somehow pull that list into a scene and we worked on it together. It evolved that scene, that dialogue in that scene and it came together very late for, you know, we didn’t even have a set for it kind of the day before. I really wanted it to take place because so many of the scenes in the film take place in these realms. It’s almost like there’s a male part of this movie and a female part and the home and her backyard and her little sitting lounge where she sits with Lally. I wanted there to be sort of a sense of the upstairs, the intimacy, the woman’s world, you know. Katherine Graham didn’t cook so we couldn’t do it in the kitchen, but we decided to do it in her childhood bedroom in Lally’s that she had come for the weekend and brought her children and then I thought it might be nice to have the children in bed while, you know, in the scene just to because it would make us quiet our voices and we’d have to speak in a way that no-one spoke in the rest of the movie which is the language of home and what matters and that was important to me to exhume something of her inner, the inner cost of what this decision was going to make just because, I mean, it is kind of exposition but it’s also adds to the emotional movement of the whole piece going into the scene downstairs with all the men and that was based, the scene downstairs where they all come over and the woman is alone, Steven had a painting of and I can’t remember who painted it but it was a lone woman sitting with a bunch of men. She was clearly having to make a decision and so he sort of based that on a painterly idea that he’d seen before but it really helped to have that scene upstairs and because it sort of added to the stakes of how much it was going to cost her to make that decision.

 

Sexual Harassment?

MS: I would hope it would affect not just Hollywood just right. I think it’s going to not go away. It’ll go right through every enterprise in America and around the world. It already did. I mean, what’s happening in the U.K. it’s igniting sort of a kind of bravery on the part of people who just have had it with the silence and being polite and keeping the status quo and the best outcome of all this I think will be in the structures, not just in the Oscars but in the studios, in the agencies and the funding entities and the boardrooms of the larger holding parent companies of these studios and when that is broken open, when the boardroom is comprised of half men and half women then a lot of this stuff I think will be obviated, will go away. When your boss is a woman it’s a trickier thing, yeah.

 

Golden Globes Political Speech

I was just sitting at the table outside my little room at the Chateau Marmont and thinking about the press, the Hollywood Foreign Press how each time I come and speak here it’s to people who come from all over the world and represent places that have all different kinds of challenges to their press freedoms and we’re just feeling it here now but people have withstood much more. I mean, my God, the woman who was knifed in the neck in Russia. I mean, the woman who Galitzia in Malta who exposed the Panama Papers. There are so many people that have put their lives on the line and I was thinking about that and I thought about how I was being honored for acting and what acting was, what performing was and I’m being honored by the press and for being an actor and how certain kinds of acting distort. You can use your acting ability to really evil ends, malign ends and that was something I was feeling in my heart at that time and I felt I don’t feel like talking about me except in how I’m reacting to the moment in which I find myself, in which we all find ourselves and the press is still under siege. There is permission granted to people by this kind of behavior. You know, there are so many leaders who love the idea of fake news and so anyway that’s where my thinking came together and it was fairly last minute. but, you know, you’re compelled by the moment, you’re compelled by the moment in which you live.  I struggled for 2 days, very hard struggle.

 

Relationship with Children?

MS: It’s very close. We’re very close as a family. I have 3 girls and a son who is my oldest and they’re people who are alert to the world and alive to it and interested and curious. I’m proud of them but I keep them out of the umbrella of my fame because they hate it and I understand so…

Brave enough to Make Political Speeches

MS: I am not brave at all. I mean, I don’t want to be anywhere in front of anybody talking about anything. Really. No, I don’t. It’s just not my thing.  I just get incensed and, you know, I think everybody is affected more by their emotional reactions to things than by our rational. Our rational lives lead us to think about questions of policy and how certain ideals are being trampled on but emotional. It’s the emotional thing that moves you when yeah, that’s all I’ll say about that.

Stimulating Factors for Courage

MS: I was the only one in my neighborhood in rural Connecticut of this group of women who had a platform to speak. Some of them were very loud mouthed people, but no-one would listen to them so I had to speak for them and so I feel that way on lots of different issues of different things I’ve worked on and tried to help in is to amplify something because I can on behalf of the people who don’t have a voice, you know, for women and girls and anyway so, yeah, my friends we had access to a study about pesticides and we were alarmed and in those days nobody remembers this time but you couldn’t go into the store and buy organic food. There was no such thing. There were a couple of entities. This was pre-Internet.   You could find them and write and order dried food but there was no fresh unless you happened to live near a farm that was organic and very few people had access to that and we found that I don’t know how deep you want to go into this but we did have a great sort of success in helping to recalibrate how pesticide tolerances are set and how they’re measured for tolerances for children because they used to be set based off, you know, most of the tolerances were tested on prison populations so they would figure how many parts per billion would affect a 160 pound man and we were looking at a child who drinks apple juice, you know, in a bottle and was getting many, many, many times that and at a time when their bodies were growing more quickly and metastasizing, cells were growing and dividing quicker, brain function was affected, endochronological things were affected and so we launched with the NRDC this movement and it lasted for about 10 years and I realized I couldn’t really devote myself to it. It grew so fast and there were so many thousands of people who wanted to – women who were frustrated that they couldn’t fix this in their home so we tried to help. We got in a lot of trouble with certain growers, especially around one substance but it was discontinued. It was under the Clinton administration and we still have apples. They can grow apples without this thing and anyway that was 10 years of my life.

Mama Mia

Yeah, it was great that everybody was coming back. I was totally shocked. Yes, and Cher and that was the first time we’d worked together in 35 years so that was really fun but I have a small part in this version so I’m not in it very much. I just did about a week on it, yeah, but it’s a very important week (laughter) and it was great fun. I guess they all got to go to this beautiful island in Croatia and I shot in a studio outside of, you know, Ealing or wherever we were but it was great to see them all and they all look the same. I mean, what is it 10 years? More maybe. Yeah, 10 years ago, yeah. That was great.

Anxieties

I have always – I have a lot of fear and I think that’s I’ve accommodated myself to that fact. Part of it is just the cumulative expectation that, you know, that’s my own fault (laughs) but I just have had many, many chances to play some extraordinary people and I don’t – I want to earn the place to play this next one as if she is as important or more important or as everyone that’s preceded her and I don’t, you know, you don’t want to favor any of your children over another and that’s the way I feel about it it’s just I always feel like I’ve dismantled something in my confidence before I begin and my husband points out to me that I always do this and I always say no, no, this – I’ve never done this before. I’ve never felt this way before and I don’t think I should do the film and I’m going to call them and tell them that I have to get out of doing it because I have no idea and he says, you know, this is a pattern and (laughter) so now I’ve realized that, you know, he has pointed it out to me but I think I probably do it on purpose to try to just get out a clean blank page, you know, and that’s the most terrifying thing as you know, as a writer, the blank page, you know. You have to – it deserves something necessary. It deserves something felt and real and authentic and so each time you have to prove it and yeah. And the second part of your question was? I forget.

Joy in Acting

Yes, I love doing it. When I get there how do I prepare just before going on set? I feel like I don’t know how to do that and because each configuration of people is different. This was completely different. I never worked with Steven Spielberg before. He’s such an amazing film-maker. I mean, I’ve never ever worked with anyone who has a more intuitive sensate feel for how to construct a visual narrative. No-one else. No-one else. The idea that he would think of – he would hear a story about the presses being in the bottom of the building in the old Washington Post building and that he would think to have Bagdikian while he’s writing that – typing his story to feel the fact that it’s going and history is shaking. The world’s shaking with what’s being printed downstairs. That’s just great storytelling and he would find things like that every day so it was exciting to go to work. It was really exciting and he doesn’t rehearse so that was completely terrifying and destabilizing for me but Tom knew he did that so Tom was ready so that was even worse. Tom never made a mistake ever, ever, ever, ever. He was always completely word perfect and ready and on the balls of his feet so it made me, you know, sort of lean forward and kind of step up and do my push ups before I went on set, you know, but joyous, yeah. There’s nothing like it and it was a happy group because there were so many great actors and there was so little time in which to make this movie that they had to – each actor playing small parts, I mean, small screen time parts but they were very important people in the whole saga of the Pentagon Papers and each actor researched these parts and they brought him ideas and it was fantastic.

Precedent and Unprecedented

There’s a phrase I think should be retired. This is completely unprecedented, you know. We hear that every day. Every day the precedent is being exploded so maybe we just retire that and just take each day as it comes and stay on it like she says. I think if we just stay on it we’ll be – that’s the job and we’ll do it and I think that is it and there’s never been – I mean, I went to the Columbia School of Journalism graduation scholarship breakfast. I support one of the scholarships there and the dean told me there’s never been such an explosion in kids applying to journalism school. It’s not just Columbia, right across the country. They don’t know what to do with the applications because this is inspiring a whole new generation of young people to want to and we need every single one of them because the stories are, you know, like gushing from every corner but I, you know, I’m very hopeful. I’m very hopeful just by the quality of the journalism now. It was maybe in the doldrums for a little while and we let entertainment media wrestle us down and now investigative journalism is the hot bit. That’s where everybody puts their eyes and thank God they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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