Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
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The woman is standing with her daughter in her arms, her son by her side. The officer walks up to her and tells her how beautiful she is, that he’d like to get her in bed. Then he asks if she is a Polack or a filthy Communist. She tells him she is Christian, a devout Catholic. He taunts her with a quote from the Bible, then tells her that she has to choose between her children – one will live, one goes to the gas chamber. If she doesn’t choose, both will die. The soul-deep horror of the situation reflected on her face makes her refuse to choose several times; then, as the man gives the order to take both children, she gives up the girl. As the child is taken away, her face contorts into a voiceless scream of agony from the depths of her soul – we hear the girl’s screams, which appear to issue from the mother’s mouth.
In what Premiere magazine called the third best performance of all time as Sophie in Sophie’s Choice, Meryl Streep cemented her place in cinema history, yet it was only the second leading role of her illustrious career. This year she received her 28th Golden Globe nomination (she keeps beating her own record for nominations; she has won eight times, another record) for her role as Violet Weston in August: Osage County in which she plays a pill-addicted woman struggling to come to terms with her husband’s suicide and her own cancer. Violet could easily be seen as a monster, creator of most of her own problems, but Streep portrays the fear and desperation behind the behavior so audiences can understand the pain of an unlikable person.
She explains her process of creating characters. “I have just a real interest in people. I just want to know what makes that person. What it’s like to be them from the inside out, because I know how it looks but I want to know how it feels. Generally when you investigate what it’s like to be somebody that people have strong opinions about, you find that there are little mysteries and little anomalies and little contradictions that are quite, quite humanizing. Understanding people in their three dimensions -- yeah, that’s my interest in acting.”
Another talent in Streep’s arsenal is her ability to flawlessly create accents for her characters. And it always baffles her to be asked if the accents help her with the character. “How could I play the part and talk like me?” she has said. There is the Polish one for the aforementioned Sophie’s Choice; a British one for The Iron Lady, Plenty and The French Lieutenant’s Woman; Danish for Out of Africa; Irish for Dancing at Lughnasa; Australian for A Cry in the Dark; Italian for The Bridges of Madison County; and a Minnesota accent for A Prairie Home Companion. And the lady can sing. As she did in Mamma Mia, the film that made the actress a movie star, and in A Prairie Home Companion as a country music singer, and in Postcards from the Edge where she bursts into joyous song in the last scene.
When asked once what winning a Globe meant to her, Streep said, “The first time it meant to me that I had reached an international audience. That’s something that’s very, very hard to come to terms with. Over the years I have understood it better but it still shocks me to walk into, you know, a place in Zagreb and be recognized. I’m still just so surprised that – I mean I understand America, but to go around the world -- And that’s what the Golden Globe sort of represents is that an international community knows your work and it’s very overwhelming. It’s an overwhelming feeling but it’s very thrilling too to win an award, but it’s also terrifying because then I have to come and wear a dress and be photographed and all the things I love.”