Nationality: American. Born: Mary Louise Streep in Summit, New Jersey, 22 June 1949. Education: Attended Bernardsville High School, New Jersey; Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, B.A., 1971; Yale Drama School, M.F.A., 1975. Family: Married Don Gummer, 1978, four children: Henry, Mary Willa, Grace, Louisa. Career: Made New York stage debut in The Playboy of Seville , 1969; worked in summer stock with Green Mountain Guild, Vermont, 1969; appeared in Joseph Papp's New York production of Trelawney of the Wells , 1975; appeared in the TV film The Deadliest Season , and made feature film debut in Julia , 1977; appeared in the TV mini-series Holocaust , 1978; was the voice of "Jessica Lovejoy" in the episode of The Simpsons titled "Bart's Girlfriend," 1994; named Best Modern Actress in an Entertainment Weekly Internet poll, 1999. Awards: Best Supporting Actress National Society of Film Critics, for The Deer Hunter, 1978; Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series Emmy Award, for Holocaust, 1978; Best Supporting Actress Academy Award, Best Motion Picture Actress in a Supporting Role Golden Globe, for Kramer vs. Kramer , 1979; Best Supporting Actress New York Film Critics Circle, for Kramer vs. Kramer and The Seduction of Joe Tynan , 1979; Best Supporting Actress National Society of Film Critics, Best Supporting Actress National Board of Review, Best Supporting Actress Los Angeles Film Critics Association, for Kramer vs. Kramer, The Seduction of Joe Tynan, and Manhattan, 1979; Best Actress British Academy Award, Best Actress Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Best Actress in a Motion Picture-Drama Golden Globe, for The French Lieutenant's Woman, 1981; Best Actress Academy Award, Best Actress National Society of Film Critics, Best Actress National Board of Review, Best Actress Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Best Actress New York Film Critics Circle, Best Actress in a Motion Picture-Drama Golden Globe, for Sophie's Choice , 1982; Best Actress Los Angeles Film Critics Association, for Out of Africa, 1985; Best Actress New York Film Critics Circle, Best Actress Australian Film Institute, Cannes Film Festival Best Actress,
The Deadliest Season (Markowitz—for TV); Julia (Zinnemann) (as Anne Marie)
The Deer Hunter (Cimino) (as Linda)
Manhattan (Woody Allen) (as Jill); The Seduction of Joe Tynan (Schatzberg) (as Karen Traynor); Kramer vs. Kramer (Benton) (as Joanna Kramer); Uncommon Women . . . and Others (Mossman and Robman—for TV) (as Leilah)
The French Lieutenant's Woman (Reisz) (as Sarah/Anna)
Sophie's Choice (Pakula) (title role); Still of the Night (Benton) (as Brooke Reynolds)
Silkwood (Nichols) (title role)
Falling in Love (Grosbard) (as Molly); In Our Hands (Richer and Warnow—doc) (appearance)
Plenty (Schepisi) (as Susan Traherne); Out of Africa (Pollack) (as Karen Blixen)
Heartburn (Nichols) (as Rachel)
Ironweed (Babenco) (as Helen Archer)
A Cry in the Dark (Schepisi) (as Lindy Chamberlain)
She-Devil (Seidelman) (as Mary Fisher)
Postcards from the Edge (Nichols) (as Suzanne Vale)
Defending Your Life (Albert Brooks) (as Julia)
Death Becomes Her (Zemeckis) (as Madeline Ashton)
The House of the Spirits (August) (as Clara Del Valle Trueba)
The River Wild (Hanson) (as Gail Hartman); A Century of Cinema (Thomas (doc) (as herself)
The Bridges of Madison County (Eastwood) (as Francesca Johnson); The Living Sea (MacGillivray) (doc) (short) (as Narrator)
Before and After (Schroeder) (as Carolyn Ryan); Marvin's Room (Zaks) (as Lee)
First Do No Harm (Abrahams) (as Lori Reimuller) (+ exec pr); Assignment Rescue ( The Story of Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee ) (Kaplan) (doc) (short) (as Narrator)
Dancing at Lughnasa (O'Connor) (as Kate Mundy); Chrysanthemum (Wilkos) (short) (as Narrator); One True Thing (Franklin) (as Kate Gulden); Eternal Memory: Voices from the Great Terror (Pultz, Yemec) (doc) (as Narrator)
Music of the Heart (Craven) (as Roberta Guaspari)
Interview with Thomas Wiener, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), December 1983.
"Streeping Beauty," interview with Wendy Wasserstein, in Saturday Evening Post , July/August 1989.
"Meryl Streep Comes Calling," interview with Wendy Wasserstein and Brigitte Lacombe, in Interview (New York), December 1988.
"Winning Streep," interview with David Handelman, in Vogue , April 1992.
"The Perils of Meryl," interview with James Greenberg, in Entertainment Weekly , 7 October 1994.
"Hidden Depths: Meryl's Perils," interview in Time Out (London), 22 February 1995.
"Streep Fighter," interview with Rachel Abramowitz, in Premiere (London), vol. 5, 1997.
"The Meryl Streep Nobody Knows," interview with L. Smith, in Good Housekeeping (New York), September 1998.
"Streep's Ahead," interview with G. Fuller, in Interview (New York), December 1998.
Maychick, Diana, Meryl Streep: The Reluctant Superstar , New York, 1984.
Smurthwaite, Nick, The Meryl Streep Story , New York, 1984.
Glogger, Helmut-Maria, Die aktuelle Biographie Meryl Streep: das Portrat eines Weltstars , Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, 1987.
Pfaff, Eugene E., and Mark Emerson, Meryl Streep: A Critical Biography , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1987.
Silverman, S. M., "Meryl Streep: There's No End to Her Range," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), August 1979.
Current Biography 1980 , New York, 1980.
Pally, M., "Choice Parts," in Film Comment (New York), Septem-ber/October 1985.
Haskell, Molly, "Meryl Streep: Hiding in the Spotlight," in Ms. Magazine , December 1988.
Rayner, Richard, "Esprit de Streep," in Harper's Bazaar , March 1994.
Weinraub, Bernard, "Her Peculiar Career," in New York Times Magazine , 18 September 1994.
Atkinson, M., "Meryl Streep in 'Sophie's Choice'," in Movieline (Escondido), October 1995.
Thomson, D. and others, "Who's the Best Actress in Hollywood?" in Movieline (Escondido), November 1996.
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Meryl Streep is among the contemporary cinema's greatest assets—a star of the first order who, like the Spencer Tracys and Edward G. Robinsons before her, is an exceptional and multifaceted actor. One critic has said that she "manages to make her face an astonishingly clear reflection of her characters' complexities." Indeed, Streep is a master at shaping the intricacies of emotion and bringing them subtly to life through the use of refined and minimalist expression. The result has been an impressive and memorable list of films in which she has appeared, and in which she has offered consistently credible performances playing an astounding variety of roles.
On occasion, Streep has been criticized for taking on so many "accents" in her films. Her characters have been British, Irish, Australian, Polish; her "American" roles have ranged from sophisticated New Yorkers to small-town blue collar types, average suburbanites to ravaged alcoholics. One suspects, however, that this disapproval comes from a misguided mistrust of her ability to transform herself with such seeming effortlessness. The fact is that Streep can play—and play brilliantly—just about any character she chooses.
Streep's initial important roles were supporting ones. Her first major part came in The Deer Hunter , in which her pale good looks and soft-spoken delivery made a compelling contrast to her male counterparts, small-town Pennsylvania buddies who head off to fight in Vietnam. Her role in the television miniseries Holocaust was essentially a reworking of this quietly gentle persona. What is most intriguing about Streep's early career is that she offered award-caliber performances in roles that were not showy, that easily might have been typically bland feminine characters. The year after she made The Deer Hunter , Streep appeared in supporting roles in three films: The Seduction of Joe Tynan (playing a bright Southern charmer); Manhattan (as Woody Allen's estranged lesbian spouse); and Kramer vs. Kramer (as Dustin Hoffman's confused, insecure estranged wife). Especially in the latter, she fused the quality of introverted shyness that characterized her role in The Deer Hunter with a new external effervescence to convey her character's disorientation and instability. As a result, she won an Oscar, and firmly entrenched herself in the minds of moviegoers.
From then on, Streep has had her choice of starring roles in high-prestige features. Her best characterizations have been thoughtfully conceived and complexly drawn; they have been women who are severely troubled, or facing an overwhelming life crisis. Her first starring role came in The French Lieutenant's Woman , in which she is cast in a double role, that of an actress and the restrained Victorian woman this character plays in a movie. Here, Streep displays her uncanny ability for understatement and subtle expression as she projects the private madness of the latter character. She was to prove equally brilliant playing a working-class woman under duress in a film that is part drama, part political tract (Karen Silkwood, the illfated nuclear parts factory worker, in Silkwood ); an intellectual in a film that is primarily romantic in tone (Danish writer Karen Blixen, in Out of Africa ); and an immature, fragile offspring of privileged Hollywood in a cautionary drama whose core is a mother-daughter relationship (the fatigued, drugged-up actress who lives in the shadow of her famous, domineering mother, in Postcards from the Edge ). On occasion, the torment of Streep's characters directly relates to one of the most personal concerns of any woman: her maternal feelings, coupled with the very survival of her children. In Sophie's Choice , she won her second Oscar as the tragic Polish concentration camp survivor, whose "choice" was to decide which of her offspring will live and which will die. In A Cry in the Dark , she is an otherwise average Australian woman who experiences the death of her baby and then finds herself charged with murder. In Before and After , she is a loving wife and mother whose adolescent son is accused of murdering his girlfriend. In the TV movie . . . First Do No Harm ,which she executive produced, she is a mother seeking alternative treatment for her epileptic son.
Streep also has accepted roles that are not as psychologically intricate, but which still allow her to display her impressive talent. She can more than effectively play a standard, essentially unglamorous part, such as the average suburban New York commuter who commences an extramarital relationship in Falling in Love , and even can add class and intelligence to a generic action-heroine role, as she did in The River Wild . And she is capable of playing gentle comedy—witness her likable performance in Defending Your Life —as well as in-your-face farce—her hilarious turns were the sole reasons for seeing She-Devil and Death Becomes Her .
Most any Streep performance can be examined for its nuances and lauded for its sheer believability. Take Ironweed , in which she plays Helen Archer, the longtime companion of street bum Francis Phelan (Jack Nicholson). Archer has, in her time, guzzled too much wine, and her insides are now twisted beyond repair. She raves and rants irrationally, and declares that "everything ails me." At first Streep is almost unrecognizable in the role. Her voice is coarse. Her words sound as if they are emanating from a throat that really has been abused by the constant flow of alcohol. In her best of several exceptional moments, Streep sings a ditty called "He's Me Pal" in a gin mill—and fantasizes that she is doing so in fine voice for high-class folk, rather than in a roomful of rummies.
As her screen career approached the end of its second decade, Streep remained the preeminent movie actress of her era. Her mid-to-late-1990s roles remained rich and varied: an Iowa farm wife and mother who becomes the lover of photographer Clint Eastwood ( The Bridges of Madison County ); a coarse, chain-smoking trailer trash type who is out of touch with troubled son Leonardo Di Caprio and long-estranged from caregiver sister Diane Keaton ( Marvin's Room ); a bossy schoolteacher who is the eldest of five unmarried rural Irish sisters ( Dancing at Lughnasa ); a wife and mother who relishes her role as happy homemaker, but is dying of cancer and is looked after by reluctant careerist daughter Renee Zellweger ( One True Thing ); the concerned mothers in Before and After and . . . First Do No Harm ; and a violinist, abandoned by her husband, who reinvents herself as a music teacher and inspires her inner-city charges ( Music of the Heart ). For the latter, Streep earned her 12th Academy Award nomination.
Indeed, Meryl Streep can play (and has played) just about any role. And, one suspects, she will go on doing so.
—Rob Winning, updated by Rob Edelman