Here's what a conversation with Meryl Streep would look like with the sound off: Talking. Distracted head shake from Sophie's Choice. More talking. Sideways glance into the middle distance from Kramer vs. Kramer. Another, longer set of words. Wearied blink--The French Lieutenant's Woman. Pause. Statement. Huge wicked giggle. It's as if an International Fragile Female Parade collided with a clown car at an intersection. Listen to Streep long enough, and you can see every character she has ever played. But none of them are her.
We are at the open-air Delacorte Theater in New York City's Central Park. It's a beautiful day for an alfresco interview, but workers are building the set for Mother Courage and Her Children (which Streep will star in this summer), and the noise from the electric saw sends us into the dressing rooms, which contain but one tired old folding chair. Streep promptly plunks herself on the floor. "I'll sit in my usual position--at the press's feet," she jokes. After a chair is found, Streep sits and asks what we're talking about.
Her confusion is understandable, since she has two movies coming out in June, A Prairie Home Companion and The Devil Wears Prada. And as she talks, almost every preconceived notion you had about the imposing woman in the patent-leather clogs opposite you crumples. Wicked laughter punctuates every other sentence. She breaks into funny voices as she speaks. During the entire interview, not one tragedy befalls her. It turns out that there are a lot of myths that surround Streep. Some she cultivates, some she ignores. Here are seven of them ...
1 SHE'S A STAR Meryl Streep is not a star. A legend, but not a star. At least not in the business sense. Everyone acknowledges her talent, but very few can be relied on to turn out for a movie just because she's in it. Her last film, Prime, sank without a trace. At least one of her two new films--A Prairie Home Companion, a gentle comedy based on Garrison Keillor's radio show--will be lucky to draw much of a crowd--and it has Lindsay Lohan in it.
The other, The Devil Wears Prada--in which Streep plays Miranda Priestley, the titular infernal being, whose every whim (coffee at a certain temperature, bouquets with no freesias) is attended to as if it were Shari'a law--might fare better. The book was written by a former assistant to Anna Wintour, the longtime editor of Vogue. There's a certain irresistibility to the grande dame of film portraying the grande dame of fashion. Streep sees it. "Whenever I said, 'I'm thinking about doing this thing,' everyone's reaction was, Oh, yesss! Sort of gleeful and venomous," she says. "That interested me very much, the reaction."
Not being a star is entirely fine by Streep. She's critical, in a motherly way, of Lohan, hordes of whose fans she had to push by outside the Prairie set every day. ("Do you know who this is?" Lily Tomlin, another co-star, yelled at them.) "There's plenty of incredibly wonderful young actresses who have not chosen to be on the cover of everything," she says. "But they're not this other thing that's seen at parties, which is--I don't know what it is. I know it probably limits your ability to be imagined as a lot of different kinds of people."