Tag Archives: Meryl Streep

When Stars Play the Famed, Risks — and Rewards — Are Greater

News that Jane Fonda is probably stepping into the pumps of none other than former First Lady Nancy Reagan in Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” feature caused a flap last week — quite predictably, given Nancy’s association with Republican red, and Jane’s with red, as in commies.  This comes fresh on the heels of Julianne Moore’s performance as Sarah Palin in “Game Change” this election year, and Meryl Streep’s Oscar win for playing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  It’s a vintage season for actresses portraying political stars — and in each case, there has been a degree of controversy.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a politically-charged personality for casting to elicit widespread critiques.  When stars play stars of any sort, it’s a hazardous business.  Let’s face it, Ashton Kutcher’s casting as Steve Jobs has just been announced, and already, you know there are moviegoers poised to shoot him down.  Playing someone famous, the risks, the complaints, and the rewards are bigger.  For every triumph — ala Michelle Williams in her Oscar-nominated portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in “My Week With Marilyn,” or Jamie Foxx’s Academy Award-winning performance as Ray Charles in “Ray” — there are missteps galore.

You may recall the critical shark bit when the usually-great Kevin Spacey played Bobby Darin in his auteur film, “Beyond the Sea.”  Val Kilmer’s portrait of The Doors’ rocker Jim Morrison was too weird for some — perhaps appropriately — and it reportedly took Kilmer months to shake the character. Dennis Quaid got mixed reviews as Jerry Lee Lewis in “Great Balls of Fire!”  James Brolin was critically crucified for his performance as Clark Gable in the film “Gable and Lombard.”

However, when actors nail such a performance, the rewards are big.  The Academy loves a great star playing a great star.  Think Robert Downey, Jr. — nominated for his Charlie Chaplin performance.  Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, who scored an Oscar nomination for him and a win for her, for playing Johnny and June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line.”

With Charlotte Chandler’s Marlene Dietrich, A Personal Biography having focused fresh attention on the film icon (the book is just now being released in paperback), you can be sure actresses are musing about playing her.  Who could pull it off?  Cate Blanchett, perhaps?  She already has an Oscar for playing Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator.”  What a bookend a Dietrich Oscar would be!  Or how about Diane Kruger of “Inglourious Basterds”?  Chandler says she imagines a European actress in the role.

Coming up this year are “The Drummer” biopic of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, starring Aaron Eckhart; Steven Soderbergh’s “Behind the Candelabra” HBO Liberace project with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon; Damon again in the planned Robert F. Kennedy biopic “His Life”; and  the competing Linda Lovelace biopics — Amanda Seyfried in “Lovelace,” and Malin Akerman in “Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story.”  Time will tell who’ll get acclaim, and who’ll go down in flames.

French F-Bombs! Jolie-ing! Whiskey! Star Talk Backstage at the 84th Academy Awards

Jean Dujardin confessed to dropping the French F-word, Meryl Streep divulged her plans for imbibing, Octavia Spencer admitted her fears and Christopher Plummer copped to being a naughty boy — backstage at last night’s 84th Academy Awards.

The Best Actor winner for “The Artist” answered a lot of questions in rapid fire French.  He said, through his translator, that he has a few ideas he wants to develop for movies he would do here in America.  He also let us know that his canine compatriot, Uggie, had already gone to bed.  But the chatter stopped abruptly when reporter Joal Ryan asked him if he had, in fact, let loose with the French equivalent to the F-bomb during that last outburst of his acceptance speech.  He weighed his translator’s explanation a moment, and then said, with the look of a guilty little boy, “Ah.  Yes.  Sorry.”

Will leg flashing become the next hot pose?  Instantly dubbed “Jolie-ing” (in the spirit of Tebowing and Bradying) backstage at the Oscars, it’s the stance taken by Oscar presenter Angelina Jolie to show off her glorious gam through the slit-up-to-there of her black gown.  (Fierce or fatuous?  You decide.)  It was when the three cowriters of George Clooney’s “The Descendants” — Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (alumni of The Groundlings) and director Alexander Payne — lined up on stage imitating Angelina that the pose burst into the pop culture humor space.  Bur writer/actor Rash (a.k.a. the guy from “Community”) insisted backstage that they had no intention of belittling the movie sex goddess.  “It was a loving tribute:  ‘Oh, she’s standing great.  We’ll stand like that, too.'”  The trio agreed:  “She’s supremely hot.”

Rash was asked whether he thought his winning an Oscar would help “Community” survive.  He hopes so.  “I guess I should take this into their offices,” he noted, holding up his statuette as he talked about the brass at NBC.  “It’s good to let people know where they stand with you.  It’s a good accoutrement to any outfit.”

Best Supporting Actress for “The Help,” Octavia Spencer, was asked about what was going through her mind as she was making her way up the stairs to the stage — while receiving a standing ovation from the Hollywood luminaries in the theater.

“Really and truly, I was just trying not to fall down, because I had an incident where I fell at an awards show,” she admitted.

Asked about what she thinks her win will mean to aspiring young actresses of color, Octavia said, “I hope it’s a hallmark of ‘More’ for young aspiring actresses of color — and by color I don’t just mean African American.  I mean Indian, Native American, Latin American, Asian American.   I hope in some way I can be a sort of beacon of hope.  Especially because I’m not a typical Hollywood beauty,” added the amply-upholstered actress.  She paused a moment, then joked, “You guys are supposed to go, ‘Oh, no — you ARE!’  Crickets, guys.  Work with me here.  Work with me!”

But seriously, “I believe you have to believe in yourself and you have to work very hard — and never think you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, because I promise you, there would be Viola Davises and Jessica Chastains and Emma Stones who ARE the best thing since sliced bread.  So, take it seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Spencer hopes to expand beyond acting in her career.  “I want to be a producer.  I want to be an activist.  I want to be proactive in bringing about work for men, women, boys and girls — anyone who is good at what they do and deserves a shot at it,” she said.  “I want to have a presence behind the cameras and in front of them, to be a jack of all trades and be decent at them.”
Spencer was asked about the recent L.A. Times article regarding the movie Academy’s membership — as having an average age of 62 with a heavy majority of white men.  What did she think of that?

She hemmed and hawed a little, saying, “I haven’t really thought about it.”

Did she have any thoughts on the Academy being proactive to geta more diverse membership?

Spencer drew a breath, then said, “I can’t tell the Academy what to do, honey.  They just gave me an Oscar.  They continue to do what they do.  I really don’t know.  I have no wisdom there….I’m sorry to cut you off, ma’am, but I saw where you were going and I didn’t want to get on that bus, no pun intended.”

Asked by a military reporter about her advice to new recruits for overcoming their fears, she said, “I haven’t really overcome my fears.  I’m scared to death right now.”  She added, “I don’t take what men and women in the military do lightly.  I’ve not served in that capacity, so I would not offer advice.”  But she did offer advice from Emerson:  “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Chrisopher Plummer, who thanked his “long-suffering wife Elaine, who deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for coming to my rescue every day of my life” in his acceptance speech as Best Supporting Actor for “Beginnings,”  was asked to elaborate backstage.   “Of course I’m a naughty boy,” he let us know.  “I’ve been bad all my life.   She puts me in line.  It’s extraordinary.  She rescues me every day of my life — what could be clearer?”

Asked about Hollywood’s propensity for awarding straight actors for playing gay roles, and whether there’s a double standard involved,  Plummer opined that no,  “I think actors are universally the same, gay or straight.  A gay actor can play a straight guy, a straight actor can play a gay guy.  We’re actors.  It cancels out all sexual differences and misunderstandings of sexual differences.”

Meryl Streep, in an expansive mood, let the press know that she doesn’t take her Oscar attention for granted by any means (even after three wins out of 17 nominations).  When a reporter asked her if she was going to give Katharine Hepburn a run for her money, Meryl asked, “Did she have more?”

“Four” said the reporter.

“Oh, well,” she answered with a dismissive flick of the wrist.  (She’s such a good actress, one could almost believe she didn’t know Hepburn’s Oscar total.)

The Best Actress Oscar winner for “The Iron Lady” responded  more seriously when was asked about juggling her career and family life.  She said, “You can ask every working woman that question and get a million different answers, because it’s the juggle and the challenge that we all have.  But honestly, in my life, in the arts, I don’t go to work every day, so my day has been more flexible than other working women.  Even when I was young and broke, I was only working, ever, for four months at a time, and then I was unemployed.  My children never knew when I was going to be home, which was very valuable.”
After the laughter died down, she went on, “It’s an ongoing struggle — women have to do it all.  The more flexible work becomes, the more engaged dads become, the better.”

Meryl was asked whether she’d have a couple whiskeys in the tradition of real-life “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, to celebrate winning her third Oscar.
“I’m going to start with a couple,” she said.

Movies For Grownups Awards Achieving Higher Prominence

Sharon Stone plants one on Kathy Griffin

This week’s 2012 AARP Movies for Grownups Awards brought out many of Hollywood’s brightest luminaries — including Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Martin Scorsese, Kenneth Branagh, Janet McTeer, Alexander Payne and still hot Sharon Stone — adding to the elegant event’s distinction as an Awards Season Must.  As the New York Times put it, it seems that “the Movies for Grownups had finally, well, grown up.”

We applaud AARP’s persistent efforts toward breaking through the wall of ageism.  Making those efforts in the ageism capital of the world — Hollywood — is particularly noteworthy.  Here, ageism is not only accepted, it’s not only embraced, it is clung to with a ferocity that speaks of barely-hidden terror.  (Think Demi Moore.)  However, with the graying of the Baby Boom generation and other factors making moviegoers of age 50 and up increasingly important to box office revenue, more filmmakers and stars will be reaching out to the mature crowd.  Next, we’d like to see Movies for Grownups on television.

Speaking of the TV side, the standard ratings classifications are archaic statistically — like using a mortar and pestle when you have a Cuisinart, with today’s technology offering far more sophisticated and meaningful data crunching capabilities.  (David Poltrack, Chief Research Officer of CBS Corp. has long been trying to educate people about this.)  And yet, we continue to see the phrase “the coveted 18-49 demographic” over and over and over again.  (Lazy TV writers really should come up with at least one or two different adjectives besides “coveted.”)  Networks and media continue to quote only the ratings for viewers under age 50.  Yet the 55-plus audience reportedly reached 33 per cent of the adult population last year.  In 2015, it’s expected to reach 36 per cent.  That’s a heck of a lot of ignoring.

Bring on the Tears, Neil Diamond Fans — it’s Kennedy Center Honors Time

Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond’s tribute on tonight’s (12/27) 34th Annual Kennedy Center Honors is enough to bring tears to the eyes of Diamond fans – especially if they happen to hail from Boston and have a soft spot for the Kennedy family.  At least, according to producer George Stevens Jr., that was the heartfelt response among many attendees inside the Washington, D.C. gala when it was recorded earlier this month.

Diamond’s segment of the festivities include a film clip of the singer-songwriter performing on the pitcher’s mound at Fenway Park, performances by Rafael Saadiq, Jennifer Nettles, Lionel Ritchie, and Smokey Robinson, who sings “Sweet Caroline” along with the entire audience plus 150 Red Sox fans bused down from Boston for the event.  “And at the end, Caroline Kennedy comes and sits down next to Lionel Ritchie,” says Stevens of the song’s namesake.  “It just seemed like the right thing.”

Among the highlights of this classiest of awards shows, viewers of the two-hour special on CBS will see Robert De Niro and Tracey Ullman in comedic form as they honor their pal Meryl Streep, along with Anne Hathaway, Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt.  Bill Cosby launches a tuneful tribute to jazz great Sonny Rollins.   Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick introduce Broadway’s Barbara Cook.  And cellist Ma is feted by a group including James Taylor, Elmo of “Sesame Street” and…Stephen Colbert?

“It turns out that Yo-Yo has been on Colbert’s show twice, so they’re acquainted, and Stephen is a great admirer of his, and he’s absolutely wonderful,” Stevens declares.  “Yo-Yo’s is the last tribute.  Everyone expects it to be Neil Diamond’s, but it’s his.  And they expect that some long-haired musician is going to come out and start talking about him, and then it’s Stephen Colbert, being hilarious and touching at the same time.”

That final tribute moves through the array of musical worlds that Ma inhabits, from classical through bluegrass, traditional Chinese to kid’s songs.  “It’s this whole idea that he is expanding our musical universe,” explains Stevens, who co-produces the event with his son, Michael.

Research and planning begin in September, and the Stevenses delight in bringing together disparate artists for the affair, which includes a weekend of smaller events leading up to the gala.  “It was so much fun, and we had the cast together afterwards.  The classical musicians love to meet the pop musicians.  Actors love interacting with the jazz legends.  This intermix of artistic lives, really, that’s the essence of the Kennedy Center Honors,” Stevens says.

According to him, Streep and Diamond, who sat together at the event, seemed to hit it off.  She was already friends with Ma; “They had just been in China together on a cultural mission.”

Stevens would love to make the 34 Honors shows available to the public for posterity on DVD or download.  “It should be.  I can’t think there’s any better repository of cultural history in the United States,” he says.  “I hope we get it sorted out.”

THE BECK/SMITH VAULT:Meryl Streep: The Woman Behind the Mystique

Meryl Streep in "Kramer vs. Karamer"

Meryl Streep in "Kramer vs. Kramer"


Meryl Streep: The Woman Behind the Mystique

By: Marilyn Beck

Hollywood – The media has made Meryl Streep a legend before her time – and it doesn’t please her.

The nation’s news magazines have heralded her coming in “French Lieutenant’s Women” with the sort of superlatives that have been heaped upon few actresses since Sarah Bernhart. And she’s scared.

Newsweek has hailed her as the actress of the ’80s.

Time Magazine, in its recent cover story, was so blinded by adoration it reported there had been “an astonishing public clamor” for her even prior to the “Kramer vs. Kramer” portrayal which earned her a Best Supporting actress Oscar.

She refers to it all as excessive – and unsought – hype. And she makes the point, “I am not the actress of the ’80s. Someone said it to sell magazines – and it sets up expectations it’s impossible for anyone to meet.”

Her talent is undeniable; her track record remarkable, her achievements particularly stunning when you consider that she is only six years removed from the Yale School of Drama. And her performance in United Artists’ brilliant adaptation of the John Fowles novel is truly magnificent. But she feels she still has much growing to do as a woman and as an actress – and she’s afraid she’s not being given the chance to fail.

Thus far, she has been a stranger to failure, having been swept almost immediately from Yale to leading roles in six major Broadway and off-Broadway productions, and then on to films, where she made indelible impressions in TV’s “Holocaust” and the big-screen’s “The Deer Hunter,” “Manhattan,” “The Seduction of Joe Tynan” – and “Kramer vs. Kramer.”

But she is well aware, “Everyone has to fail, And I’m scared of being robbed of that opportunity.”

She sits in her New York hotel suite, resting before she submits to television promotional activities for the “French Lieutenant’s Woman,” which marks her first starring role. She is prettier on screen, where she has the benefit of lighting and theatrical makeup, which soften the sharpness of her features, minimize the angular line of her nose, and heighten the importance of her small, expressive eyes. But in person, a directness and warmth radiates from her. There is a candidness, too.

She talks about the growth she has witnessed in herself since the days she starred in college productions and says, “I came off with much more energy then, but I didn’t have what I have now.”

She smiles as she repeats the cliché about acting, “you don’t have to be a murderer to play one.” But she adds that growth does come from “all the incredible life experiences one has, as well as the drudgery we all experience – doing the laundry, getting painters back to complete a job.”

Her life has been touched by stark tragedy (the death of her lover, actor John Cazale, of bone cancer in 1978) and great joy (her marriage to sculptor Don Gummer and the birth of their son in 1979). She is, like all of us, the sum of her past experiences. But she remains, to a degree, inscrutable. “I think all of us are. Even our analysts don’t know who we are.”

She doesn’t mind telling us, “I am not self-confident – as people assume I am. I am filled with insecurities.” And she carries a bag of fear.

Returning to the subject of the superlatives that are being heaped upon her, she says, “I can’t take any pleasure in it. I feel very paranoid about it. When I think of what the press did to a marvelous man like John Travolta. They raved about him in ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ then tore him apart when he made his next movie. And I must tell you I have this terrible fear they’re sharpening their knives for me now.”

She has certainly not gone out of her way to become the media’s darling. And being singled out for the attention she’s receiving makes her fear, “It will damage the way I walk into a rehearsal hall. An actor is only as effective as what he or she gets and gives from other actors. It is a collaborative effort.”

Director Karel Reisz reveals that Meryl’s reputation did cause some trepidations on the part of her “French Lieutenant’s Woman” co-star Jeremy Irons when production on the picture first began. “But within a week she managed to get it out of the way. She is an ensemble performer. She doesn’t behave like a star.”

And Irons, the English actor who makes her big-screen debut as the 19th century aristocrat who is obsessed with love for the French Lieutenant’s woman, describes Meryl as “strong, opinionated – and nearly always right. She gnaws at a problem until she finds its solution.”

Filming the movie in England was good for her, he says, because, “Unlike America, stars are not to be revered over there. We don’t have the machinery to produce them ourselves – so we hold them a little in suspect. And while she was there, she could go shopping and not be mobbed, and not have to worry about security and all that.”

Security – for herself and her family – does preoccupy Meryl over here. It’s one of the prices she finds she has to pay for stardom And she doesn’t like it. Stardom, she’s also finding, means “having to change your phone number every five minutes, it seems, and having people look at you differently.”

Her ability to adapt speech patterns and mannerisms for her various characterizations was born, she says, of her talent for mimicry. “I would observe people on the street and imitate them But I can’t do that any longer. You can’t watch someone who is watching you, and that is what happens when you become famous.”

If fame causes her anxiety, her love her craft seems to make it all worthwhile – and more.

“It is fun, it is fakery,” she says with an easy smile. “It is very liberating to be an actress. And probably the only thing I could ever do, because I get bored very easily. I have a very short attention span. I have never been in a long run of a play and would probably die if I were. Film acting is the perfect profession for me.”

Even if it has brought with it the pressures she abhors.