Let me introduce a star in the making. The critics are raving about her recent Off-Broadway work, she’s just two years out of Yale’s graduate acting program, and here she’s sitting down for a brief radio interview to promote her Broadway debut in the Brecht/Weill musical Happy End.
Oh, and her name is Meryl Streep.
I was thinking about Streep after she was announced as a 2011 Kennedy Center honoree last week and I stumbled across this audio from 1977. She sounds so fresh and, well, Meryl-like that it seems she might have sprung fully formed from the head of Sarah Bernhardt. When she quotes from a Jack Nicholson interview, you almost want to break the time/space continuum and whisper to her with a conspiratorial giggle, “Honey, hang on! You’re going to work with him, very, very soon.” And when she responds to a question about her training, I think she hits on an often overlooked key to her status as the “best film actress of her generation”: her understanding of and facility with diverse theatrical styles.
Critics always talk about the accents, the details, her imagination, but how many other actresses working in film today are so keenly aware of playing to the back row when necessary? You don’t perform Shakespeare the same way you perform Chekov. The tools required are different and Streep brings this idea, which we normally associate with the stage, to film acting. She seems aware that naturalism is no more correct or honest than any other acting choice; it’s simply that: a choice. (You may not always agree with the choice, but she makes it boldly and completely.)
Unfortunately, since her time at Yale and early New York stage roles, Streep has rarely returned to the boards save benefit readings and a few short stints in productions at the Public. It often feels like she’s the greatest theater actress that never does theater. Instead, she’s taken the stage with her to movie screens.
After the jump, watch her three decades later, attacking another Brecht piece, Mother Courage and Her Children, with clarity and, yes, a masterful sense of theatrical style.