Streep shares advice, humor with young actors

Ryan Wenzel

In her 30-year acting career, Meryl Streep has played dozens of movie characters, including a Polish Holocaust victim, a Danish baroness and a depressed, middle-aged lesbian.

But when she took the stage at Louis Theater Monday night, Streep was playing herself.

Streep, whose daughter is a Communication senior, took part in an hour-long question-and-answer session with more than 100 theater students and faculty.

The session was supposed to start with a clip from the 2004 American Film Institute banquet where Streep won the lifetime achievement award. Technical problems delayed the clip, and Streep unexpectedly burst onto the stage, shouting in jest at the man running the film projector.

The audience rose to its feet and applauded her before she’d even started speaking.

Streep was at NU as this year’s Hope Abelson Artist in Residence. The School of Communication in past years has given the award to playwright Tony Kushner, composer Stephen Sondheim and actor Peter Sellers.

Streep, a graduate of Vassar College and the Yale School of Drama, explained how she became interested in acting. When Streep was a child, her mother took her to the United Nations to see the General Assembly. She said she wanted to be a translator because they helped different groups of people understand one another. The dream died because of the “show-off” in her, but she said she views acting as a kind of translation.

“That’s what I wanted to do — make people understand each other,” Streep said. “I want to get at what you feel in your heart and translate that to an audience.”

Streep also spoke of the advancement of women in film and the improvement of their roles. She said she was pleasantly surprised when she was cast in 2002’s “Adaptation” because she assumed the role would go to a much younger actress.

“Most producers would say, ‘Eww, she’s 53,’ — like their first wives,” she said.

The moderators and members of the audience asked Streep about her favorite directors and most rewarding roles, but others asked about balancing acting with home life. Streep has been married for 25 years and has four children, including Communication senior Mamie Gummer.

“My mother was very important to me, and I just wanted to do what she did for someone,” Streep said. “If I were a lawyer and had two weeks off a year, I’d kill myself. At least in show business you’re unemployed a lot.”

Many established actors, such as Mel Gibson and Clint Eastwood, branch off into writing and directing, but Streep said her family and acting are enough for her.

“I have four kids,” she said. “I couldn’t do all of those things. When I come home, the phone doesn’t ring. And if it does, I don’t talk to them.”

Streep is known for her work in dramas, but during Monday’s session she unleashed her inner-comedian. She pretended to be annoyed when one of the moderators asked her if she has considered directing.

“Of course I want to direct,” Streep said. “But in some ways I feel that I have.”

While on campus, Streep also visited theatre classes and offered critiques of student performances. Barbara O’Keefe, dean of the School of Communication, said students in class appreciated and benefited from Streep’s advice.

“Everyone said that her comments were very precise, but very generous and supportive,” O’Keefe said. “They gave guidance and encouragement. She was wonderful.”

Communication sophomore Travis Greisler said it was reassuring to see a successful actress maintain a home life.

“It’s great to know that someone who has worked so long at this has maintained a family,” Greisler said. “It’s a nice reminder.”

Reach Ryan Wenzel at [email protected]