Actress Meryl Streep told a sold-out Lisner Auditorium audience Monday night she once thought acting was “not a serious way to spend your life.”
Streep talked about her life achievements in film, television and theater at the Smithsonian Associates-sponsored lecture, which also promoted her two new films scheduled for release in 2002.
Michael Kahn, director of Washington’s Shakespeare Theater, interviewed Streep about her various atypical “Hollywood glamour and glitz roles.” Streep’s responses to Kahn’s questions filled the auditorium with audience laughter as she showed her comedic side.
Streep said she enrolled in Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., after high school unsure of what to study.
“I didn’t know what I wanted. I just wanted to meet a nice guy,” she said.
Kahn described Streep as “one of the very few actors who can transform yourself rather than to just play yourself.” Streep is renowned for her 12 Oscar nominations and an ability to become another person, even creating different accents to fit her roles.
Streep attended Vassar, Dartmouth College and the Yale School of Drama.
“I liked plays, but I thought it was frivolous, not a serious way to spend your life,” Streep said. After graduating from Yale, Streep went to New York and launched her acting career in theater. Streep admitted that her passion is in theater, but she was forced to make sacrifices for her four children and focus on the film industry.
Streep discussed her many experiences playing a range of roles from drama in Sophie’s Choice to comedy in Postcards from the Edge and action in The River Wild.
When asked how she is able to play these different roles, Streep said, “It’s a complete mystery to me. I feel like the person is already in me.”
Near the end of the interview, Khan asked Streep about the lack of roles for older women in the film industry. Streep responded that there is a larger question of why women’s lives are not valued as highly as men’s, and why older women seem to disappear in our society. She said she believes that modern television is more friendly and less “ageist” than movies, which have discouraged an older crowd with a bombardment of teen movies.
After the interview, audience members asked Streep for acting advice and asked about differences in American and European film values.
She said while Americans honor actors such as Judi Dench, they also honor actors such as Joan Collins mostly for their looks. Streep encouraged aspiring actors and offered some acting tips, saying confidence and certainty are the most important qualities for an actor or director.
Streep said she often finds herself creating characters without help from others and she “loves to screw around with her looks.” She took costume design classes in college, which helped her create her own characters. Streep also said actors must have confidence in their appearance.
“It’s so personal what a person puts on the morning,” she said.
A male audience member complimented Streep’s success by saying, “Every time I see one of your films, I am so deeply moved and discover something unique about myself.”
“The thrill of being an actor is the ability to jump into another life . I think of my work as going to God,” Streep replied.