Insecure isn’t a word you’d usually associate with Meryl Streep – global superstar, Hollywood icon, actress extraordinaire, yes. But in real life the woman who’s delighted cinema fans for almost 40 years is surprisingly unsure of herself.
“I’ve had a long career, haven’t I?” she agrees when we meet in a hotel near her home in New York. “I don’t know why – I just started working when I was right out of drama school and I haven’t stopped. I’ve been very lucky. I found what I love to do and am good at doing, and I found it early enough to make it my life’s work, which makes me a very lucky woman.”
But ask about her numerous awards over the years – from Oscars to lifetime achievement awards and she only shrugs. “Oh, I’m sure that my career has been wonderful, and people talk about accolades and such, but somehow that doesn’t register with me. My mother used to say to me, ‘Why don’t you enjoy it more? Some people would give an arm and a leg to walk down the red carpet at a movie premiere, why can’t you enjoy it?’ But I just don’t get into it, I’m afraid. I have my own doubts, worries and insecurities and that’s what I fixate on.
“I’m really happy when scripts come along that allow me to continue in the profession, because there’s not a lot of older women working, and I’m always expecting that people will get sick of me. ‘Ugh – not her again!’ – you know?”
And despite her fears of not getting film roles, the parts have continued to roll in – we can’t wait to see her in Mary Poppins Returns, the long-awaited sequel to the classic, which arrives on screens next December.
Meanwhile at the Golden Globes Awards earlier this year, her fiery speech taking Donald Trump to task for mocking a disabled reporter earned her a standing ovation, both at the ceremony then, and at the Academy Awards ceremony later in the year.
So away from the spotlight what’s life like in the Streep household? She’s happily married to sculptor Don Gummer and mother to four now grown children. “My husband and I don’t seem to fight about the things I’m told many couples fight about,” she once told me, thoughtfully.
“Things like money, sex, or children. Weirdly, our fights are about the little things. ‘Why didn’t you service the car?’ ‘But you said you were going to service the car when the red light came on!’ Things like that...”
Clearly the fights are not too wounding, as they will have been married for 40 years this September, and the children, Henry, Mamie, Grace and Louisa, openly adore them.
“I really like this part of life, now that they’re all grown up,” she says. “You wait so many years while they’re growing up and you think, ‘What are they going to be like?’ and now they are all adults and what you find out is that pretty much they’re the way they were when they were three years old! I think you are who you are from the start and you just have to find it in yourself.
“All those years ago when I made Kramer vs Kramer, I was playing a mother before I was a mother in real life, but in my heart I already knew the sort of mother that I was going to be. And I was right because that is the sort of mother that I am.”
She admits that as she grows older, she likes to be pampered from time to time. “I love a massage. Failing that, I cook. I do try to stay healthy. Sometimes I let myself fall apart when it’s appropriate, but generally I try to swim a mile every day, because I like the feeling and it gets me into my body.
“I’m quite conscious of keeping my health, because it doesn’t last forever and we’re all of us lucky for as long as we do have it. I try to remember that. And I’m pretty happy most of the time and believe in the best in people.
“Of course nothing’s perfect, but Leonard Cohen has a great line which is, “There’s a crack in everything and that’s how the light gets in.” And that’s what I feel.”
- Interview by Alison James