Considered by many renowned critics as one of the most esteemed stars of the silver screen, Mary Louise Streep was born in Summit, New Jersey, on 22 June 1949 to pharmaceutical executive Harry William Streep, Jr and Mary Wilkinson Streep, a commercial artist. After attending the Cedar Hill Elementary School and the Oak Street School in her early years, she was admitted to Bernards High School, as the family moved to Bernardsville in 1963. In that school, she was selected to sing at a school recital at the age of 12 and apart from being a high school cheerleader for the Bernards High School Mountaineers, she also appeared in numerous school plays during her high school years. However, she was not interested in serious theater until she took part in a play at Vassar College in 1969 and gained attention across the campus. After becoming a graduate from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie in New York in 1971, with a degree in drama and costume design, she studied at Yale School of Drama and earned a master of fine arts in 1975.
Meryl Streep had no intention to become a film actor and made her Broadway debut in 1975 with Trelawny of the ‘Wells’, a comic play by Arthur Wing Pinero. But the fantastic performance by Robert De Nero in Taxi Driver (1976) had a deep impact on her and she began auditioning for film roles and underwent an unsuccessful audition for the lead role in King Kong (1976), produced by Dino De Laurentiis, who found her ugly. However, in the next year, she first appeared in a feature film titled Julia (1977), in which she had a small role during a flashback sequence.
But it was a frustrating experience for her as most of her scenes were edited out and she decided to split connection with the film industry. Nevertheless, at the insistence of Robert De Nero, who spotted her in the Broadway production of the Cherry Orchard, she accepted the role of Linda in the widely acclaimed war film, The Deer Hunter (1977). In the film, she displayed a serene softness in sharp contrast to the rough bravado of the male characters that deepened and underlined the devastating effect of the Vietnam War on the young Americans, which impressed the critic and the commoners alike. Herperformance in the film earned her first nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and it marked the beginning of her long and bright career. In the same year, she also portrayed the leading role of a German woman married to a Jewish artist in Nazi Germany in the television miniseries Holocaust (1978), which brought her to a wider degree of public recognition and won the coveted Emmy Award.
Despite the wonderful success, followed by the awards, Meryl Streep was not very much enthusiastic about her film career and preferred acting on stage. However, she played the role of the chirpy Karen Traynor in The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979) and a supporting role in Manhattan (1979), directed by Woody Allen. But her portrayal of a woman, who abandons her family only to come back and fight fiercely for the custody of her son in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) opposite Dustin Hoffman, confirmed her reputation as one of the finest dramatic actresses of Hollywood and earned her first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
For doing justice to her role, she tried her best to make her performance as perfect as possible, spoke to her own mother about her life as a wife with a career, even frequented the area in which the film was set, watching the interactions between parents and children.
By 1980, Streep had progressed to leading roles in films and became marked for her masterly technique, expertise with dialects and subtly expressive face. It went so far that in an article published in a New York magazine, she was described as a chameleon, willing to play any type of role, which is unlike many other female artists. In her first leading role in The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), the story within a story, she was paired with Jeremy Irons as contemporary actors, depicting their modern story, as well as the romantic Victorian era costumed drama they were performing. For performing her role in the film, Streep developed an English accent for the part, but was not happy with her enactment and considered herself a misfit for the role. However, she was awarded a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading role for her performance in the film.
In the following year, she appeared in a psychological thriller Still of the Night (1982), but she stunned the film world later in the year, when she starred in Sophie’s Choice (1982), directed by Alan J Pakula, portraying a Polish survivor of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, traumatized by her experiences during the Holocaust. For her perfection in the role, Meryl not only learned a Polish accent, but also ascertained to speak German and Polish to have the proper accent of a Polish woman.
The important scene of the choice, in which Sophie was ordered by an SS guard to make her choice as to which of her two children would be gassed, was filmed in one take and Meryl refused to do it again, as she found it was too much painful and emotionally exhaustive. Apart from several other awards, Meryl Streep won the Academy Award for Best Actress, along with the Golden Globes Award, for her heart-wrenching performance in the film andwas voted the third greatest movie performance of all time by Premiere magazine of America.
In Out of Africa (1985)
Her other films in the 1980s included Out of Africa (1985), in which Meryl played the role of a Danish writer Karen Blixen, who establishes a plantation in Africa. Initially, Sydney Pollock, the director of the film, was hesitant about Meryl Streep in the role, as he thought that she was not sexy enough. But ultimately, the film proved to be a significant commercial success, won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Meryl Streep also earned another Academy Award nomination for her performance in the film. Apart from that, she also won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival and the Australian Film Institute Award for her moving performance asLindy Chamberlain, an Australian woman accused of the murder of her infant daughter despite her claim that the child was carried off by a dingo.
Although most of her films during the early part of the 1990s were not well received, Meryl Streep bounced back with her memorable performance in the romantic drama The Bridges of Madison County (1995).The film is about the love affair between a middle-aged Italian farm wife Francesca played by Streep and Robert Kincaid, a photographer working for National Geography, played by Clint Eastwood, the director of the film. As Meryl found the script as an opportunity for an actress of her age, she accepted the role, gained weight and dressed differently from the character in the book to emulate the voluptuous Italian film stars. While Meryl Streep excelled in her role and became arguably the first middle-aged actress to be taken seriously by Hollywood as a romantic heroine, the film proved to be a box office hit and was warmly received by critics. Later, she received nominations for an Academy Award, and a Golden Globe for her performance in the music drama Music of the Heart (1999), but as she was required to play violin in the film, she underwent two months of intense training, five to six hours a day.
Her later films include Adaptation (2002), for which Meryl Streep received an unprecedented 13th Academy nomination for Best Supporting Actress, superseding Katharine Hepburn’s record of 12, and earned another Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of an inimitable fashion magazine editor in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). In the musical Mamma Mia! (2008), based on the songs of Swedish pop group ABBA, she played Donna, a middle-aged woman reunited with three of her former lovers. She was critically acclaimed and received a Golden Globe and her 16th Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of the famed American chef, Julia Child in Julie & Julia (2009). For her performance in The Iron Lady (2011), portraying the role of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Meryl Streep earned her eighth Golden Globe and third Academy Award for Best Actress.
Despite her stardom, Meryl Streep has tried to maintain a relatively normal personal life.She lived with John Cazale, her romantic partner in Deer Hunter, for three years, until he died of lung cancer in March 1978. She married sculptor Don Gummer six months after the death of Cazale and have four children with him.
In her long career, she was bestowed with numerous acting awards, which include a record of 21 Academy Award nominations, winning 3 and a record of 32 Golden Globe Award nominations, winning 8. In addition to that, she was elected as an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1212, followed by a Kennedy Center Honor in 1213. The Cecil B DeMille Award, bestowed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment, is the latest feather added to her crown in 2017.