Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia
(© Sony Pictures)
Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia
(© Sony Pictures)
For more than 30 years, Meryl Streep's name has become synonymous with some of the most meticulous and heart-wrenching portrayals of women in modern day film -- which have earned her two Oscars and a record-breaking 15 nominations -- and on the stage. In her newest film, Nora Ephron's Julie and Julia, which opens on August 7, Streep takes on one of her greatest challenges yet: portraying the legendary chef Julia Child.

"For me I was doing an idealized version of my mother who had a similar joie de vivre -- an undeniable sense of how to enjoy herself," she says of the role. "Every room that she walked into, she made brighter. All my life, I wanted to be more like my mother. So this is my homage to that spirit." As for adding Child's world-famous voice to her repertoire of accents -- the voice that has launched thousands of imitations -- Streep underplays her accomplishment. "I bet everybody could do their version of Julia Child," she says with a laugh. "That voice was so familiar. Everyone can pull that 'bon appetit' out."

The film intertwines the lives of Child and present-day office worker Julie Powell (Amy Adams) who decides to write a blog while cooking all 524 of Child's recipes from her famed first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. While Child's indomitable spirit takes center stage in the film, there are some revelations about this extraordinary woman that add deeper dimensions to her legacy. For example, while living in France and writing her famous cookbook, Julia and her husband, Paul Child (played by Stanley Tucci), worked during the McCarthy Era as government spies.

"There are so many mysteries in Julia and Paul's life," Streep points out. "Now that we know about their involvement in espionage, I'd like to know, 'what did they do?' And how did she write this 700-page cookbook in between collecting secrets from the Soviets?" Creating the couple's intimate and realistic marriage was a little less of a mystery, since she and Tucci are both personal friends and former co-stars (most recently in The Devil Wears Prada). "Stanley and I are often on opposite sides of a famous Charades game every Christmas," says Streep. "And we'd been at each other's throats like married people for many years. It wasn't a tough job to imagine being in love with him."

While the perennial Oscar buzz has already started, Streep simply doesn't let the critical acclaim overwhelm her. "The blogosphere supplies us with the other side of the accolades -- just sign on and get humble!" she laughs. The key to her humility also might be her 30-year marriage to sculptor Don Gummer, which has produced four children -- three of whom (Henry, Mamie, and Grace) have become actors. "I've reconciled the fact that my children might choose this profession, and seem to be," she adds with sarcastic acceptance. "I was pushing for the sciences, but that's not going to happen."

Ironically, Streep, a Yale Drama School graduate, was initially reluctant to become an actress. "My challenge was committing to acting," she confesses. "You know, thinking it wasn't a serious enough thing to do with my life. I thought it was sort of silly and vain, even though it was the most fun thing that I'd ever done -- and it remains being that. But I realize we need art as much as we need good works. In fact, we need it like food and we need it for inspiration to keep going."