United States of A-Meryl-ca
Katie explores the reasons so many people adore Meryl Streep and talks about what actors can learn from her about their craft.
Meryl Streep (© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of A-Meryl-ca. And to the republic for which it stands…"
It may seem predictable, but it's also undeniably true that I have a profound allegiance to Meryl Streep and any project she touches. Ask any of my close friends and they will confirm this statement and may even admit to being Meryl addicts themselves. Actors small and tall, young and old, Method and Meisner seem to feel a similar attraction. So, a few days ago after revisiting an adored film called, The Hours (in which Meryl shares the screen with the likes of Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman), I asked myself, "what is it about her - really - that makes so many of us such loyal followers?"
I stumbled upon this quote, via Tumblr, the other day, and I think it answers the question perfectly. Someone jokingly wrote, "I often worry [the] people I meet are just Meryl Streep being a fabulous actor."
After I read this I, A) cackled in pleasure in a public place and, thus, garnered several disgruntled stares and B) thought to myself, "Yes, this is why we love her - why we continue to watch. We cannot help but be drawn in."
Meryl is convincing. And most crucially, she pulls us into the story so deeply. She suspends our disbelief.
In other words, not only have the roles that Meryl's taken on over the years been diverse and many, but she also somehow disappears into each person she plays. She becomes these people - the butter-loving cook, the mother living with the ghost of an impossible choice, the French lieutenant's woman, the unremitting nun, the Prada-clad devil - by living through her character's very specific point of view. This is the work of true transformation, a thing for which so many of us young actors yearn. When we fully commit to a story and to a character, we become something else, something that the playwright intended for us.
Us young, often impatient actors - hungrier for answers and quick fixes than sitting with story-related questions - can often get bogged down in acting theory and forget that it is not how we get there but what we actually do that we take that journey.
And we forget that the potential to be an actor is in us from the very beginning. It lies in our ability to use our imaginations - a muscle that is stretched so effortlessly and often when we are children, but as we grow, can become atrophied with neglect.
Meryl often talks about honing this muscle. Of working on her first major film role, she said, "I believe in imagination. I did Kramer vs. Kramer before I had children. But the mother I would be was already inside me."
Many of us haven't been mothers or fathers yet, but haven't we all imagined at some point what it would be like to have little versions of ourselves running around playing hide and seek, making mud pies in the backyard, throwing temper tantrums, learning how to ride a bike? If you really start to think about it your imagination will run wild with all of the crazy possibilities - both exhilarating and terrifying - of being a parent.
The reason that I have posed the question, "Why Meryl?" to you today is because I've come to realize that it is important for us as artists, and even as audience members, to know what we like and, more importantly, to ask why do we like it? What draws us in? And how can we replicate those attributes in our own work?
In short, I encourage each of us to continue to sit, watch, and listen to the actors and actresses that pull us in and ask ourselves why they do.
So, stop reading this column, go somewhere quiet, and just let your mind wander. Even if you're not an actor, go to the mental gym and start pumping some serious iron - because it's good for you. And because it's what Meryl would want you to do. In the words of Miranda Priestly, "That's all."