(Actress, born June 22, 1949, in Summit, New Jersey)
Versatility and genius often go hand in hand, but seldom as exuberantly as in Meryl Streep's body of work. From Shakespeare to ABBA, from Sophie's Choice and Kramer vs. Kramer right through Julie & Julia and The Devil Wears Prada, from tragedy to musicals and everything in between, the sheer breadth and joy of her artistry counts as one of the most exhilarating cultural spectacles of our time.
Going into her fourth decade of acting, Streep has made more than 45 movies and has received 16 Academy Award nominations, winning two, and 25 Golden Globe nominations, winning seven, more nominations than any other actor in the history of either award. Her work has also earned her two Emmy Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, a Cannes Film Festival award, five New York Film Critics Circle Awards, five Grammy Award nominations, a BAFTA award, an and an Australian Film Institute Award. She was awarded the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award in 2004.
From her earliest work beginning in 1978 in The Deer Hunter and Kramer vs. Kramer, critics and audiences immediately realized Streep was a dazzling new presence in American cinema. When people witnessed her Oscar-winning performance in 1982 as a Polish Nazi camp survivor in Sophie's Choice, she became the role model for all of her fellow actresses and those that would follow. "I grew up with Meryl Streep, and she was the greatest actress that my whole generation of women aspires to be," said Oscar winner Nicole Kidman.
Most astonishingly, at age 62, she has transformed herself into one of the world's most enduring stars, the driving force at the center of some of the biggest world-wide hits of the past few years: The Devil Wears Prada, Mamma Mia!, Julie & Julia, and It's Complicated. It's remarkable for any actor to wield that much power at the box office after four decades in the business, but it is unprecedented in the 100-year history of American movies for an actress to do so. She's more popular now than she's ever been. "She is the hottest actress in America," says Nora Ephron.
Bookended by those startling early performances which made everyone take notice, and her current resplendent career renaissance as international box office queen, Streep's singular filmography is distinguished by some of the most iconic, ambitious, intelligent, and entertaining films made in the past three decades: Manhattan (1979), The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979), Silkwood (1983), Plenty (1985), Out of Africa (1985), Heartburn (1986), Ironweed (1987), A Cry in the Dark (1988), She-Devil (1989), Postcards from the Edge (1990), The Bridges of Madison County (1995), Marvin's Room (1996), Dancing At Lughnasa (1998), Adaptation (2002), The Hours (2002), The Manchurian Candidate (2004), A Prairie Home Companion (2006), Rendition (2007), and Doubt (2008). Together these performances are extraordinary examples of insight, depth, range, and virtuosity. "She is a great actress, probably the best of her generation, and has given one wonderful performance after another," says the film critic Roger Ebert. Now Meryl Streep has filmed the role of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, a biopic of one of the most controversial prime ministers in British history. It will surprise no one to see her take center stage at next year's awards season.
She was born Mary Louise Streep in Summit, New Jersey, the daughter of Harry Streep, Jr., a pharmaceutical executive, and Mary Wilkinson, an artist and former art editor. At first interested in opera, Streep decided to study theater instead, graduating with a bachelor's degree in drama from Vassar College in 1971 and earning an M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama in 1975. While at Yale, she played a variety of roles onstage, from Shakespearean heroines to 90-year-olds, creating a buzz even as a student for her chameleonic brilliance. "It was immediately apparent," said then-dean Robert Brustein, "that she was destined for greatness."
Her early career in New York included work with the New York Shakespeare Festival, on Broadway starring in the Brecht/Weill musical Happy End, earning a Tony nomination as best featured actress in Tennessee Williams' 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, and winning an Obie for her performance in the all-sung off-Broadway production of Alice at the Palace. In 1978, she won an Emmy Award for her role in the television miniseries Holocaust. (Twenty-six years later she would win another for Angels in America.)
1978 also saw Streep's movie career blossom with her role in the The Deer Hunter. She received her first Academy Award nomination and one year later won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as the icy Joanna Kramer in Kramer vs. Kramer.
Streep's talent has never been in question. She has brought her virtuosity to a breathtaking range of characters. Actors and directors are enthralled by her. "Her training and her experience have taken her to a point where she can be effortless with a lot of things other people have to work really hard at," says her Out of Africa co-star Robert Redford. Director Alan J. Pakula said, "If there's a heaven for directors, it would be to direct Meryl Streep your whole life." And from film critic Molly Haskell: "She's proving now, in the freedom and prosperity of a spectacularly attractive late middle age that she can do effortless as well as strenuous, ensemble as well as star, enjoy rather than hide behind her talent. More than that, it's as if audiences who'd been lulled into a catatonia of admiration or vexation were forced to wake up and take notice of the dazzling dexterity and audacity of this woman who's amassed a body of work that's phenomenal any way you look at it."