“When I showed her a rough cut of the film, she said, ‘You’ve printed all my mistakes!’ ” Eastwood says. “And I said, ‘Yeah, and they’re so good.’ ”
The source of this unassailable ability remains a mystery, even to her, says cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt, who shot “Julie & Julia,” in which Streep channeled Julia Child, and the telepic “Angels in America,” in which Streep played four roles, including the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg.
“I remember Mike [Nichols] asking her, ‘Why did you do this or that?’ in the scene where Ethel’s with Roy Cohn as he’s dying,” Goldblatt says. “And she said, ‘. . . I don’t know.’ And I really think that’s the essence. She’s so deep into it that she’s not having a conscious conversation as an artist, as an actor, with herself. It’s that good. It’s not even skill or artifice. It’s complete subjection to the character. She is no longer Meryl Streep.”
‘Desire to do well’
And yet she’s Meryl Streep here, in this room off the W’s lobby, hours before appearing at a gala for the National Women’s History Museum.
There is nothing to say about her handshake, her mood, her carriage. She has no smell. Her eyes, obscured by modish rectangular glasses, seem dark and colorless — until she begins to recite a verse by 8th-century poet Wang Wei to prove a point about an artist’s individual voice.
“I seem to be alone on the empty mountain,” Streep says in her silvery contralto, shifting her posture as if bracing for a blast of high-altitude air.
For an almost uncomfortable period of time.
“Yet suddenly I hear a voice . . .”
Another long pause.
Her eyes search the air. They are slate blue, sparkling.
“Is it sunshine entering a forest grove, shining back at me from the green moss?”
We get it now. The moss. Or, rather, the sunshine off it. That’s the mystical place where the Streepness originates. Recently, it’s shined on what she calls “big, terrifying” roles that make her nervous and therefore challenge her impeccable instrument. Her most recent mark is Margaret Thatcher, whom she plays in the upcoming “The Iron Lady.”
“For a girl from Jerrrsey to walk into an English soundstage with 40 of the best English actors and presuuume to be their first woman prime minister, it’s just like, ‘Oh my God, who do you think you arrre?’ ” Streep says. “It really does raise the stakes and makes the adrenaline flow.”
Her characters, she says, help her understand little things about herself, and she will continue to pick projects that fill in her own paint-by-numbers portrait. How does she dovetail with Thatcher?
“Terrifyingly close,” she says, cackling. “That dutifulness, that relentlessness, that desire to do well, do right. To act according to your convictions. To try, try, try. Keep trying, keep trying. Don’t let the bastards get you. Don’t let them say you’re too old.”