The untold truth of Meryl Streep

Perhaps the actress of her generation, Meryl Streep may also be the most popular actress in Hollywood. So much so that she sits “in the front row at the Oscars nearly every single year,” per Vanity Fair. Streep is known just as much for her dramatic roles — like the devilish Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada — as her comedic roles — like a divorcée in It’s Complicated. With a career full of masterful performances on her résumé, as ranked by Vulture, Streep is beloved by pretty much everyone, including her peers.

This actress comes to mind alongside Denzel Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio as the most famous actors ever. And yet, The New York Times left out Streep in its roundup of the greatest actors of the 21st century. Do you agree? But this doesn’t diminish the recognition she’s received elsewhere. Outside of film and television, the multitalented Streep plays her part as a wife and mom. But her life hasn’t always been simply glitz and glamor as she’s dealt with setbacks and heartbreaking tragedies.

What’s your favorite performance by Streep? And who would you like to see her play next? Grab your popcorn because it’s time for the untold truth of Meryl Streep.

What was Meryl Streep like as a child?

Meryl Streep’s birth name is actually Mary Louise Streep. Even before the famous Meryl came to be, the younger Streep was a star in the making. While growing up in New Jersey, the young girl delivered her first great performance as a six-year-old — at home. Surrounded by a nativity scene, Streep played the part of the Virgin Mary while “cradling her Betsy Wetsy doll,” Vulture reported. And the much more experienced Streep reflected on the power she felt because of acting. “I felt quieted, holy, actually, and my transfigured face and very changed demeanor captured on Super-8 by my dad pulled my little brothers … into a trance,” the actress remembered in her biography, Her Again (via Vulture). “They were actually pulled into this little nativity scene by the intensity of my focus, in a way that my usual technique for getting them to do what I want, yelling at them, never ever would have achieved,” she added.

Streep credits her family for instilling in her a sense of endless possibilities. “I remember what I was like at 16 — how incredibly vast and exciting the choices were,” Streep told Interview. “My parents, I think, had a lot to do with making me feel that way,” she added. Two of those choices were to “bleach her hair platinum blond and become a cheerleader,” according to Vanity Fair. And her peers liked her so much that Streep became the high school homecoming queen.

Meryl Streep's dramatic education

Though she considers her first acting performance as a six-year-old, Meryl Streep didn’t initially pursue a career as an actress. After high school, Streep attended Vassar College to pursue a career in law. But Streep, “after sleeping through her L.S.A.T., decided to ditch law school for Yale Drama School,” according to Vanity Fair. While in school to pursue a career in acting, Streep reportedly “paid her way through school by waitressing and typing,” per Vulture.

At Yale, Streep began to star in several campus stage productions. “Even at that early stage, it was evident that Ms. Streep had a virtuosic command of accents as well as characters,” The New York Times reported. One of her most memorable performances was as “translator Constance Garnett in the musical The Idiots Karamazov.” Interviewer Wendy Wasserstein remembered seeing Streep at Yale in this performance. “Meryl took stage for the entire performance in a wheelchair, dressed in Miss Haversham’s wedding gown,” she explained, via Interview. And recalled that Streep “was riveting and unforgettable.”

A few years later, the stunning young actress joined several productions in New York City at the famous Shakespeare in Central Park. Streep is among other notable alumni of the open-air performances, like Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, and James Earl Jones, per Playbill.

Meryl Streep's difficult early acting days

Once an inexperienced movie actress, Meryl Streep picked up pointers — both good and bad — from a few famous celebrities. As Streep explained in her biography, Her Again (via Vulture), her first role was in the movie Julia, which starred actress, model, and fitness queen Jane Fonda. Streep remembered that all of her scenes were alongside Fonda, who had a “feral alertness.” And she recalled the simple but effective advice given to her by Fonda during a scene. “That green tape on the floor. That’s you. That’s your mark. And if you land on it, you will be in the light, and you will be in the movie,” Fonda reportedly told Streep.

Sadly, not all actors were as nice to Streep as Fonda. For example, the time she starred alongside Dustin Hoffman in the legal drama Kramer vs. Kramer. Talking about Hoffman to The New York Times, Streep claimed, “it was my first take in my first movie, and he just slapped me. And you see it in the movie. It was overstepping.” And this wasn’t a one-off situation. According to the starlet’s memoir (via Vulture), “Hoffman apparently drove the entire cast and crew crazy.” Reportedly, he also tried to manipulate and provoke several of the actors on set. For example, he apparently once “shattered a wineglass next to her, and shards of glass got into Streep’s hair.” Streep remembered keeping a calm demeanor and said, “Next time you do that, I’d appreciate you letting me know.”

Meryl Streep's fight for a cause

It’s hard to remember a time when organic food was not a part of every grocery store. But Meryl Streep was an early champion for organic food without pesticides back in the late ’80s, long before the concept became mainstream. As she told Interview, Streep hoped to make the world better, “So I’ve picked pesticides, and that’s my thing.” After “barking” about the issues that bothered Streep, her friends apparently told the actress, “‘Why don’t you shut up and do something about it?’ So I called the people at the Natural Resources Defense Council,” thanks to the recommendation by her Out of Africa co-star Robert Redford.

After she could no longer put up with the idea of buying food with pesticides, Streep rounded up her like-minded friends. Together, the group pushed for organic foods to be available, similar to Texas and California at the time. Streep confessed that “environmental issues are considered very boring. They don’t capture anyone’s attention, because they’re just so long-term, really long and drawn out.” But as a mother, she also felt a duty to protect the world for her offspring. And after pursuing her philanthropic missions, Streep felt “as if I have my hands on my future and my children’s future, which I didn’t feel before.”

A real life, tragic love story with Meryl Streep

On-screen, Meryl Streep has played the role of nearly every possible form of tragedy. But her real-life love story is as heartbreaking as any script could read. During her time in Shakespeare in the Park, Streep met the love of her life. She and John Cazale were both actors in the play Measure for Measure. “Their romance would be brief, interrupted by Cazale’s diagnosis of terminal lung cancer,” Vulture explained. Due to his health status, Streep adjusted her choice of roles. For example, she reportedly signed on to The Deer Hunter “so that she could be with him on set.” But being Streep, she also picked up her first Oscar nomination for her performance in the movie. As Cazale’s health deteriorated, “Streep remained by his side as an unconditional caregiver during the last years of his life.”

According to Michael Schulman’s biography, Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep (via Vulture), the actress stayed by Cazale’s side in 1978 as he lay dying. Reportedly, Streep “pounded on his chest, sobbing,” until Cazale told her, “it’s all right,” before passing away. 

Prior to Cazale’s death, Streep apparently accepted a lead role in the tv series Holocaust, to help pay for his medical expenses. And soon after Cazale passed away, Streep “won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series” for her performance.

Who is Meryl Streep married to?

As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens. This directly applies to the down-then-up story of Meryl Streep’s real-life love story. After her “then boyfriend and Deer Hunter co-star John Cazale, who died of lung cancer in 1978,” Streep was apparently kicked out of the apartment the two shared, Oprah Magazine reported.

At one of her lowest points, Streep’s “brother Harry arrived with his friend Don in tow.” That was Don Gummer, a famous American sculptor. He and Streep must have made an almost instant connection because about six months later, the two “were married in the garden of her parents’ home in September 1978.” It turns out the pair had the same alma mater, Yale University.

Though Gummer is far from the high-profile celebrity of Streep, he still plays an important role in her life. And the actress made sure to let the world know what he meant to her during a 2012 Oscar speech. “First, I’m going to thank Don because when you thank your husband at the end of the speech, they play him out with the music, and I want him to know that everything I value most in our lives, you’ve given me,” Streep told the audience.

Meryl Streep has a full family life

As if being one of the most recognizable and famous actresses in the world isn’t enough responsibility, Meryl Streep is also a mother. She and husband — sculptor Don Gummer — have four children together, “all of whom have followed in mom and dad’s creative footsteps,” via Oprah Magazine. Henry Wolfe, the oldest, is a musician who purposefully dropped his last name as a recording artist. Mamie, the next oldest, and Grace, two years her minor, both pursued acting just like their mother. And Louisa, the youngest of the bunch, “is a model with the acting bug,” Oprah Magazine reported.

“I wanted them to follow their own dreams but I did ask them to have a plan B. They made their own way,” Streep confessed in an interview for Working Mother. The famous actress added that having Gummer by her side to help raise the children allowed her to accept roles more easily. But she also admitted, “I was also careful to choose films that didn’t take me away from my family for more than two weeks at a time because I missed them terribly and I would be miserable without them.” 

Ultimately, Streep remains grateful that her career path afforded her more time to spend with her children as opposed to working a more traditional job. Though Streep joked with NPR that normally, Gummer and the kids are usually “resentful of movies that I go off and make.”

Meryl Streep reveals the truth behind The Devil Wears Prada

Though not technically an Oscar-worthy performance, Meryl Streep’s role as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada may be one of her most memorable. Prior to filming, Streep looked for inspiration to play the role of a media magnate. For a commanding presence, she modeled the voice of her character after the legendary Clint Eastwood. According to Streep, Eastwood “never, ever, ever raises his voice,” which “instead forces everyone to listen intently to him,” per Vanity Fair. On the first day of filming, Streep’s co-stars were expecting Streep to enter as a bombastic boss with “a strident, bossy, barking voice. So when Meryl opened her mouth and basically whispered, everybody in the room drew a collective gasp. It was so unexpected and brilliant,” Anne Hathaway remembered to Vanity Fair.

Streep’s character is rumored to be representing Anna Wintour, the American Vogue editor-in-chief. And “several fashion brands refused to appear” in the movie “to avoid displeasing Anna Wintour,” according to Vogue. But Streep made light of the matter during an interview with Wintour. When the editor asked the actress who was the most challenging woman she ever played, Streep said, “Oh, I should say…” before trailing off. Wintour interjected and said, “No, no, we’re not going there, Meryl.” The actress didn’t skip a beat and confessed, “that wasn’t anyway, that was fun.”

Meryl Streep and the sound of music

It seems almost unfair that Meryl Streep can be good at other things outside of acting. And yet, the multitalented woman also knows how to show off her vocal skills. For example, she’s lent her musical voice to the movies Ricki and the Flash, Postcards from the Edge, and two Mamma Mia! movies. In her teens, Streep became interested in music, specifically, a young Barbra Streisand. Streep remembered her father collected all of Streisand’s records, “and I knew every single song, every breath, every elision, every swell,” she told NPR. In addition to just having something to sing along to, it helped Streep “express something that I had no other way of expressing.” Streep later met Streisand, who “was nonplussed” by the story of Streep’s childhood admiration for the singer.

In the film Florence Foster Jenkins, Streep played “an eccentric 1940s socialite who pursues her dream to perform at Carnegie Hall, despite having a terrible voice,” Vanity Fair recapped. The movie’s director, Stephen Frears, decided to let Streep sing live for her scenes. According to Frears, he was impressed by Streep’s musical abilities and added, “you can only sing that badly if you can sing that well.” 

As for the actress, she also enjoyed the opportunity to step outside of her acting comfort zone. “It was way, way more fun, but it was more terrifying,” she said at a press conference for the movie.

Meryl Streep keeps adding to her accolades

Meryl Streep’s award show resume is big enough to surprise even long-time fans. In 2018, Streep broke her own record to hold the most Oscar nominations in the award show’s history — 21 in total — via Time. Then one year later, she once again broke her own record to hold the most nominations ever. This time, at the Golden Globes Awards, which brought her overall total to 34 nominations, per People. Perhaps even more impressive at the Golden Globes, Streep went up against herself in the Best Actress category at the 2010 award ceremony. Streep in Julie & Julia beat out Streep in the romantic comedy It’s Complicated, via Golden Globes.

Adding to her mantle of awards, she received a prestigious civilian award in 2010. President Obama awarded Streep the National Medal of Arts for her unrivaled “contributions to American art and culture as an actress of the stage and screen.” 

For all the awards Streep has collected throughout her career, one of her first wins hardly mattered at the time. Her first Emmy win came soon after the death of her boyfriend, John Cazale. Streep skipped the ceremony and instead received her golden statue in a box. According to Vulture, the actress “placed it with the rest of her things. At the time she said, ‘I wish I could assign some great importance to it,’ but that it had ‘no lasting power.'”

The French connection to Meryl Streep

As one of the most beloved actresses in America, Meryl Streep has a surprisingly strong link with another country: France. The actress’ breakout role came in the 1981 romance The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Her starring role as a British actress in a film-within-a-film earned her an Oscar nomination and a win at the Golden Globes, via The Guardian. Almost 30 years later — a testament to her career longevity — Streep starred in the film Julie & Julia as famous chef Julia Child. The real-life chef was also an author, known for her books Mastering the Art of French Cooking and My Life in France, which partly inspired the film with Streep, according to the film’s website.

In 2003, France recognized the actress with its highest artistic honor. The country’s minister of culture at the time “named Streep a commander of the order of arts and letters, praising her ‘courage, delicacy, sensitivity and determination’ and saying she’s been a star in France since 1985’s Out of Africa,” The Age reported. In her acceptance speech for the award, Streep reportedly “thanked her fans in both French and English.” Streep also “won an honorary Cesar, France’s equivalent of an Oscar,” while in France. “I’m grateful that the French public welcomed these complex and contradictory women,” the actress said in French after receiving a standing ovation.

How much is Meryl Streep worth?

With a career spanning over four decades as of 2020, Meryl Streep is a seemingly unstoppable force in the movie industry. From her incredible recognition at award shows to mastering the art of being a graceful celebrity, Streep has done it all. For example, Streep says it is “against her personal ethics to be paid to wear a gown on the red carpet,” The Hollywood Reporter posted. Even the biggest names in fashion, like Chanel, try to give the actress free couture dresses. But she does make plenty of money for her acting performances. According to Celebrity Net Worth, at the time of this writing, Streep is worth $160 million. Forbes ranked Streep the fifth highest-paid actress in 2020, earning a reported $24 million.

Streep’s real estate portfolio is almost as impressive as her film credits. And with her big net worth, Streep can certainly afford luxurious accommodations. Towards the end of 2017, Variety reported that Streep and her husband Don Gummer purchased a 3,000 square foot “mid-century modern” home in Pasadena, Calif., for $3.6 million. Rather modest, considering her other big property on the other coast of America. In 2019, Town and Country reported that Streep listed her Tribeca penthouse for sale at $18.3 million. The 4,000 square foot home had four bedrooms, five bathrooms, and a “10-foot-wide terrace” around the property.

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