It seems as if every award season Meryl Streep’s name gets tossed into the ring. Being a world-renowned actress, Meryl Streep has been in a class all of her own, which spans her 30 years as a thespian. Whether she’s playing the intimidating head of a fashion brand in the The Devil Wears Prada, or a distressed survivor of a Nazi concentration camp in Sophie’s Choice, Streep effortlessly seems to understand and capture every human experience.
For her latest role in August: Osage County Streep finds herself in a master class of top-notch actors. A truly heartfelt ensemble piece, August: Osage County captures every emotion wrapped up in a chaotic, funny, and ultimately heartfelt family portrait. At the head of the family is Streep, who portrays the cancer-stricken matriarch of a family coming undone. Based on a play by Tracy Letts, August: Osage County is a story about the strong-willed Weston sisters (Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson) and the varied relationships they share with their mother.
For Meryl Streep this is a role that’s just as drastically different from her last character. Playing to the ugliness of “old age,” as Violet, Streep shows her tremendous range and culls her enormous presence to play a woman who is probably the hardest character to take in this mixed bag of nuts. Violet is forever stuck in her own turmoil, and often lashes out at her loved ones with an uncouth wrath that at times is extremely hard to swallow. For most of the film Streep stays in a state of drug-addled mania, but somehow despite all of this the actress brings brevity and humorous candor to the table.
Here’s a few highlights from a press conference with the actress, and her thoughts about spiraling in August: Osage County.
THE INQUISITR: There’s so many different ways you can read Violet — was she damaged, spiteful, confused, insecure? Do you decide pretty early on what her motivations are? It’s a character that can be played in so many different ways.
MERYL STREEP: John [Wells] and I e-mailed a little bit in preparation for this. One of the things that really interested me was where she was on her painkiller cycle in any given scene. Since we were shooting out of order, I had to map that in a way, just so I would know what to bring to my fellow actors. You know, as an actor you’re supposed to want to go into the house of pain over and over and over again, but I resisted doing the part because of that. On so many levels physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, Violet is enraged and/or in pain, or drugged at any given time. That was the main thing and I didn’t doubt that I would go— I don’t want to talk about this! [Laughs].
THE INQUISITR: What was it like for you to work with Chris Cooper again in a much larger capacity?
STREEP: Chris and I worked together, but never in such a substantial way. Chris’ character I felt was someone that he would view with his enormous humanity and his compassion, and I knew that the audience would love him. I knew that they would hate me in equal measure, and that is “the story.” It’s a balance of all these characters. What you give you get and what you get you give from each person. It only works if we’re together. We were so together. When Margo’s character says that she has my back, I felt that she always, always, always felt that, because she made me feel that way. We were very lucky to have each other in making this thing.
THE INQUISITR: How did you bond strong with your co-stars? Was it hard to shake everything off at the end of an emotional scene?
STREEP: We ate a lot. It wasn’t the most joyous experience in my point of view. It was hard to feel that way about everybody. It was miserable, and it was also during the election, and television is very odd out there. You could feel very disembodied in that world so it was important to make a connection beyond and outside of the set. Also I was smoking non stop, which really makes you feel sh—y.
THE INQUISITR: Was there any one particular topic that touched you emotionally?
STREEP: For me one of the most upsetting scenes we shot very early on, and it was with Sam Shepard who is a writer that I’ve always admired, and as an actor too. To look at him close up and see his loathing of me was really hard. You get old and you look old, and you’re just old, and you still think that maybe there’s a spark of love from this person who has gone through everything, and to look in his eyes and realize that he would rather be dead than look at me, that was brutal. That set the tone for how I chose to deal with his death in every scene afterwards.
THE INQUISITR: Did the humor help you deal with the weight of the role?
STREEP: Every character I’ve ever played is about 5’6 and weighs about the same [Laughs] in terms of weightiness. I was trying to look sicker and thinner than I actually am, but I don’t think about things that way. To me one of the most excruciatingly funny pieces in this is the prayer, which is earnestly given by Chris [Cooper] to the best of his ability. It reminded me of church, and there was no laughter like the laughter when you’re in church and the whole pew goes nuts. You talk about how humor is born out of pain. Every single one of these actors came to the reading with the copy of the original play in their back pocket with their laughs that they didn’t want to get cut. You have a sense of what’s going to buy you the attention of people, because otherwise they want to kill themselves with this family. You come together with your friends and say, “I had Thankgiving at my mother’s house and I have to tell you what my mother said!” And you tell the story that was not funny when you were there, but in the tone it’s fabulous, and that’s how you transform your life.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY hits theaters on December 25th.