Meryl Streep is like no other. She’s authentic yet ethereal. Self-possessed yet vulnerable. Intellectual yet instinctive. And she deftly combines these disparate qualities onscreen in a way that has made her a cinematic icon.
Meryl Streep has presence, resonating with both audiences and critics for the past 26 years. Beginning with THE DEER HUNTER in 1978-just her second film-Streep has been nominated for 13 Academy Awards, more than any other actor in history. She was named Best Supporting Actress for KRAMER VS. KRAMER in 1980 and Best Actress for SOPHIE’S CHOICE in 1983.
No matter the character, Streep’s work is suffused with dignity and decency. She makes us believe. Which is no small thing, considering most actors find it difficult to separate their public persona from their onscreen portrayals. But Meryl Streep is not like most other actors. Her sense of self and understanding of those she is portraying result in realistic characters, regardless of their nationalities, ethnicities or physicalities.
The breadth of her talent seems limitless. No matter what the challenge, Streep commits fully, serving as the anchor in each of her films. She sings (SILKWOOD, IRONWEED, POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE), dances (DEATH BECOMES HER), even plays violin (MUSIC OF THE HEART). And these extraordinary abilities are matched by her astounding facility for dialects. From Polish (SOPHIE’S CHOICE) to Australian (A CRY IN THE DARK) to Danish (OUT OF AFRICA), Streep’s flawless vocal transformations imbue each role with a wealth of knowledge and experience, an innate understanding of life’s foibles, blessings and mysteries. While making it all look effortless. Yet she calls this gift the “auto mechanics” of her craft, preferring to focus on the complete person rather than on any one characteristic.
Streep’s most challenging role-as wife and mother-informs her career choices, both geographically and emotionally. Early in her career, she insisted she’d never give up theater, her first love. But being home for dinner and schoolwork with her four children is a top priority. So the stage must wait.
That maternal instinct is apparent onscreen as well. While the mothers she plays may not always be perfect, she brings a humanity to even the most troubled relationships. We’re both repelled by and understanding of her decision to leave her little boy in KRAMER VS. KRAMER. We see the fierce love lying just beneath the surface as she battles with her rebellious teenage son in MARVIN’S ROOM. And, we respect her decision to live with a philandering husband-and accept the scorn of her daughter-in order to keep her family together in ONE TRUE THING.
An outspoken advocate for women, Streep is active in Equality Now, working for women’s human rights around the world. She also fights for equal pay, in her own profession as well as in public education-an arena she knows well, since her children have gone on location with her to Africa, England, Australia, Texas, California, New York and Connecticut.
And she continues to take on new artistic challenges. In 2002, she starred in both THE HOURS and ADAPTATION, earning an Oscar nomination for the latter. Earlier this year, she played four different characters in HBO’s ANGELS IN AMERICA, including her first male role, an aged rabbi.
American cinema has been graced by the presence of Meryl Streep. With a poise and eloquence all her own, Streep has continued to astonish audiences with her range of characters. Because of her unparalleled talent and integrity, the American Film Institute is honored to present Meryl Streep with AFI’s 32nd Life Achievement Award.