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Meryl Streep

…because if there were an Oscar for the Greatest Actress of All Time, she’d win that too. Meryl Streep overcame Hollywood’s sexist bias against her “unconventional appearance” through her virtuoso talent and undeniable professionalism. Although Streep is unparalleled among American performers for her mastery of accents and dialects, her ability to use simple gestures and facial expressions deserve as much recognition. Among the hardest working movie stars ever to grace the screen, Streep has never played the same character twice or taken a role that didn’t present a new challenge.



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Early on in Streep’s career, the producer Dino de Laurentiis rejected the young actress for a role in the 1976 remake of "King Kong" (which, even though the role went to another great actress, Jessica Lange, didn’t end up being close to the best reimagining of that story). His reason for passing over Streep is what you’d expect from an old school Italian guy working in Hollywood during the 1970’s – okay, we’ll just come out and say it: a sexist appraisal of her physical appearance – but history has corrected this egregious error in judgment. Even at the time, Streep had an amazing comeback ready to go...in Italian! And yeah, we’ll assume she nailed the pronunciation. But in fact, one might argue that Streep has the most impressive looks of any actor or actress in film history, at least if we’re talking about the facial expressions and body language needed to build complex characters, or as they're otherwise known, those things that are actually relevant to the craft of acting. Streep’s ability to use a simple gesture to add another layer to her character is a life lesson not just for any aspiring actor but also for anyone interested in how human beings express themselves in ways other than words.

And then there are those accents. To be fair, the pop cultural consensus has probably made too much of Streep’s ability to master accents as an innate talent as opposed to a reflection of the hard work she puts into every role. That said, her range has gone well beyond the standard Anglo-centric varieties we’d expect from most American actors into Polish, Danish, Italian and however you choose to describe Julia Child’s unique vocal intonations. Even on the “English” scale, she’s done different versions of English, Irish and Australian accents, as well as regional dialects like the Midwestern or New York versions of American. In each and every case, from the Polish immigrant in "Sophie’s Choice" to Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady," it’s not just the accents that make her performances so compelling; it’s her careful study of her subjects that allows her to completely inhabit the roles. Otherwise, all those amazing accents would simply be a neat party trick.

If you’ve never seen any of Meryl Streep’s films, you’ve definitely seen her at the Oscars. To date, she has more nominations than any other performer, with two Best Actress awards and one Best Supporting Actress. Sure, she trails Katharine Hepburn’s four statues, but the odds are pretty decent that she’ll eventually get that fourth (or even fifth). Per IMDB, Streep has 161 wins and 322 nominations from different awards organizations and critics, a number that probably has changed by the end of this sentence. You can make the case that awards are overrated in an actor’s career. Streep’s Oscar-winning roles don’t even rank among her best characters, and some of those awards are for ensemble roles; however, those last two points only serve to bolster the evidence for Streep’s dedication to her craft. Moreover, the recognition from so many different critics, festivals and organizations are as much in recognition of her professionalism as her abilities. While a film as unwatchable as "She-Devil" should sink most performers’ careers, it’s barely even mentioned because there are so many other interesting roles and great projects on her resume. Although she’s certainly achieved star status, Streep has continually chosen interesting, meaningful roles no matter how big or small the part.

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Podcasts

‘It’s A Playground’: Meryl Streep On Acting With Abandon

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Podcasts

‘Awards Chatter’ Podcast — Meryl Streep (‘Florence Foster Jenkins’)

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Book

Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep

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Article

Meryl Streep: A life beyond reproach

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Article

Finding Herself

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Article

Super trouper of the silver screen

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webpage

2004 MERYL STREEP TRIBUTE

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TCM – Meryl Streep

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