Actor's Studio Interview (1998)
Streep went to Vassar and later studied acting at Yale where she received her master's degree. She also obtained a law degree. She did most of it on scholarships as she had very limited resources.
When she was growing up, her mother would declare special days (not regular birthdays or holidays) when one of the children could do anything they wanted. (Mom had usually planned "anything" in advance and it often was a trip to the theater.) Streep grew up in New Jersey so they would go across the bridge to New York for the show. Streep was the eldest of three. Her father worked for a pharmaceutical company. Streep is the word for "straight line" in Dutch. The family moved to Holland in the 15th Century from Spain. They were Jewish and most likely suffering from persecution. Their name prior to moving to Spain was Messerschnitz.
In the 7th Grade she sang "O Holy Night" and loved the response from the audience. Her parents encouraged this and she went for voice lessons. She had the same teacher as Beverly Sills and realized that she wasn't going to be a great opera singer after hearing Sills at her debut. (In such movies as Postcards from the Edge and Ironweed you see her beautifully singing.)
Streep sees humans as trying to get beyond the scary parts of life, whereas the actor deliberately goes there, to the scary parts---and Streep uses that as a form of self-therapy. She loses herself in her acting, taps into feelings, goes into a "zone" and feels that the actor's greatest achievement is when they have honestly presented a "soul" to the audience. When in the "zone" she is freer, less in control, more susceptible. She becomes the person and must be true to this character.
Spontaneity is essential in the acting process---yes you prepare thoroughly, but it is in those spontaneous moments that an electricity of realness enters the scene.
Listening is where you learn everything as an actor. (This is another way of expressing how it is essential that you be present in and alive to the moment by moment evolving of the scene.)
This very intelligent and creative person wrote most of the court scene for her character in the film Kramer versus Kramer (she also won an academy award for her acting in this film).
Lots of interesting lessons from her life: parental support and encouragement clearly played a vital part in her development as did pivotal events during which she learned new things about herself.
When asked the standard questions, she responded as follows:
What's your favorite word? (She had previously asked this of her 6 year old daughter and could not get it out of her mind after hearing it…..she has four children and in 1998 when the interview was done she was almost 50 years old.)
What's your least favorite word?
What turns you on, excites you, inspires you?
What turns you off?
What sound or noise do you love?
What sound or noise do you hate?
"The sound of pain."
What's your favorite curse word?
"Oh my god!"
What profession, other than yours, would you like to attempt?
If heaven exists, what would you like God to say to you when you arrive at the pearly gates?