In The Post, Meryl Streep makes it count by taking the part of another brave woman, writes Michele Manelis.
When considering the many faces of Meryl Streep, there isn't much she hasn't conquered on screen. From Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), portraying a woman who abandons her child, to the tragic drama Sophie's Choice (1982), in which she plays the titular role, a woman who has to make the ultimate choice between her children, to her unsparing take on Vogue editor Anna Wintour (whose identity is thinly veiled as Miranda Priestly) in The Devil Wears Prada (1996), she does so with such vivid authenticity it's no wonder she can claim a record-breaking 20 Oscar nominations, and three wins.
"Many of those women I've portrayed were so brave, going all the way back to Karen Silkwood (Silkwood, 1983). I'm curious about what makes different women able to stand up. I'm interested in why people are the way they are, and many of the ones I've been able to make films about confronted really difficult decisions; choices and fears and terrors," she says. "I think I got that curiosity from my mother. You could also describe that as being nosy."
Of women's empowerment and the #MeToo movement, timely subjects brought about by the Harvey Weinstein scandal (and its ever-expanding trail of abusers), she says: "It's igniting a kind of bravery on the part of people who have had it with the silence and being polite and keeping the status quo.
"The best outcome of all this will be in the structures, in the funding entities and boardrooms of the parent companies of these studios. When that is broken open, when the boardroom is comprised of half men and half women, then a lot of this stuff, I think, will be obviated. It will go away."
Now starring in The Post, she plays Katharine Graham, a pioneer and woman ahead of her time, who held the reins of The Washington Post during the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers (in 1972, as CEO of The Washington Post company, she became the first female Fortune 500 CEO).
"She is emblematic of many women at that time, when the world was pretty different. There were really very few women in business who [were above] secretarial level or assistant level. There were very few women lawyers, very few women doctors, and there were and still are too few women in government, in law."
Directed by Steven Spielberg, she stars opposite Tom Hanks.
Considering the prolific résumés of Hanks and Streep, it's incredible that this movie heralds the first time they've worked together. "The truthful answer is that I'm seven years older than Tom, so the reason we haven't worked together is because I'm 27 years too old," she says. "That's just a fact in Hollywood."
Time has evidently been kind to Streep, who looks many years younger than her age, without any apparent plastic surgery.
"Well, it's been pretty good so far, except for the knees," she says.
Serious again, she says, "As I lose friends, you can't help but mark the passage of time and understand that things are changing.
"You have a deeper appreciation of the finite number of years you have and you want to say something important in that time. You want to make it count and you want to help and make people happy. You want to be there for all of it." Streep has been married to sculptor Don Gummer since 1978. She says her recipe for a successful marriage is to stay alert and alive to each other.
"Speak and be heard, break patterns, and don't become complacent. It can be easy to fall asleep in a relationship and take the other person for granted," she says.
"I'm no Dr Ruth. I don't make prescriptions. I'm not an expert." She pauses. "I feel very lucky. I'm just fortunate to have found a good man."
While Streep may be reticent to pontificate on the workings of her own relationship, she recalls her mother's words when she married Gummer nearly four decades ago. "My mother told me, 'Never go upstairs without taking something that needs to go up there'," she laughs.
Streep is the mother of four grown children, including three daughters.
What words of wisdom does she convey to them? "Look, I give my kids so much advice, but I think it just blows back with their hair and goes straight out."
One of Hollywood's most prolific actresses, one gets the impression she's been away from home frequently.
Not so, she says, "My career has afforded me more time with my kids, honestly, than a lot of people who have two weeks off every year and a desk job.
At a high point in her life, she says, "Somebody said to me that the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time. I think that's where I am. I'm aware of how lucky I am to be living right now."
The Post, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, is in cinemas now.