Meryl Streep’s journey to becoming one of the most acclaimed actresses in cinema history began in humble beginnings, driven by a passion for performing arts from a very young age. Let’s take a closer look at Meryl Streep filmography and what key roles solidified her as a true Hollywood icon.
Discovering Her Love for the Stage
Even as a child growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s and 60s, Meryl Streep displayed an affinity and talent for singing, dancing and acting in local theater productions. Though shy as a young girl, the stage allowed Streep to break out of her shell and lose herself in characters and stories.
By high school, Streep had fully committed herself to honing her acting abilities, participating in competitive cheerleading to improve presence and poise while taking acting lessons on the side. She thrived in theater club performances like “The Wizard of Oz,” foreshadowing the Hollywood fame soon to come.
Building Her Skills at Prestigious Institutions
After demonstrating such precocious talent in high school productions, Streep’s trajectory was set – she graduated as a theater major from Vassar College in 1971 before enrolling in the elite Yale School of Drama. At Yale she underwent intense theatrical training under acting coach and department namesake Robert Lewis that equipped her with techniques she still employs today.
Streep also met her future husband, Don Gummer, while pursuing her MFA at Yale. They married within a few years of graduating in 1975, a partnership that continues to endure over 40 years later.
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Sweeping Accolades in Defining 1970s Roles
Fresh off her demanding Yale education, Streep wasted no time in stamping herself as one of the preeminent actresses of her generation due to instantly iconic roles.
Stealing Scenes in “Julia” and “The Deer Hunter”
In 1977, Streep made her first film appearance in a minor but memorable role as Anne Marie in “Julia,” opposite cinema legends Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. The following year she earned raves for her supporting turn in “The Deer Hunter” with Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken.
As the heart-wrenching girlfriend of Walken’s traumatized, Russian roulette-playing Vietnam POW, Streep shone brightly amidst an impeccable cast and her first Academy Award nomination. Audiences instantly connected with her ability to evoke complex emotional depths.
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Breakout Success with “Kramer vs. Kramer” Oscar Win
Just a year later, Streep vaulted herself to the top of the Hollywood A-list with a performanceVARIETY dubbed “astonishing” in marital drama “Kramer vs. Kramer,” starring Dustin Hoffman and Justin Henry. As an unfulfilled wife and mother who deserts her family, Streep grabbed hold of viewers’ sympathy and never let go.
Her first of many Oscars for Best Supporting Actress soon followed, as Streep found herself seated alongside acting royalty at just 30 years old. She credited her Yale School of Drama education for the award, proving the value of prestigious institutional coaching.
Devastating Portrayals in 1980s Defining Dramas
On the heels of her rapid success, Meryl Streep cemented herself as one of the best in the business through heartrending performances in two now-classic 1980s dramas—“Sophie’s Choice” and “Silkwood.”
Earning International Praise for “Sophie’s Choice”
In 1982, Streep won her second Best Actress Oscar for her turn as Polish Holocaust survivor Sophie Zawistowski in Alan J. Pakula’s “Sophie’s Choice.” To inhabit the haunting role of an Auschwitz prisoner forced to make an unthinkable decision, Streep lost weight, mastered a Polish accent and drew on Yale School of Drama emotional recall techniques.
Her dedication resulted in a transcendent performance that solidified her reputation as the actress who could truly capture any character. Streep brought Sophie’s fierce humanity to life in a way that “broke your heart and restored your faith,” as Pakula commented.
Whistleblower Advocate in “Silkwood”
Just a year later in Mike Nichol’s 1983 whistleblower biopic “Silkwood,” Meryl Streep tackled her first real-life portrayal as Karen Silkwood, a laboratory technician who died under mysterious circumstances after investigating her employer for plutonium contamination.
Streep captured Silkwood’s Texas twang and dogged persistence perfectly while highlighting the importance of ethical corporate accountability. She identified deeply with Silkwood’s advocacy, later stating, “You can’t separate acting from being an outsider or feeling like one.”
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Showcasing Unmatched Range with “Out of Africa”
Opting for a complete departure from heavy dramatic parts, in 1985 Streep went blonde to play romance novelist Isak Dinesen in “Out of Africa” opposite Robert Redford’s big game hunter Denys Hatton.
Set against the backdrop of Kenya’s sweeping vistas, Streep’s refined but passionate turn proved her ability to embody vastly different characters across any genre or setting. Offers now flooded in for roles of all kinds, from comedy to musicals to action.
Testing Her Comedic Abilities in 1990s Hits
After excelling across drama, romance and poignant real-life stories, Meryl Streep relished the opportunity to make her mark in comedy throughout a series of 1990s hits. Fans responded enthusiastically to her showcasing impeccable comedic timing and self-deprecating charm.
Subversive Principal in “Death Becomes Her”
In 1992’s “Death Becomes Her,” Streep reveled in the campy black comedy of the role of Madeline Ashton, an over-the-hill narcissistic actress who achieves eternal youth and beauty with deeply twisted consequences. Alongside Bruce Willis and Goldie Hawn, Streep leaned into physical comedy and the macabre wittiness of director Robert Zemeckis’ vision.
Bringing her trademark precision to the borderline grotesque part, she succeeds in satirizing Hollywood’s obsession with aging while critiquing societal standards imposed on women. Streep spares no punches in crafting an unlikeable yet begrudgingly relatable antiheroine.
Scene-Stealing Fashionista in “The Devil Wears Prada”
Over a decade later as icy fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly in 2006 rom-com “The Devil Wears Prada”, Streep fashioned arguably her most iconic comedic persona to date. She reportedly drew inspiration from Vogue’s Anna Wintour, fusing her no-nonsense bluntness with a quietly complex inner life.
Though Anne Hathaway’s lead held the heart of the story, Streep stole every scene as the “dragon lady” boss from hell, biting off callous quips in signature runway ensembles. Despite the successful 27-year career she portrays Priestly having, Streep’s nuance and wit convinces the audience this consummate professional still contains a well of humanity.
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Beloved TV Icon in “Web Therapy”
In recent years, Streep has even flexed her muscles in acclaimed television comedies. She won an Emmy for her guest stint on Lisa Kudrow’s mock web series “Web Therapy” in 2015 as a deluded woman desperate to be famous.
And in the HBO original series “Big Little Lies”, Streep earned acclaim playing Mary Louise Wright, the meddling mother-in-law of Nicole Kidman’s character. Ever committed, Streep famously learned to play the zither for the short cameo.
Heartfelt Portrayals of Complicated Women
While trying on new genres, Meryl Streep maintained her reputation as the go-to actress for relatable, captivating female leads across multiple decades. These complex parts demanded great psychological and emotional depth.
Nuanced Poetry in “The Bridges of Madison County”
As Italian war bride Francesca Johnson in 1995 romance drama “The Bridges of Madison County”, Streep brought her signature empathy and restraint to a woman married to a farmer yet longing for more, who enters an affair with a photographer. Streep convinces viewers this ordinary Iowan housewife can blossom in just a few days under the lens of true love and self-actualization.
In Streep’s deft hands, what could play as tawdry melodrama becomes a soaring, devastating poem to roads not taken and dreams deferred in favor of duty. Sparks truly fly with co-star Clint Eastwood in intimate scenes, with Streep credited for heavily improvising dialogue. She makes clear why her briefly glimpsed alternate world captivates Francesca for the rest of her days.
Marriage in Crisis in “It’s Complicated”
Over a decade later in 2009’s “It’s Complicated,” Streep brings her effortless relatability to bakery owner Jane, a successful middle aged divorcee who suddenly finds herself caught in a love triangle with her ex-husband and the architect designing her home remodel.
With co-stars Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, Streep mines the comic potential of awkward bedroom mishaps and pot brownie hijinks while revealing Jane’s insecurities about aging and second chances at romance with megawatt charm and irresistible charisma.
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The Epitome of an Acting Virtuoso
Having long secured her place in the Hollywood pantheon, continuous acclaim and honors have followed Meryl Streep over the past twenty years. She chose increasingly complex roles across every genre, cementing her reputation as the pinnacle of acting virtuosos capable of flawlessly morphing into any identity.
The Most Decades-Spanning Oscar Nominee
In 2018, Streep overtook Katharine Hepburn for the most acting Oscar nominations at 21 nominations and counting. She often jokes they may as well reserve a seat with her name on it, given Streep gets highlighted even in lesser films like 2008’s “Doubt” and her reputation makes co-stars bring their A-game.
While some criticize the consistency of these nods, it remains nearly impossible to deny the caliber of transformation Streep brings to each performance.
Prestigious Accolades Beyond Acting
Beyond acting-specific honors, President Barack Obama awarded Streep the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 to recognize her contributions to arts and culture over decades. Other lifetime honors she’s garnered include a Kennedy Center Honor and an American Film Institute award.
Most recently, the Berlinale film festival introduced an honorary Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement awarded to Streep for her pioneering status as a female Hollywood icon. Streep continues to leverage her platform to advocate gender equality in filmmaking and strike down ageist assumptions for women.
Meryl Streep Continues to Stun With Her Acting Abilities
As Streep progresses into her 70s, speculation constantly swirls whether each performance will be her last bow. But like the ultra-committed stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age she reveres, don’t expect Streep to exit stage left anytime soon when the magic of becoming someone else eternally beckons.
Wherever she goes next, rapt audiences will surely follow. Because no one commands screen and stage with as much heartrending humanity, masterful authority and sheer bravura skill as Meryl Streep. She’s the chief alchemist who spins theatrical gold by fully inhabiting essence over imitation. The ceiling-shattering accolades amassing for decades now only hint at Meryl Streep’s cultural impact – she defined and expanded the limits of great acting in ways no viewer or peer can forget.
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Frequently Asked Questions
1. Where did Meryl Streep grow up?
Meryl Streep grew up in Bernardsville, New Jersey after being born in Summit, New Jersey in 1949. As a child, she took opera singing lessons and was enchanted by Broadway, foreshadowing her future acting prowess.
2. What was her first film role?
In 1977, a 27-year old Meryl Streep made her film debut in a minor but memorable role in “Julia” starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. Her first lead role came just a year later in the 1978 film “The Deer Hunter” opposite Robert De Niro.
3. How many Oscars has Meryl Streep won?
Over her decades-spanning career, Meryl Streep has won three Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress for “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) and Best Actress for “Sophie’s Choice” (1982) and “The Iron Lady” (2011).
4. What was her most iconic comedic role?
Many consider Meryl Streep’s icy, blunt fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) to be her most iconic comedic character. It became one of her most quotable roles.
5. Why did she win the Presidential Medal of Freedom?
In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Meryl Streep the United States’ highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in recognition of her many influential acting contributions spanning decades on stage and screen.
6. How long was she married?
Meryl Streep met her husband, sculptor Don Gummer, while both were pursuing art degrees at Yale University in the mid-1970s. The couple married in 1978 and remain together today after over 40 years, a rare enduring marriage in Hollywood circles.
7. How many records does she hold?
With 21 nominations and 3 wins, Meryl Streep holds the record for the most Academy Awards acting nominations of any performer in history. She also received a record 32 Golden Globe nominations, winning 8 times.
8. What advocacy does she champion?
A feminist throughout her career, Meryl Streep has long advocated for gender equality and better roles for women in Hollywood. She also champions environmental causes, funding research into organic farming through gifts to universities.
9. What lifetime honors does she have?
Meryl Streep has won prestigious lifetime honors including a Kennedy Center Honor in 2011, an American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 and most recently, an honorary Golden Bear in 2020 from the Berlin Film Festival.
10. At what age did Meryl Streep begin acting professionally?
Though she acted in high school and college productions, Meryl Streep did not begin working professionally as an actress until the mid-1970s after completing her MFA from the prestigious Yale School of Drama at age 27. This rigorous training prepared her well for success.