Don’t rush life and other ways to be like Meryl Streep

Be scary good. Delete your twitter account. Raise strong girls. And other invaluable lessons from the fiery actor


Meryl Streep. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters
Meryl Streep. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters

In addition to the obvious—learn to speak your mind, be political and stand up for what you believe in—there are many other ways you can strive to be like Meryl Streep. I’ve done the research, all you have to do is replace whatever boring resolution you made for 2017 with this one. By the end of the year, you’ll be saying things like, “I won’t be muzzled out by an ejaculation.” (Streep in Mamma Mia!). PS: Be warned, Streep doesn’t believe in short cuts.

Be the best at what you do. Make your profession your passion. There’s no point working at something half-heartedly. Streep is always deeply curious about the characters she plays. “All people contain mystery, and when you act, you want to plumb that mystery until everything is known to you,” she once said. Feel that intensity. Identify what you’re good at, and give it all you’ve got. Don’t be wishy-washy, start building a body of work. Streep wasn’t nominated 19 times for the Academy Awards because she thought, “Hmm I’m bored….What should I try next?” She wouldn’t have been able to increase tourist traffic to every place she visited on screen (Kenya after Out Of Africa and Skopelos, Greece, after Mamma Mia!) with that attitude.

Go the distance in love. She’s committed not just to her work but also to the man in her life, sculptor Don Gummer, to whom she’s been married 38 years. “Everything I value most in our lives you’ve given me,” she said in an award acceptance speech in 2012. Before Gummer, Streep was in love with actor John Cazale and she loved him through 10 months of terminal lung cancer. When doctors told her Cazale was dead, she wasn’t ready to believe it. “She pounded on his chest, sobbing, and for a brief, alarming moment, John opened his eyes,” recounts Michael Schulman in Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep.

“It’s all right Meryl,” he said weakly. “It’s all right…” And then he died.

Delete your Twitter account. Streep doesn’t have time to watch video games, play golf or tweet. These past decades she’s been too busy working and managing her household of four children to be addicted to social media. She cooks, knits, irons, and has been known to ride the subway. You’ll have to say bye-bye to your online world. Even if you create a storm in the real world, as Streep did at the Golden Globe Awards earlier this month with her stunningly articulated critique of President Donald Trump, at least you know you won’t waste any time on the hateful responses of people you’re never going to meet.

Shrug off the meanies. Of course there are trolls in the real world too. Streep has often told the story of the time she auditioned for a role in Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong. The producer asked his son in Italian why he had brought an ugly woman to play the ape’s love interest, not realizing that Streep understood the language. “I’m sorry I’m not beautiful enough to be in…King Kong,” Streep replied. Now she tells that story in a way that will make you laugh.

Develop your sense of humour. If you want to be like her, you’ll have to be funny. Please watch the clip of the Ellen show where host Ellen DeGeneres is determined to prove to her audience that Streep can do anything. “This is an oatmeal recipe and I would like you to read it. But…I would like you to read it sexy,” DeGeneres says.

Be scary good. When Vanity Fair went back to The Devil Wears Prada screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna last year (the 10th anniversary of the film, can you believe it?), this is what she said about Miranda Priestly, Streep’s character, modelled on legendary Vogue editor Anna Wintour. “She was terrifying. The first scene I saw was when she turns around to glare at Andy from the top of the stairs. I was so terrified by her look alone that I threw my arm out in front of the director like we were in a car wreck. I was so scared.” Terrifying people at work has always worked for me.

Put mum on a pedestal. Streep often cites her mother as a big influence and inspiration. She says it helps that her mum was different from her. “I’m not like my mother, so that’s why her legacy sustains me,” she told Michelle Obama when the former First Lady interviewed her for More magazine.

Don’t rush life. Streep had her first child at 30. She acted in her first film at 28. She funds a screenwriting lab for women over 40 and doesn’t worry about not finding work as she grows older.

Don’t let them underpay you. Whatever your age, don’t compromise on remuneration. Last year it was reported that Streep was going to be paid $825,000 (around Rs5.6 crore) per episode to star in J.J. Abrams’ miniseries adaptation of the novel The Nix. That’s better than most men on TV. And a salary worthy of a Girl Boss.

Raise strong girls. The mother of Mamie, Grace and Louisa told Obama in the More interview that girls were finally living in an age where they felt they could do anything, be anyone. “And yet we face resistance.... The challenge for our girls, I think, is dealing with that resistance. How can we lift and defuse it, how do we make it so our equality is not so threatening?” She’s always told young people to embrace their differences because that’s what makes them special.

Find professional role models. And give them the third degree. Streep’s been a role model for everyone from Julianne Moore to Jennifer Lawrence. Streep in turn picked co-star Jane Fonda’s brains on the sets of her first film. Don’t miss the chance to quote your role models. As Streep quoted Carrie Fisher: “Take your broken heart and make it into art.”

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable. She tweets at @priyaramani and posts on Instagram as babyjaanramani.

Also read Priya’s Mint Lounge columns

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