Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Julie and Julia
You could always count on Meryl Streep to give a great performance, but now the 60-year-old’s become a bankable movie star, too.
The transition began with The Devil Wears Prada which earned Streep another Oscar nomination and the attention of Hollywood after the comedy scooped up an unexpected $327 million US globally.
Her follow up as the headliner in the film version of the popular musical Mamma Mia! was the mega-hit that made the difference. While Streep missed out on an Academy Award nomination, she shared the glory of the picture’s bountiful box office of $603 million US world wide.
Even last year’s Doubt, featuring Streep as a stern nun, managed to attract $51 million worth of business and win her another Oscar nod.
So writer-director Nora Ephron couldn’t believe her good fortune when Streep agreed to play celebrated cookbook author and TV icon Julia Child in her film Julie & Julia which opens on Aug. 7.
Not only did the filmmaker get the best person for the job, she also received a green light for the movie when Streep came on board.
“It’s always hard to make a movie that isn’t about a video game,” notes Ephron, “but Meryl’s the hottest actor in America right now so that was very helpful to me.”
The peculiar thing is that Streep’s in only half of the comedy, which is adapted from two books. One is Child’s autobiography, co-written with Alex Prud’homme, recalling her time in Paris during the 1950s with husband Paul (Stanley Tucci from The Devil Wears Prada). The other portion is Julie Powell’s modern-day memoir and blog Julie & Julia which outlined how Powell (played by Streep’s Doubt co-star Amy Adams) became obsessed with Child when she decided to cook, in 365 days, each of Child’s 524 recipes from her famous book Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
The movie, written by Ephron, interweaves both stories but, as usual, it is Streep who stands out by recalling Child’s distinctively chirpy voice and rambunctious behaviour without lampooning it.
And that’s good news for Streep fans. Despite her new position as a commercial powerhouse, her craft hasn’t suffered.
“I seem to have more choices in the last five years than in the previous five years,” notes Streep while smiling bashfully during a recent interview. “Part of me thinks it has to do with the fact that there are more women executives making decisions because everything starts with what gets made.”
It helped, too, that the obsessive foodie Ephron has a decent track record in the romantic comedy department, with gems such as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, to her credit.
But she didn’t write the script with Streep in mind because she didn’t want to be disappointed if she didn’t get her.
For her part, Streep had more than just the challenge of doing Child on her mind.
“I’m doing an idealized version of Julia,” admits the actress. “But I was also doing a version of my mother who had a similar joie de vivre, an undeniable sense of how to enjoy her life. Every room she walked into she made brighter.”
On the other hand, Streep’s mother didn’t have an interest in cooking – at all. Born and raised in Summit, N. J., Streep had a middle class childhood. Her mother Mary was a liberal and lively commercial artist while father Harry William was a more conservative dad and pharmaceutical executive.
Yet home-cooking didn’t exist in the Streep household.
“I remember when I was ten going to a little girl’s house, and she and her mother were sitting at the table and they were doing something to tennis balls, ” says Streep chuckling at the memory.
“And I said, ‘What are you doing?’” she continues. “And they said, ‘Making mash potatoes.’ I said, ‘What do you mean? Mash potatoes come in a box.’”
Yes, they were peeling potatoes. “And I had never seen a real potato,” she says. “My mother’s motto was, ‘If it’s not done in 20 minutes, it’s not dinner. ‘”
Streep can cook “although I wouldn’t call myself a chef.”
And if she needed support and encouragement, she was surrounded by it on set. Ephron and co-star Tucci are above average in the kitchen.
And the Oscar-honoured actress had a long list of Child things to reference, including her TV show The French Chef.
“Julia’s so vivid and she left behind such an articulate trail of her journey in the book that she wrote with Alex (Prud’Homme) and in her cook books, ” Streep says. “Her voice really comes through.”
So does Streep – again – doing what she’s always loved doing. That’s why her recent box office success is unexpected.
“I still feel I am like every other actor,” says Streep matter-of-factly. “I’ve been unemployed more than I’ve worked because of the nature of what I do. So I’ve never gotten used to either working or being out of work.
“It’s a very uncertain life and there are only a few people that would sign up to be married to someone doing that,” she says. “My husband (Don Gummer) is an artist and he understands. So I’m just really glad people aren’t sick of me. ”
She thinks about that for a second. “Even I’m sick of me a little bit,” Streep adds giggling.
But how could that be? You have all those awards and accolades.
“Well, fortunately, the ‘blogosphere’ supplies you with the other side of all the accolades,” she confesses smirking. “Just sign on and get humble.”