The Rarely Heard of Life Story of the Marvelous Meryl Streep

Is there another Hollywood actress who gets more love and respect from fans and critics alike than Meryl Streep? Whether or not you’ve paused for a moment to think of some other actresses with the same status, you would be hard-pressed to come up with a good argument as to why Streep doesn’t deserve the praise and recognition that she has been receiving for decades now. And the prolific actress doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon.

Meryl Streep collage
Photos by Elisa Leonelli/Shutterstock / David Fisher/Shutterstock / Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

The incredibly talented Meryl Streep’s acting resume is second to none. Starting out in the ‘70s, Streep’s career is like a string of never-ending critically acclaimed films and shows that showcase her ability to perfect any role she is challenged with. But I’m here to say that the seemingly untouchable Meryl is human just like the rest of us. She’s a wife, a mother four, an activist, and an imperfect person with her own quirks and flaws. Not to mention her own tragedies.

This is the life story of Meryl Streep and all the interesting facts that many have yet to find out…

Her Mother Gave Her Confidence

Mary Louise Streep was born on June 22, 1949, in Summit, New Jersey, to Harry Streep, a pharmaceutical company executive, and Mary Streep, a commercial artist. Her father came from a German and Swiss background. Her mother had an English, German, and Irish background. It turns out that Meryl’s eighth great-grandfather, Lawrence Wilkinson, was one of the first Europeans to have settled in Rhode Island.

Meryl Streep with her mother, Mary, and her brother, Dana.

Meryl’s mother, whom she has always compared to Dame Judi Dench in both appearance and manner, always encouraged her and instilled confidence in the young Meryl from the very beginning. Streep once said: “She was a mentor because she said to me, ‘Meryl, you’re capable. You’re so great.’ She was saying, ‘You can do whatever you put your mind to. If you’re lazy, you’re not going to get it done. But if you put your mind to it, you can do anything.’ And I believed her.”

An Old Soul

Streep was raised Presbyterian and grew up in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. She went to Cedar Hill Elementary School and the Oak Street School, then a Junior High school. Meryl has described herself at age seven as already looking like a 40-year-old and acting like one, too! “The kids thought I was one of their teachers.”

Meryl Streep as a teenager.
Source: Seth Poppel / Yearbook Library

Her parents were able to move to Basking Ridge and then Bernardsville, which is a wealthier community in central New Jersey. They taught their kids arts and literature from an early age. Meryl was raised with her two younger brothers, Harry III (who she has always called Third) and Dana. Both of her brothers are also actors. Before Meryl found her acting chops, she had a knack for singing.

Singing as a Child

When Meryl Streep was a young girl, it wasn’t acting that called her…yet. What she did love to do was sing. Meryl got her first applause at age 12 when she sang “O Holy Night” in French at her school’s Christmas concert. She had actually stunned her family and classmates with how amazing she performed. After that night, people urged her parents to get her singing lessons, which Meryl gladly went to.

Meryl Streep and her prom date in high school.
Source: Seth Poppel / Yearbook Library

Meryl wanted to someday become an opera singer. The singing lessons she took were with the internationally renowned coach, Estelle Liebling, who was an admired opera singer in the 60s and 70s. It was her first encounter with a true artist. Once a week for years, Meryl’s parents drove her to Liebling’s Upper East Side residence for her lessons.

She Was a Show-Off

Meryl remembers herself as a brutally honest child. In her words: “I was an ugly little kid with a big mouth, an obnoxious show-off.” She wanted to show off as a singer, and her mother would take her to see popular musicians to get her inspired. “When I was a kid, my mother took me to every single show. I saw the greats: Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Georgia Brown.”

Meryl Streep with her drama buddies.
Source: Seth Poppel / Yearbook Library

In Junior High, she starred as Louise Heller in the play “The Family Upstairs.” By 1963, the family moved to Bernardsville, where she went to Bernards High School. According to Author Karina Longworth, Meryl was a “gawky kid with glasses and frizzy hair.” But despite that, Meryl still liked to show off in front of the camera in her family’s home movies from a young age.

The Singing Came to an End

Meryl said that her love for singing died down as she “was singing something I didn’t feel and understand. That was an important lesson, not to do that. To find the thing that I could feel through.” Eventually, Meryl quit her singing lessons when she became “far more interested in boys and in being a cheerleader,” as she put it.

A young Meryl Streep hanging out with a guy friend.
Source: Seth Poppel / Yearbook Library

As she got older, she continued to pursue music, but things eventually changed. In high school, she was in musicals, but when she got to college, she got diverted into acting. Apparently, she never sang again for years. But much later, she did return to singing. You can hear her in the 2008 film ‘Mamma Mia!’ and the 2018 sequel ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.’

A New Look and a New Role

In high school, Streep recalled only having two friends, and “one was my cousin, so that didn’t count.” At 14, she was suddenly aware of her appearance and wanted to make some changes. So she took off her corrective lenses, refused to wear braces, and dyed her hair blonde. She decided that becoming a high school cheerleader was the role she wanted to be in.

Meryl Streep in her cheerleading uniform on the football field.
Source: Seth Poppel / Yearbook Library

She cheered for the Bernards Mountaineers and was even chosen as the homecoming queen her senior year. During the off-seasons, Meryl still sang (in the chorus) and also worked on the school newspaper and yearbook. Later in life, Meryl recalled how she was “a nice girl, pretty, athletic, and I’d read maybe seven books in four years of high school… But I had a way of imitating people’s speech.”

Gaining Real Attention in University

Although Streep acted in several high school plays, she wasn’t interested in serious theater acting until she got a part in the play, Miss Julie, at Vassar College in 1969. It was that role that gained her attention across the college campus. According to the drama professor Clinton J. Atkinson, “I don’t think anyone ever taught Meryl acting. She really taught herself.”

Meryl Streep with her drama buddies.
Source: Seth Poppel / Yearbook Library

Streep was displaying a unique ability to mimic accents and quickly memorize her lines. She received her B.A. cum laude from Vasser in 1971, before heading on to get a Masters in Fine Arts from the Yale School of Drama. At Yale, she had to hold jobs waitressing and typing to support herself. She was also in over a dozen stage productions each year, bringing her to the point of being overworked and developing ulcers.

She Considered Quitting

She even contemplated quitting acting and switching her studies to law instead (thinking that would be less stressful?) But, Streep continued with her acting as it was clearly her calling. She played a variety of roles on stage, from Helena in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to an 80-year-old lady in a wheelchair in a comedic play.

Meryl Streep in her graduation gown on stage. / Meryl Streeps yearbook photograph.
Source: Seth Poppel, Yearbook Library / Seth Poppel, Yearbook Library

She was one of the choreographer Carmen de Lavallade’s students. Another one of her teachers was Robert Lewis, who was one of the co-founders of the Actors Studio. Acting classes required her to do some strange things, and Streep disapproved of some of the acting exercises. She said that the professors “delved into personal lives in a way I find obnoxious.” She finally received her MFA from Yale in 1975.

It would be only three years until she experienced the heartbreak of her life…

Moving to New York

Streep moved to New York City in 1975, after graduating from Yale, and got her first stage performance as the manager in “Trelawney of the Wells.” Her co-stars also promised young actors, and friends of hers: Mary Beth Hurt and John Lithgow. From then on, the Public Theatre was her second home. She got both parts in the play “27 Wagons Full of Cotton” and “A Memory of Two Mondays.”

Meryl Streep photographed in New York in 1975.
Source: Reddit

The plays were performed one immediately after the other. And during the short intermission, Meryl had to turn into a totally different character. The audience who saw both plays were stunned to realize that they were watching the same actress in such different roles. “27 Wagons” earned Meryl a Tony Award nomination.

She Hated Her First Film Role

It didn’t take long for filmmakers to catch sight of Streep and want her in their films. Streep flew to London to appear in a supporting role in the 1977 film, ‘Julia,’ playing opposite Jane Fonda. Streep had a small role during a flashback sequence, and in the end, most of her scenes were edited out. But even her brief moment on screen horrified her.

Meryl Streep and Jane Fonda in Julia in 1977.
Source: IMDB

“When I saw myself on screen for the first time, I was horrified. I had a bad wig, and they took the words from a scene I shot with Jane and put them in my mouth in a different scene. I thought I’d made a terrible mistake, no more movies. I hate this business.” Regardless, Streep credits Fonda with having a lasting influence on her as an actress, saying she opened more doors for her than she even knows.

De Niro Wanted Her as His On-Screen Girlfriend

Her second film became one of the most-talked-about films of the ’70s and remains a classic today. Meryl was cast as Linda in 1978’s ‘The Deer Hunter,’ in which she was surrounded by America’s most promising actors (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage). She can thank Robert De Niro for getting the part.

Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro cuddling up in the movie Deer Hunter.
Photo by Snap / Shutterstock

Robert De Niro spotted Streep in her stage production of “The Cherry Orchard” and suggested that she play the role of his girlfriend in the film. Of the cast members was Meryl’s fiancé, John Cazale, who shared the stage with her in “Measure for Measure.” But Cazale had been diagnosed with lung cancer before the filming of the Deer Hunter. Streep took on the role of a “vague, stock girlfriend” to stay with Cazale for the rest of the filming.

Meeting the Love of Her Life

Before Streep’s long and loving marriage to Don Gummer, Meryl was engaged to a fellow actor, John Cazale. They had a high-profile romance before it ended in tragedy. In 1976, Streep met Cazale when they were both casts in “Measure for Measure” in Central Park. It didn’t take long for the two to hit it off and fall in love. They were both smitten with each other.

John Cazale, in the movie The Deer Hunter.
Photo by Moviestore Collection / Shutterstock

Within one year of meeting Cazale, the young and talented actor was diagnosed with lung cancer. By then, they were filming The Deer Hunter, and Streep got to spend as much time with him as possible. After the filming wrapped up, Streep flew to Germany and Austria to film a series called ‘Holocaust,’ while Cazale stayed in New York.

Losing the Love of Her Life

Upon her return to New York, Streep found that John’s illness had progressed, and she basically nursed him until his death on March 12, 1978. While The Deer Hunter was being hailed by critics and moviegoers, earning Meryl Streep a nomination for the Golden Globe, the British Academy Award and the Oscar as Best Supporting Actress (which she lost to Maggie Smith), the young actress was busy grieving the loss of her fiancé.

Meryl Streep and John Cazale in 1977.
Photo by Globe Photos / Mediapunch / Shutterstock

In an interview with NPR later on in her life, she spoke of how hard it was for her to handle his death. “It’s a part of my body,” she confessed. “It was very hard. But yes, it did align things for me in my head and in my heart about what’s important and what doesn’t matter a damn.” Losing the love of her life became a turning point in her own life and career. She was 29.

Working With Woody

Hoping to distract herself from the grief of Cazale’s death, Streep spend the next year taking on roles in different projects. She took a role in ‘The Seduction of Joe Tynan,’ she played Katherine in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ for Shakespeare in the Park, and played a supporting role in Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan.’ For those who loved Manhatten, here’s a fun fact…

Meryl Streep and Woody Allen in the film Manhattan in 1979.
Photo by Brian Hamill / United Artists / Rollins-Joffe / Kobal / Shutterstock

Streep later said how Woody Allen didn’t give her a complete script, having given her only the six pages of script that had her own scenes. He didn’t let her improvise a word of her dialogue. I didn’t realize that Woody Allen was so strict in his directing! Anyway, Meryl was about to get the gig of her lifetime…

The Role of Her (Early) Career

Meryl drew attention to director Robert Benton and producer Stanley Jaffe, who were looking for the actress to play opposite Dustin Hoffman in 1979’s ‘Kramer vs. Kramer.’ Streep was cast as Joanna, an unhappily married woman who abandons her husband and child. Streep personally thought that the script made the female character “too evil” and insisted that it wasn’t realistic.

Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, and Justin Henry in a scene from Kramer vs. Kramer.
Photo by Columbia / Kobal / Shutterstock

She felt that it wasn’t a representative of real women who had to deal with a marriage breakdown and child custody battles. The filmmakers actually agreed with her, and the script was changed. To prepare for her role, Streep spoke to her own mother to gain some insights on raising children while also having a career. She would also spend time watching interactions between parents and their children.

Becoming an A-Lister So Soon

Director Robert Benton allowed Meryl to write her own dialogue in two important scenes, including the courtroom scene, despite objection from Dustin Hoffman, who apparently “hated her guts” at first. Hoffman said of Streep: “She’s extraordinarily hard-working, to the extent that she’s obsessive. I think that she thinks about nothing else, but what she’s doing.”

Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Stanley Jaffe, and Oscar Retro holding their Oscars in 1979.
Photo by Snap / Shutterstock

Streep won both the Golden Globe Award and the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, which she famously accidentally left in the washroom after giving her speech! Both The Deer Hunter and Kramer vs. Kramer were huge commercial successes and even consecutive winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture. Streep was fresh to the Hollywood game, and she was already one of the A-Listers.

When Meryl Met Don

According to her biography, “Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep” by Michael Schulman, when the 29-year-old Streep was mourning the loss of John Cazale, Streep was kicked out of their shared apartment. Her brother Harry arrived at the apartment to help her out, and with him, he brought his friend Don. Six months later, Streep and Gummer got married in the garden of her parents’ home in September 1978.

Meryl Streep and Don Gummer at the Academy Award Oscar Ceremony in 1983.
Photo by Elisa Leonelli / Shutterstock

Yes, that sounds pretty fast, but true love has a way of taking its course at its own speed. The two clearly hit it off, and contrary to most quick marriages in Hollywood, the two are still happily married. Gummer, a sculptor from Louisville, Kentucky, went to Yale, too, and earned a BFA and MFA.

Check out the * longest marriages in Hollywood * here NOTE

A Long and Happy Marriage

Meryl and Don have four children: Henry Wolfe, Mamie, Grace, and Louisa — all of whom have followed in their parents’ creative footsteps. Henry is a musician, Mamie and Grace are actresses, and Louisa is a model. Gummer has always been supportive of Streep’s intense career.

Meryl Streep the day she received an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 with Henry, Mamie, Grace, Louisa, and Don.
Photo by Jim Smeal / BEI / Shutterstock

He was at her side at many of her celebrated events, including the 51st Academy Awards in 1979; the premiere of Kramer vs. Kramer that same year; the 55th Academy Awards in 1983; the 61st Academy Awards in 1989; The Bridges of Madison County premiere in 1995; The Hours premiere in 2002; the 79th Academy Awards in 2007; the Mamma Mia! premiere in 2008; and the 90th Academy Awards in 2018… to name a few.

Meryl Streep Calls Herself a “Tiger Mom”

While all of their kids are grown up, Streep worked consistently throughout their childhood. So how did two successful artists manage to raise four healthy and successful children? Because that is by no means a given. “Teamwork is everything,” Streep said in an interview with Lufthansa Magazine. “My husband was and still is very involved.”

Meryl Streep at the Series of Unfortunate Events screening with Henry and Louise Gummer.
Photo by C Contino / BEI / Shutterstock

She went on to say that “He is a little more relaxed when it comes to raising kids. I’m more of a tiger mom.” What exactly does she mean? Well, consider this example regarding the time her son wanted to learn piano, but lost interest because of his bad instructor. “I thought he should continue to take lessons, but my husband thought it was my dream that I was trying to impose on him… Today, my son is 37, and he is a musician. Tiger-mom Meryl was right!”

Her Unforgettable Role and Scene

Streep’s role in 1982’s ‘Sophie’s Choice’ won her the Academy Award, and anyone who’s seen the movie knows why. In addition, anyone who has ever seen it remembers the famous scene: the frightened Polish mother standing in line for the concentration camps, holding her young daughter as her young son huddles next to her. The Nazi then demands that Sophie choose which of her children can survive.

Meryl Streep with Jennifer Lawn Lejeune and Adrian Kalitka in Sophie's Choice.
Photo by ITV / Shutterstock

Anybody, especially a mother, found this scene almost unbearable to watch. But if we can try and distract ourselves from the horror of such a moment (that actually did happen in the concentration camps), that little girl ripped from Streep’s arms was a child actress named Jennifer Lawn Lejeune. Lejeune was just 4 years old, and this was her first acting gig.

They Weren’t Acting

As it turns out, that day of filming was practically as disturbing for her as it was for the characters in the film. In a roundtable discussion for Sophie’s Choice Blu-ray release, Streep said that she didn’t “act” when the Nazi ripped Lejeune from her arms. “It was just what happened in the moment.” And from watching Lejeune’s heartbreaking reaction, it was clear that she wasn’t acting either.

Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawn Lejeune being spoken to by a Nazi officer.
Source: IMDB

Lejeune is now 42, married, and working in finance in Paris, but her memory of that day differs from Streep’s, who remembers filming it only once. “Everybody was shocked because they thought they had only one take to make this happen,” Lejeune recalled. “They expected the first time, and that’s it. And they were able to do it 13 times.”

If you want to know more about this harrowing scene, we’ll get to it soon…

The Devil Wears Prada Was a Turning Point

Meryl Streep has a long list of incredible and diverse roles throughout her career. But in 2006, Streep experienced something she’d never had before when portraying the cold and iconic role of Miranda Priestly. She revealed to NPR: “When I made The Devil Wears Prada, it was the first time in my life that a man came up and said, ‘I know how you felt. I have a job like that.'”

Meryl Streep dressed to impress in The Devil Wears Prada.
Photo by Barry Wetcher / 20th Century Fox / Kobal / Shutterstock

Up to that point, she never had any man tell her that he identified with one of her characters. In ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ she finally got “to play someone tough, who had to make hard decisions, who was running an organization, where a certain type of man was able to empathize and feel the story through her.”

Mixed Feelings on Julia Child

By the time Streep played Julia Child in the 2009 film ‘Julie & Julia,’ the groundbreaking chef had already passed away. But Streep personally saw Child decades before when she participated in organic food activism and had reached out to get Child’s help… only to get the cold shoulder from her. “She was very resistant, and she brushed us off quite brusquely,” Streep recalled.

Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci in Julie & Julia in 2009.
Photo by Columbia / Scott Rudin Prods / Kobal / Shutterstock

Child sent word back to them, saying that she didn’t have anything to say on the subject. Despite the snub from Child, Streep had a profound respect for her as she grew up watching on Child on TV and admired her for her pioneering spirit and lust for life. Child’s “joie de vivre” inspired the young Streep.

Meryl Streep’s Beef With Dustin Hoffman

According to Meryl Streep, Hoffman’s conduct when they were filming ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ was disrespectful and, at times, downright abusive. “This was my first major movie, and it was my first take in my first movie, and he just slapped me,” she revealed to The New York Times. “And you see it in the movie. It was overstepping.”

Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep in Kramer vs. Kramer in 1979.
Photo by Snap / Shutterstock

On her first day on set, Streep shot a physical scene with Hoffman. It was during that first take that he slapped her. Talk about a slap in the face! But Meryl is hopeful because, in today’s society, women aren’t taking a backseat anymore. “I think those things are being corrected at this moment. And they’re not politically corrected; they’re being fixed… because people won’t accept it anymore. So that’s a good thing.”

Inspired by De Niro

It was Robert De Niro’s performance in 1976’s ‘Taxi Driver’ that inspired Streep to audition for more movie roles. She had auditioned once for Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong, who asked his son (who saw Streep in a play and brought her in), why he “brought such an ugly thing” to audition. Ouch!

Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, driving a taxi.
Photo by Columbia / Kobal / Shutterstock

Meryl responded, in Italian, that she was sorry that she wasn’t beautiful enough for the role in his movie, which she now laughs about openly. Despite such setbacks, work continued to come consistently for Streep. But after seeing De Niro in his movies, like Taxi Driver, she said to herself, “That’s the kind of actor I want to be.” So I guess we can thank Bobby for his inspiration as perhaps she wouldn’t have continued acting if it wasn’t for him!

A Dingo Ate Her Baby?

Most people have heard the line, “A dingo ate my baby,” or at least some variation of it, but many don’t know where the phrase came from. Some people will falsely attribute it to “Seinfeld,” “The Simpsons,” or some other comedy. But the truth is that the line comes from the 1988 film ‘A Cry in the Dark,’ in which Streep starred.

Meryl Streep and Sam Neill in A Cry In The Dark in 1988.
Photo by Cannon / Kobal / Shutterstock

The movie tells the true story of an Australian mother who was tried in court and wrongfully convicted of murdering her daughter, who was actually snatched by a dingo during a holiday in the Northern Territory of Australia. The line in the film was actually “The dingo’s got, my baby.” Neither Streep nor the woman her character was based on used the wording of the often-misquoted line.

Her Most Difficult Role

You might think that the heavily emotional and serious roles would be the most difficult to play, but the most difficult role in Streep’s career was actually in a comedy. Well, I guess you could call it a dark comedy. ‘Death Becomes Her,’ a cult favorite, was Streep’s toughest role, as she said once in an interview.

Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, and Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her.
Photo by Moviestore Collection / Shutterstock

The seven-month shooting schedule was one of the longest of her career, and it was because of her allergies to cosmetics that special prosthetics had to be made to make her appear older. In order to play the character, Meryl said she would get into the mindset by “thinking about being slightly ticked off all of the time.” The film banked $15.1 million in its first five days. It was a success. And so was she.

Following in Mom’s Footsteps

Two of Meryl Streep’s daughters, Mamie and Grace, have gone into acting. You’ll find that many actors and actresses aren’t gung-ho about their own kids going into the same profession, and it’s because they knew first-hand just how difficult it is. And if anyone knows the industry, it’s Meryl Streep. “I am proud that my daughters want to do this,” she told The Talks. And here comes the “but…”

Mamie Gummer, and Amber Heard in the movie The Ward in 2010.
Photo by Moviestore / Shutterstock

“But I am also frightened for them, too. Because when criticism comes your way as an actor, they are not criticizing your writing or your painting or your piece; they are criticizing you!” but she would never tell her daughters not to do something they’re passionate about. She had to trust that they will land on their feet.

Meryl Streep Embraces Aging

Meryl Streep has been in Hollywood for decades, so she knows of the pressure put on actors to be as thin and sexy as possible. Streep has personally stayed away from plastic surgery and other drastic measures to stay young-looking, but she has seen many of her friends cave to the pressures and expectations.

Meryl Streep in The Laundromat premiere in 2019.
Photo by Mirco Toniolo / Errebi / AGF / Shutterstock

“It’s not just women,” she shared with Good Housekeeping. “You’d be amazed at how many men in this industry have gone down that road. I just don’t get it. You have to embrace getting older. Life is precious, and when you’ve lost a lot of people, you realize each day is a gift.” Streep has actually found an advantage to aging naturally. “The good thing about getting older is that when they actually do cast you, it’s often something interesting.”

Meryl’s Role in Big Little Lies

Haven’t seen Big Little Lies yet? Watch it. If you have, then you know just how great Streep was in her role. The already star-studded cast of the show was excited when Meryl Streep agreed to sign on for season two. She took the role of Mary Louise Wright, the mother-in-law to Nicole Kidman’s character, Celeste.

Meryl Streep in Big Little Lies with Shailene Woodley.
Photo by HBO / Kobal / Shutterstock

The writer of the show, Liane Moriarty, wrote the character with Streep in mind – Mary Louise is actually Streep’s legal name. But Moriarty didn’t even need to deploy the clever tactic, because Streep was on board from the get-go. According to Streep, “It was the greatest thing on television, it really was. There isn’t a woman in this room who wouldn’t sign up.” What a compliment!

A Generous Woman

In 2011, Streep starred as the late English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, for which she won an Oscar for best actress. But instead of taking her paycheck to the bank, she decided to do something special with it. She made a million dollars, but she gave it away. She donated her earnings to the National Women’s History Museum.

Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady.
Photo by Film 4 / Pathe / Kobal / Shutterstock

Streep’s motivation for becoming so involved with the project was her desire to give the often-overlooked stories of American women the attention that they deserve. “There are a million stories in history that we don’t know about,” she claimed. “We know the name of our first traitor, Benedict Arnold, but we don’t know the first woman who took a bullet for her country.” That’s true!

She Has the Most Nominations

Have you ever noticed that in award season, Meryl Streep is almost always a contender? Streep has been nominated for an Academy Award more than any other actor, both living and deceased, according to Variety. In 2018, she broke her own record when she got nominated for the 21st time for best actress in her role as journalist Katherine Graham in The Post.

Meryl Streep hugging a large Oscar statue with one of her Oscar’s sitting next to it.
Photo by Jim Smeal / BEI / Shutterstock

She also has numerous Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, BAFTA Awards, SAG Awards, and more. As of November 2019, Streep has 356 nominations and 176 wins. If that isn’t impressive, I don’t know what is! As for Oscar wins, she has three trophies: Kramer vs. Kramer in 1979, Sophie’s Choice in 1982, and The Iron Lady in 2011.

Her Screams Were Real

Remember how I said that they had to do that awful scene in Sophie’s Choice 13 times? That means 13 takes of being ripped out of the little girl’s “mother’s” arms and then carried off to who knows where. Those screams you heard were real. “I totally thought it was the end of the world,” says Lejeune.

Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawn Leleune looking scared in Sophie’s Choice.
Source: IMDB

Talk about heartbreaking. “People tried to explain it to me, but I had such a bond with Meryl, so I think I got into the whole emotional part of it. Just as she was getting more emotional and scared, so was I.” But filmmaking can be like that. Real emotions are important if you’re to make the film feel real. And that first take was everything director Alan Pakula, and cinematographer Néstor Almendros could have asked for.

As Frightening As it Was, She Wasn’t Damaged By It

“The guy who was playing the German was always hidden from sight from me until the actual film was rolling, and as I soon as I saw him, I was terrified of him,” Lejeune said. Apparently, the man also had a huge scar on his face, which only made him even scarier to the four-year-old. Fortunately, though, the experience wasn’t traumatic or damaging for Lejeune, and she can even laugh about it today.

Meryl Streep and Peter MacNicol embracing with a sad look.
Photo by ITV / Shutterstock

When she was being cast for the film, she and Streep hit it off, and they spent a month together in the former Yugoslavia making the film. Lejeune was there to bond with Streep in order for the final scene to feel authentic. “I apparently told my real mother that Meryl Streep is a nicer mother than she is. That didn’t go over really well with my real mom.”

Polished Polish

Not only was her role in Sophie’s Choice worthy of an award for the way in which she portrayed her character, but she deserves the Oscar for another reason. In addition to her raw emotion playing a Polish holocaust survivor, Streep was also praised for her authentic-sounding Polish accent. Yes, Meryl has a way of mimicking voices, including foreign accents.

Meryl Streep, Peter MacNicol, and Kevin Kline in Sophie’s Choice.
Photo by ITV / Shutterstock

But in this case, it was more than just mimicking a Polish accent. The talented and intelligent actress actually learned how to speak both Polish and German in preparation for that role. Streep is definitely what we would call a method actor. And while Dustin Hoffman considered her obsessive, it really paid off in her career!

Playing the Fiddle

Although Meryl was never opposed to learning new things, like accents or even languages, as we saw in her role in Sophie’s Choice. But one thing did scare her, and that was learning to play a musical instrument. The idea of having to play the violin for ‘Music of the Heart’ really terrified her. The fear caused her to initially drop out and then rejoined the film.

Meryl Streep playing the violin in Music of the Heart.
Photo by Kerry Hayes / Miramax / Kobal / Shutterstock

She came back in just before director Wes Craven was ready to begin filming. That meant that she had to pick up the instrument quickly. In the two months leading up to filming, Streep practiced for five to six hours a day! This wasn’t even the last instrument Meryl had to learn for a role. She also had to suddenly become a guitar player for 2015’s ‘Ricki and the Flash.’

Meryl Streep Cares About the Climate

In 2009, whether people want to accept it or not, 18 different scientific associations came to the daunting consensus that the earth was warming up and humans were responsible. In 2019, climate activist Greta Thunberg led a strike in 150 countries around the world. But Meryl Streep has been concerned about the climate for decades and has been putting her money where her mouth is.

Meryl Streep at the Democratic National Convention in 2016.
Photo by Broadimage / Shutterstock

“Now that I have these children, I’m just crazed about the world’s making it to the next century,” she stated in a 1988 interview. “So I read all these things about global warming, thermal inversions — you know, no-nonsense.” Streep wants to pass her activism onto the next generation, and the best way to make an impression is to set an example!

A Major Player

As if her acting awards weren’t enough, she’s also been recognized by the former President of the United States, for one. She earned a Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes in 2017. She was also a Kennedy Center Honoree. She has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. And she even earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 from President Barack Obama.

Meryl Streep thanking Barack Obama for the Medal of Freedom next to the podium.
Photo by Patsy Lynch / Shutterstock

Of all the honors in her lifetime, none is more prestigious than Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian award one can receive in the United States. Obama professed that he loves Meryl Streep, and there is nothing her husband, or his wife, can do about it. Don’t you just love his sense of humor and swagger?!

How About Religion?

When Streep was asked if religion plays a part in her life (back in 2009), she replied with: “I follow no doctrine. I don’t belong to a church or a temple or a synagogue or an ashram.” Despite being raised in a religious home, she alluded to her lack of religious belief, saying that while she can understand the solace available in the construct of religion, it’s not for her.

Meryl Streep at The Laundromat premiere.
Photo by PICJER / imageSPACE / Shutterstock

“I really don’t believe in the power of prayer, or things would have been avoided that have happened, that are awful. So, it’s a horrible position as an intelligent, emotional, yearning human being to sit outside of the available comfort there. But I just can’t go there.”