Drama Queen: 19 Facts About Meryl Streep
At this point in her career, Meryl Streep seems to get nominated for an award for every character she portrays. She is one of the most decorated and recognized actresses in Hollywood, and she has been for decades.
Known for completely embodying her characters, Streep continues to find new challenges and consistently wow critics and audiences alike with nearly every acting choice she makes.
And, somehow, she leads a relatively normal life, mostly in Connecticut outside of the Hollywood glamour. Here are 19 facts about Streep’s life and iconic career.
First Things First
Mary Louise Streep was born June 22, 1949, in Summit, New Jersey to Harry William Streep and Mary Wolf Wilkinson. Her father was a pharmaceutical executive, and her mother was an artist and editor. She is the older sister to two younger brothers, Harry William Streep III and Dana David Streep. Interestingly, both her brothers are also actors.
From a young age, her mother encouraged her to work hard, telling Streep she could achieve anything she set her mind to.
Streep’s Early Life
Streep took voice lessons before she started acting. She excelled at it, but said she never felt like she understood the emotion behind what she was singing. As a result, she wanted to more deeply express herself, which she found via acting later in high school. She was a cheerleader in high school and even elected Homecoming Queen her senior year.
She’s a Serious Student
After high school, she studied drama and costume design at Vassar College. After she graduated in 1971, she went to Yale where she studied at the prestigious drama school and earned a Master of Fine Arts in 1975. She helped pay for Yale with work as a waitress and a typist while appearing in lots of the plays. She became overworked, developed ulcers and even considered quitting acting and going into law.
Just before she graduated from Vassar, Streep enrolled as a visiting student at Dartmouth College in 1970. She eventually earned an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from the institution in 1981.
Streep on Style
Streep hesitates to give aspiring actors advice. She believes people should know what kind of actor they want to be and go for that. She also knows there’s a lot more opportunity for actors getting educated right now, but doesn’t believe in overthinking the process.
She’s also a major proponent for keeping balance in your life to sustain your acting career.
Small Beginnings, Big Start
Streep, who at this point was well-known as Meryl onstage (a combination of her first and middle names), began to work as an actress shortly after graduation. She moved to New York and made her first Broadway appearance in 1975 in “Trelawny of the ‘Wells.’” Two years later, in 1977, she booked her first film role, a small part in a flashback sequence in the movie “Julia” starring Jane Fonda.
Her Early Career Focused on the Stage
She found work consistently as an actress, but it wasn’t always easy. After her Broadway debut, she acted in five more plays over the next year. One of the plays she acted in was “Measure for Measure” opposite Sam Waterson and John Cazale (pictured). She began a relationship with Cazale and lived with him until he died of bone cancer in 1978.
The Inspiration of De Niro
Robert De Niro’s performance in 1976’s “Taxi Driver” inspired Streep to audition for more film roles. She (now famously) auditioned for Dino De Laurentiis, who asked why his son (who had seen Streep in a play), had “brought such an ugly thing” to audition.
Meryl responded in Italian, she was sorry she wasn’t beautiful enough for the role in his movie “King Kong,” which she laughs openly about now. Despite her setbacks, work continued to come consistently for Streep. Her first breakout performance on film happened in “The Deer Hunter” in 1978, for which she was first nominated for an Academy Award. She would win the next year for her role in “Kramer vs Kramer.” She was nominated again for her performance for the 1982 movie “Sophie’s Choice.”
The Academy Has Her on Call
Streep has the honor of having more Academy Award nominations than any other actor. She has an astonishing 21 nominations and three wins. If she’s able to win one more, she’ll tie Katharine Hepburn for the most Oscars any actor has won.
She’s a Gracious Loser
Having only snagged the statue three times out of 21 nominations, Meryl Streep has become well-known for being a supportive loser. She goes out of her way to give love and excitement to the winners. So much so, Vanity Fair created an entertaining timeline of her happiness with her losses throughout the years.
A Major Player With Major Awards
As if her acting awards weren’t impressive enough, she’s also been recognized beyond her acting roles. She earned the Cecil B. deMille Award at the Golden Globes in 2017. She was a Kennedy Center Honoree. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And she even earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2014.
She’s So Committed to Her Characters
Despite not wanting to “overthink” her characters, Streep puts a ton of energy into every role. So much so, that when she was working on her breakthrough performance in “Sophie’s Choice” she learned Polish to better understand her character.
Beyond that, she learned how to speak Polish fluently with a German accent so she could embody the role.
She’s a Good Singer
Even though it wasn’t her first passion, Streep continues to use her singing ability in her roles. Her first musical number on film was in the 1992 movie “Death Becomes Her,” where she also showed off comedy chops. And she showed an impressive ability to be both funny and intensely grounded in the self-aware singing of “Florence Foster Jenkins.”
She continued to have even more singing roles in musicals like “Ricky and the Flash,” “Into the Woods,” and “Mamma Mia!”
The Rewards of Career Versatility
Not many creatives, especially onscreen, have taken on such a variety of roles so successfully over many decades. Streep has paved her own way in Hollywood, finding roles in multiple genres, despite the ever-changing nature of the business and its reputation for fickleness.
She’s Changed Hollywood
Aside from her impressive commitment to characters, Streep has taken on roles that have changed expectations for actresses in Hollywood. Even her earliest breakout role in “The Deer Hunter" began a conversation about the effect war has on women, which was something not typically seen on film before that time.
Little choices that we may now take for granted, like being an age-appropriate partner for her love interest like in “Bridges of Madison County,” were considered rare and revolutionary at the time.
Her roles subtly but powerfully change the conversation about how women are (or should be) portrayed in film.
She’s Not Afraid of the Small Screen
Though she’s best known for her film career, Streep has dominated the small screen when she graces it. She won an Emmy for her role in the limited series “Holocaust” in 1978 and was nominated for another Emmy for her role in the 2003 series “Angels in America.” She has also been a voice actor on “King of the Hill” and “The Simpsons.”
She’s even been featured in the web series “Web Therapy” with Lisa Kudrow.
She’s in One of Hollywood’s Longest-Lasting Marriages
After the tragic death of her then-boyfriend, John Cazale, to bone cancer in 1978, Streep wanted a new place to live away from the memories of her relationship. Her brother’s friend, Don Gummer, offered her his place while he was traveling and it didn’t take long before the two were head-over-heels in love. They married in September of 1978.
And while it may seem surprising that they didn’t take long before tying the knot, they’ve been happily together ever since and are one of the few Hollywood couples who have remained by each other’s sides through career highs and lows.
Even Her Kids Are Creative
Streep and Gummer have four children together. Streep said she encouraged her children to pursue any career they wanted, even if they had a propensity for creativity. She didn’t want to impose upon them.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, all of them ended up artists. Her oldest son, Henry Wolfe (39), is a musician. Her daughters Mamie (35) and Grace (33) are actresses. And her youngest daughter, Louisa (28), is a model.
Streep is also the godmother to Carrie Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd.
She’s Active in Her Support of Her Causes
Streep’s also an active philanthropist, giving her time and money to many causes.
She’s the spokesperson for the National Women’s History Museum. In fact, she donated her entire salary from “The Iron Lady” to the museum.
She and her husband also donate and support lots of various grants in the arts and towards women’s empowerment. And she even began an initiative for female writers over 40 attempting to break into the film industry.