Inarguably the Queen of the Screen, Meryl Streep celebrates her 74th birthday today. What a journey it has been for the New Jersey actor who first became interested in her craft while at Vassar College when she acted in the play ‘Miss Julie’.
Once bitten by the acting bug, Streep did an MFA at the Yale School of Drama before proving her chops in the New York theatre scene, performing alongside other legends like Mandy Patinkin and John Lithgow.
Her stage career peaked with a Tony nomination for her performance in a double-bill production of ‘27 Wagons Full of Cotton’ and ‘A Memory of Two Mondays’ by American greats Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, respectively.
On film, she has shone as one of the world’s most versatile actors. She is the most nominated actor in Academy Awards history, with 21 nominations (17 for Best Actress and four for Best Supporting Actress). With three awards, she is also one of the most awarded actors in Oscars history.
Let’s look back at her top five performances:
5. The Iron Lady
Streep’s most recent Oscar win. Her performance as ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd’s 2011 biopic The Iron Lady does what all great character films should do. Despite the morally reprehensible politician at the centre of it, you have to begrudgingly admit that Streep imbues Thatcher with humanity as she moves between her political victories and eventual decline.
While the film may be politically neutral on a divisive British figure, Streep’s incisive character work brings one of history’s most powerful women to vivid life.
4. The Devil Wears Prada
Maybe not seen as up to par with this ostensibly serious list, anyone who disregards 2006’s comedy The Devil Wears Prada as anything other than brilliant cinema hasn’t seriously engaged with it. The smart comedy of Anne Hathaway’s Andy Sachs navigating the unforgiving world of high fashion is undeniable.
At the core of The Devil Wears Prada is, of course, Streep’s devil, Miranda Priestly. While Hathaway is the audience insert, Streep is the commander of the film. Her powerful presence is both awe-inspiring and terrifying. Once you’ve heard the cerulean blue speech, the colour will never look the same.
3. The Deer Hunter
Streep’s first Oscar nomination came for her work came as a supporting actor in Michael Cimino’s 1978 Vietnam war epic The Deer Hunter. Alongside other heavyweights like Robert de Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Cazale; Streep was barely given a role in the original script.
Despite the small role, Streep played Cazale’s girlfriend in his last screen appearance, organically growing the role by writing her own lines. It’s a commanding performance that shows what was to come of her almost unbounded talent.
2. Kramer vs. Kramer
Streep won this time for Best Supporting Actress for her part in 1979 divorce-film Kramer vs. Kramer. It’s the Marriage Story of the 70s, bringing an intelligent and honest portrayal of a couple falling apart and building their lives back up afterwards.
Playing opposite Dustin Hoffman, the method actor famously treated Streep as badly as his character did. While Hoffman may have believed smashing a real glass near Streep’s face was necessary to act brilliantly, his co-star managed to upstage him by just… acting.
1. Sophie’s Choice
It couldn’t be anything else. Streep’s Oscar winning performance as a Polish immigrant hiding an awful secret is the go-to answer for why she’s such an illuminatingly good actor. 1982 drama Sophie’s Choice presents a study of a character ruined by a terrible decision, a role Streep plays with marvellous dexterity.
Of course, the scene of the choice itself is up there with the greatest moments in all acting like Marlon Brando’s “I coulda been a contender” speech from On The Waterfront.