1. At this point in her career, Meryl Streep has won three Oscars, tying her with Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis. However, Streep trails Katherine Hepburn, who has four. Apparently, Hepburn hated Meryl Streep, calling Streep her “least favorite modern actress.” Ms. Hepburn is quoted as referring to Streep’s acting skills as “click, click, click,” meaning that you can always see the wheels turning in her head. However, the Academy didn’t agree. Streep’s first Oscar came in 1979 for a Supporting role in Kramer vs. Kramer, as Dustin Hoffman’s ex-wife. She accidentally left it on the back of a toilet seat during the ceremony. She’d get another in 1982, when she won again for Sophie’s Choice.
2. Despite Katherine Hepburn disapproving of her, another all-time great was firmly in Meryl’s corner. Before her death, Bette Davis personally wrote Meryl Streep a letter congratulating the actress on her talent and formidable body of work. Bette Davis deemed Streep a “worthy successor” to the legacy she left behind, as Davis was then considered the greatest living film actress. Bette Davis amassed a whopping 10 nominations and two wins in her lifetime, a record later surpassed by Hepburn — and then by Meryl Streep. Streep currently has 17.
3. Of all of the parts she’s auditioned for, Streep has only been turned down 4 times. Those films include American Gigolo; The Remains of the Day, which went to Emma Thompson instead; Sweet Dreams, where she would have played Patsy Cline; and Elizabeth, which was Cate Blanchett’s star-making role. Streep had to drop out of Thelma and Louise (then with Goldie Hawn) because of pregnancy; she almost starred in Minority Report and in Alien (as Ripley), but Sigourney Weaver stepped into the role instead. Weaver and Streep attended Drama School together at Yale, where they co-starred in a played called “The Frogs.” The entire show took place in a swimming pool. Sigourney was constantly pitted against Streep by teachers, told she would never be the actress Meryl was. I bet landing Alien was some nice redemption for her.
4. After receiving her Bachelor’s from Vassar, Streep got her Master’s from Yale before taking on Hollywood, but the institution gave her an honorary doctorate anyway. In total, Streep has honorary doctorates from three different schools, the other two being Princeton and Harvard. Less prestigiously, Streep got into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in ‘08, the state she grew up in. Born Mary Louise Streep, the actress was a cheerleader in high school and the Homecoming Queen.
5. Instead of going to Yale for Drama, Streep originally planned on going to Law School. However, the morning of her interview, the future screen idol accidentally slept past her alarm clock. Meryl took it as a sign that her life was headed in a different direction. Good call.
6. According to Streep, she almost turned down the role of Margaret Thatcher, which earned her a third Oscar. This was due to her personal dislike of the former Prime Minster. Streep told London’s The Daily Mirror, “I was not thrilled with her policies or her politics because my friends and I were all playing for the other team.” But director Phyllida Lloyd (who Streep worked with on Mamma Mia!) appealed to Streep, saying that she was perfect for the part, because they were both outsiders. Lloyd argued that Streep is an outsider in the world of conservative politics and Thatcher “was an outsider in her world and her party.”
7. Streep’s first film appearance was in Julia, where she co-starred with Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Fonda. This was shortly followed by Best Picture winner The Deer Hunter, a role that Streep initially didn’t want. Streep appeared with Christopher Walken, Robert DeNiro and the legendary John Cazale, her then partner. (There’s a rumor they were engaged, but Streep denies it.) Cazale only appeared in five films, all of them masterpieces: The Deer Hunter, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and The Godfather Parts I and II, where he played Fredo. He died of bone cancer after filming The Deer Hunter, his last masterpiece.
8. Streep got the part in The Deer Hunter when DeNiro saw her in Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard at the Lincoln Center, where she appeared with Mary Beth Hurt and Raul Julia (aka Gomez in The Addams Family). Then a stage actor, DeNiro loved her performance and still cites Streep as his favorite actress. In addition to The Deer Hunter, the two almost worked together on Martin Scorsese’s The Gangs of New York, which was originally conceived in the 1980s. However, it took Scorsese decades to secure funding, and by the time the project was ready, both actors were too old. They would instead be replaced by Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio, the latter of whom Streep worked with in Marvin’s Room.
9. Streep didn’t get an opportunity to work with Scorsese again, and she once claimed she doubts she’ll ever get the chance, as Scorsese rarely has women in his films. Streep said, “I would like Martin Scorsese to be interested in a female character once in a while, but I don’t know if I’ll live that long.” She also claims that she would love to reunited with Spike Jonze (who directed her in Adaptation) and Wes Anderson. She particularly loved Anderson, but only got to play an animated fox in his movie. “I would love to work with him as a human sometime,” she joked.
10. There’s a great rumor about an ongoing feud between Madonna and Meryl Streep, which Streep denies. Streep considered going out for the role of Eva Peron in the Evita! movie musical and allegedly really, really didn’t want Madonna in it. She is rumored to have said: “I can sing better than she can. If Madonna gets it, I’ll rip her throat out!” Streep later replaced Madonna for the filming of Wes Craven’s Music of the Heart (who dropped out because of “creative difference” with the director). This was yet another Oscar nomination for Streep, who learned violin for the part. Still none for Madonna.
11. However, all of that is probably just gossip, as Streep is known for her consummate professionalism and support of other thespians. When Cher won Best Actress for Moonstruck (over Meryl), Streep was seen on camera standing up and blowing a kiss to cheer on Cher. The two had bonded while working together on Silkwood (directed by frequent Streep collaborator and distant relative Mike Nichols) and she knew how much the award meant to Cher. The singer/actress felt she had been snubbed for Mask, and Cher’s famous 1986 Bob Mackie dress was seen as a middle finger to the Academy for ignoring her work.
12. Meryl Streep isn’t above being a fangirl. Streep was so impressed with the New York production of Mamma Mia! that she wrote a letter to the cast to sing their praises. The note was quickly passed onto the producers and stage director Phyllida Lloyd, who later helmed the film version. That moment gave Lloyd the “courage” to tap Streep for the part, as the actress usually goes for weighter roles. However, Streep studied opera as a child, skills which she used on Postcards from the Edge and A Prairie Home Companion, so her vocal skills made her a perfect fit.
13. Streep is known for her ability to command accents; she’s nailed everything from Australian, British, Danish and Italian to New York Bronx. To play the title role in Sophie’s Choice, Streep reportedly “threw herself on the ground and begged for the part,” because William Styron (who wrote the novel) wanted Ursula Andress instead. Streep not only mastered German and Polish accents, but also actually learned Polish for the shoot. She was so convincing as Sophie that when she shot on location, locals thought she was actually Polish. When Roger Ebert saw the movie, he said that it was “the first accent [he’s] ever wanted to hug.”
Fun bonus: Early in her career, when Streep tried out for the King Kong remake, producer Dino DeLaurentis told his son, in Italian, that Streep was too ugly for the part. He called her “a pig.” Streep shocked the shit out of DeLaurentis when she replied back in fluent Italian.
14. Known for her work ethic and dedication to her roles, Kramer vs. Kramer director Robert Benton let Streep write her own dialogue in two of the film’s most pivotal scenes, thinking that she could do a better job than the script. Streep complained that her character was written as “too evil,” a sexist representation that wasn’t indicative of the lives of most divorcees. Calling Streep “obsessive,” Dustin Hoffman apparently didn’t like the change very much. He later said, “”She’s extraordinarily hardworking…I think that she thinks about nothing else but what she’s doing.” Streep got so into her role for Sophie’s Choice that she couldn’t film the movie’s most famous moment more than once, claiming that it was too “emotionally exhausting.”
15. After working on Kramer vs. Kramer, Streep landed a small (and similar) role in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, the director’s follow-up to his Best-Picture-winning Annie Hall. Streep played Woody’s disapproving lesbian ex-wife, a bitter counterpoint to his much younger mistress (Mariel Hemingway, in an Oscar-nominated role). Meryl later claimed that she never saw the whole script for the film, only given the six pages that contained her own scenes. Woody Allen was apparently insistent that Streep read the lines the exact way they were written on the page, and the actress wasn’t allowed to ad lib a single word of her dialogue. Although Allen would make a number of films with co-star Diane Keaton (who Streep worked with on Marvin’s Room), Woody and Meryl never worked together again.
16. Despite mostly appearing in comedies in college, Streep made her first comedic film appearance in She-Devil; she was lauded by critics as the “one reason” see the film. Said Time’s Richard Corliss, “Surprise! Inside the Greer Garson roles Streep usually plays, a vixenish Carole Lombard is screaming to be cut loose.” Critics credit the shift to comedies as for the dip in Streep’s popularity during the 90s. During that time, the actress consistently chose fluffier roles, like Death Becomes Her, to “lighten up her image.” However, Streep feels that the pressures of being a working mother and keeping together a family put a strain on her career, as she only chose movies that let her stay close to home.
17. Despite receiving fewer Oscar nominations than usual in the 90s (where she was “only” nominated for four), she received 8 Golden Globe noms; she’s now up to a whopping 27 in her career, leading all other actors. She has taken home 8 Globes in total and has been double nominated three times. She has also won two Emmys and has been nominated for a Tony and five Grammys. You would think her Grammy nods might be for her soundtrack work, but only one is — for Mamma Mia! The others are all for spoken word and audio books, where she’s been nominated four times in the category of “Best Album for Children.” Her most recent nomination was in 2008 for “The One and Only Shrek.”
18. Streep’s Tony nomination came from a double bill of Tennessee Williams’ “27 Wagons Full of Cotton” and Arthur Miller’s “A Memory of Two Mondays,” the former of which Streep starred in. Williams was so taken with her performance that he wanted to do another screen version of A Streetcar Named Desire in the 1980s — with Streep in the lead role of Blanche. Streep couldn’t take the role due to scheduling conflicts, and Williams reimagined it as a TV production instead. The part went to Ann-Margaret.
19. With all of her awards and honors, perhaps the cutest comes from Sesame Street. The show named a character after her, the muttonous Meryl Sheep. Streep also got a song in the stage version of Fame, which is titled “Think of Meryl Streep.” Many other performers and actors are named dropped throughout the production, but she’s the only one to get mentioned in a song title.
20. Of all the parts she didn’t get, Streep most regrets Sweet Dreams, which went to Jessica Lange — who she claims to have loved in the part and “envied.” When Streep won the female role in The Bridges of Madison County (a surprise critical success, as the book was poorly received), Sophia Loren was once quoted as hating Streep for stealing the part away from her; Loren was also up for it. However, Streep denies any bad blood between the two, as Streep saw the actress on a red carpet and 2011 and Loren instantly embraced her.
21. Meryl Streep is often mixed up with Glenn Close, a longtime friend of hers. The two became famous around the same time, becoming Oscar mainstays in the 1980s — despite the fact that Glenn Close (like Sigourney Weaver) has yet to win. When Streep was pregnant with Baby #4 in 1991, she was shopping at a Los Angeles store when the staff — believing her to be Glenn Close — showered her with presents. As she was exiting, one of them whispered, “We loved you in Fatal Attraction,” a film that was then a wildly popular cultural phenomenon. Although Streep was known as a critical darling, she was rarely in box office smashes. Believe it or not, her highest grossing movie is Mamma Mia!
Bonus: For Devil Wears Prada fans, I’ll leave you with this last one: After playing Miranda Priestly, Streep kept the iconic sunglasses she wore on set. The Anna Wintour-esque shades make a re-appearance in Mamma Mia!, during the “Money, Money, Money” number.