Cinema: Streep on August: Osage County

Undated Film Still Handout from August: Osage County. Pictured: Meryl Streep, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson. See PA Feature FILM Streep. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Entertainment Film. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Streep.
Undated Film Still Handout from August: Osage County. Pictured: Meryl Streep, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson. See PA Feature FILM Streep. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Entertainment Film. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Streep.

With her 18th Oscar nomination, Meryl Streep’s hit the record books - but it hasn’t come easy.

The actress tells Shereen Low why playing a bitter cancer-stricken sufferer in August: Osage County was one of her most challenging roles to date.

“Women aren’t sexy when they’re old,” declares Violet Weston during a vitriolic rant in August: Osage County.

But one look at Meryl Streep, the actress who portrays her, and you realise that she, at least, certainly defies that remark.

Oozing elegance in a black blouse and fitted trousers, her blonde hair tidied away from her face and barely any lines or wrinkles on her glowing skin, the Oscar-winning actress looks a decade younger than her 64 years.

The star of films like Julie & Julia, Mamma Mia! and The Hours has made history after receiving her 18th Oscar nomination for her performance in the big screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

She already has three golden statuettes in her possession (Best Supporting Actress for Kramer Vs Kramer in 1979, and Best Actress for Sophie’s Choice in 1983 and The Iron Lady in 2012).

Julia Roberts, who plays Streep’s daughter Barbara in the movie, is also up for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar and Bafta.

“I’m so happy for our film, that Julia and I have been nominated. We’re both so proud of August: Osage County,” says Streep, adding that it’s “thrilling” that the awards buzz will help attract more people to watch the film.

Things could have been very different, though - she turned the part down at first.

“I said no, I really did,” the softly-spoken actress admits. “But they dragged me in, kicking and screaming,” she adds, smiling.

Streep is no stranger to portraying ‘hard’ women - after all, this is the actress who took on the opinion-dividing former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (The Iron Lady), tyrannical magazine editor Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada) and an accusing nun (Doubt) - but she wasn’t sure about sharp-tongued, pill-popping cancer-stricken matriarch Violet.

The story revolves around Violet’s strained relationship with her family, as they reunite following a crisis. Tensions build as previous clashes are rekindled - one scene even sees Roberts strangle Streep as the two women come to blows.

“I said no, because who really wants to sign up to know what it feels like to have mouth cancer, children that hate you, a husband who’d rather kill himself than be in your presence, and chemotherapy, pills, misery and a horrible past?” Streep continues.

Director John Wells understands why his leading lady had her “reasonable doubts”.

“The role is, on a day-to-day basis, a difficult place to be,” he notes. “Violet’s bitter and sarcastic, a holy terror to everyone who comes into her path. Meryl is actually a personable, kind, gentle person, so day after day, she was attacking all these people that she likes.”

Streep was eventually persuaded to sign on though, when she heard who her co-stars would be. The film also features Juliette Lewis (as youngest daughter Karen) and Sam Shepard (husband Beverly) as well as Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch.

“It’s a great part and I thought, ‘Hell, such a cast’. How could I not?” Streep says, adding: “I fell in love when I met Benedict. Everybody does! He’s so dear.”

During filming, it was Streep who brought the cast together, and became the unofficial ‘matriarch’ of the group.

Co-star Lewis reveals: “Meryl wanted us all to live in a house together, but they couldn’t find a house big enough, so we lived in these identical little condos next to each other.

“We’d go to Meryl’s at night and have potluck dinners... We’d just hang out and share stories. It was pretty great.”