Actors often about how daunting it is to play a historical figure. The responsibility! The pressure! Not Meryl Streep. To play Julia Child in Julie & Julia — a comedy in which modern-day New Yorker Julie Powell (Amy Adams) imagines Child’s rise to gastronomic fame in 1950s France — Streep, 60, dove right in, finding creative liberty in Child’s exuberance and eccentricities. ”Sometimes the idiosyncratic people are the freest,” Streep says. ”They’ve decided who they are, and the hell with it! I felt some license to do whatever I wanted.”
On a recent July morning, Streep chatted about cooking up her latest performance.
EW: Julia Child had such a joyous personality that a friend of hers once compared her to a Christmas tree. How did it feel to play someone so in love with life?
Streep:Well, for me, it was a way of paying homage to my mother, who was born with a joie de vivre. I honestly was thinking about Mary Streep, not Julia Child, most of the time. I envied my mother that great quality of having a good time in any room she entered. I’m much more of a down-head. [Laughs, droops her head dramatically]
EW: Did you watch Julia Child’s TV show growing up?
Streep: Oh, yeah. It really did transform the food experience in America. I recently found a 1967 Woman’s Day magazine, and what women were putting on the table then was appalling. Ground beef with canned peas and then a layer of instant mashed potatoes, and you bake that with tomato sauce on top. That’s a dinner. And tuna casserole! We had it every week. Julia came to that with her no-nonsense sense of fun. It made these women go, ”Hmm! This could be fun and make everybody happy.”
EW: Your director, Nora Ephron, is an avowed foodie. Did she encourage everyone to eat on set?
Streep: Yeah, she brought in all these wonderful things from Susan Spungen, our resident chef. The crew was very happy — the happiest crew I’ve ever seen! And the most miserable actresses, because you know, we still have to be photographed. So thanks, Nora. [Laughs]
EW: Your costar Stanley Tucci said the two of you cooked a blanquette de veau together before shooting.
Streep: That’s a very nice way of putting it. I invited Stanley over and then he took over! He would say, ”Here, let me do that for you. Go have a drink.” He’s so bossy. [Laughs] And he’s a sensualist — he really understands taste and texture. He [worked on] a cookbook with his mother, Cucina & Famiglia. It’s fabulous.
EW: In the movie, Julie Powell looks to Julia Child as a mentor. Amy Adams said she felt similarly about you. Is it flattering to have actresses look up to you?
Streep Very, but it’s sort of inexplicable because I feel like I was in the right place at the right time, often. Part of why actresses look at my work is because of the longevity. Traditionally women are done at 40. I thought I was done at 40. And somehow, it’s gone on.
Meryl’s Favorite Food Movies
Talk about good taste! The actress thinks these hit the spot.
Like Water for Chocolate