Meryl Streep is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished and respected actresses in Hollywood. The New Jersey native established herself as a standout early in her career: In 1979, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her second film role, as Linda in The Deer Hunter. The very next year, she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in the heart-wrenching Kramer vs. Kramer.
As of 2023, Streep’s on-screen versatility and authenticity have earned her a record 21 Academy Award and 32 Golden Globe nominations — accolades that, while appreciated, don’t seem to faze the rather humble actress. “I think that people have a sense — and certainly I share it — that I've been celebrated quite enough,” she’s been quoted as saying. “Let's spread it around."
What sets Streep apart is her unparalleled ability to make her characters feel not merely acted out, but real, with lives that extend beyond their screen time. She has effortlessly transformed into a diverse array of characters, and her performances are informed by a deep sense of empathy — the importance of which the actress has spoken about frequently.
This dedication to her craft, as well as her unwavering commitment to the art of storytelling, has contributed to Streep’s lasting prestige and is a testament to her enduring impact on movies and television.
Meryl Streep, as herself
Born in 1949 as Mary Louise, Meryl Streep grew up in New Jersey, where her talents as a singer were evident from a young age. Despite her interest in singing, Streep didn’t feel a connection to the opera music on which she’d been trained. In high school, she instead took an interest in drama.
It wasn’t until her time at Vassar College, however, that she decided to pursue acting as a career, enrolling in the Yale School of Drama and graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in 1975. After graduation, Streep moved to New York City, where renowned theater producer Joseph Papp noted her talent and cast her in a production of Trelawny of the Wells.
Streep kicked off her illustrious film career with a small role in the 1977 film Julia, starring Jane Fonda. She followed that with a performance as Christopher Walken’s love interest in 1978’s The Deer Hunter, which garnered her first Oscar nomination — and the rest is history.
Despite her status as one of Hollywood’s biggest and most lauded stars, Streep has managed to lead a relatively normal, quiet off-screen life. In 1978, she married sculptor Don Gummer, with whom she has four children. Throughout her career, Streep has also used her platform to advocate for various causes, including LGBTQ+ rights, the environment, and gender equality.
This selection of quotes from Streep herself helps to shed light on her thoughtful nature, her attitude toward her art, and her outlook on life.
I have a belief, I guess, in the power of the aggregate human attempt — the best of ourselves. In love and hope and optimism — you know, the magic things that seem inexplicable.
What makes you different or weird, that's your strength.
Being a celebrity has taught me to hide but being an actor has opened my soul.
Art and music, these ineffables, they're … the consolations of what human beings can create and make, and delight is accessible, you know, should you care to find it.
It’s very exhilarating to step into somebody else’s shoes. It’s very humbling to imagine somebody else’s real life and their pain. It’s my drug.
As long as you have food and shelter over your head, if the necessities are taken care of, what makes us happy on top of that is very simple.
People want what they want. Sometimes you just have to walk in defiance of it and just be yourself.
Don’t give up or give in in the face of patronizing ridicule, amused disdain, or being ignored.
Empathy is the engine that powers all the best in us.
Meryl Streep's characters
Whether she’s playing the powerful, sophisticated Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada or the tortured, resilient Sophie Zawistowski in Sophie's Choice, Streep has an ability to seamlessly slip into the shoes of characters from all walks of life.
Amid the wide variety of characters and genres she has taken on, one thing that remains consistent in all of Streep’s work is her capacity to infuse each character with depth, nuance, and humanity. She appears to wholly inhabit the hearts, minds, and souls of these people. Her talent for embodying everyone from historical figures to complex mothers to domineering bosses has created an untouchable oeuvre.
These quotes from some of Streep’s most famous on-screen personas have been made all the more memorable by her delivery. We dare you not to hear her voice in your head as you read them.
By all means, move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me.As Miranda Priestly in "The Devil Wears Prada," 2006
Just because I needed some kind of creative or emotional outlet other than my child, that didn’t make me unfit to be a mother.As Joanna Kramer in “Kramer vs. Kramer," 1979
The truth does not make it easier to understand, you know.As Zofia "Sophie" Zawistowska in “Sophie's Choice," 1982
Somebody up there has got it in for me. I bet it's my mother.As Donna Sheridan in “Mamma Mia!,” 2008
I'm probably the only American I know in Paris who thinks shopping for food is as much fun as buying a dress.As Julia Child in “Julie & Julia,” 2009
Wrinkled, wrinkled little star … hope they never see the scars.As Madeline Ashton in “Death Becomes Her,” 1992
I realized love won't obey our expectations. Its mystery is pure and absolute.As Francesca Johnson in “The Bridges of Madison County,” 1995
If you take the tough decisions, yes, people will hate you today, but they'll thank you for generations.As Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” 2011
I don't want life to imitate art; I want life to be art.As Suzanne Vale in “Postcards from the Edge,” 1990
Featured image credit: Kurt Krieger/ Corbis Entertainment via Getty Images