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Meryl Streep on hippos, sex scenes and almost losing her Oscar

A long-standing critic of gender inequalities in Hollywood, Meryl Streep also said why she thinks there were so few good roles for women in the past

Published: May 16, 2024 12:23:54 PM IST
Updated: May 16, 2024 08:08:40 AM IST

Meryl Streep on hippos, sex scenes and almost losing her OscarMeryl Streep shared intimate anecdotes from her career at the Cannes Film Festival Wednesday. Image credit: Photography Valery HACHE / AFP©

Meryl Streep shared intimate anecdotes from her career at the Cannes Film Festival Wednesday, including falling in love when Robert Redford washed her hair and leaving her Oscar in the toilet.

A long-standing critic of gender inequalities in Hollywood, she also said why she thinks there were so few good roles for women in the past...

'Out of Africa'

Streep recalled the famous scene in which co-star Redford washed her hair in a river.

"We had lions. They were imported from California and supposedly tame, but they were not... And we were shooting in the river and there were hippopotamuses right up above it," she said.

Redford took some time to learn how to do the job with passion.

"But he really got into washing my hair," she said. "By take five, I was so in love. It's a sex scene in a way, it's so intimate. I didn't want it to end that day, even in spite of the hippos."

'The Devil Wears Prada'

"The first movie I ever made where a man came up to me afterwards and said, 'I know how you felt' was 'The Devil Wears Prada'," Streep said of her beloved role as a fashion magazine boss.

"That was fascinating to me. No man watches 'The Deer Hunter' and feels like the girl. But I can watch it and identify with Chris Walken's character or De Niro's. We (women) can do that, we speak that language, but it's very hard for them to feel us."

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'Kramer vs. Kramer'

Streep won her first Oscar for the 1979 film about a divorce, which was groundbreaking at the time for showing a man (played by Dustin Hoffman) having to look after a child on his own.

Streep famously rewrote a key scene to explain why her character felt the need to leave her suffocating life as a housewife.

"It was the beginning of the women's movement -- that didn't make everyone happy... There was a lot of vitriol about these women stepping out of the role that was prescribed, leaving this poor man to raise the child," Streep recalled.

Streep, Hoffman and director Robert Benton all decided to write a speech for her character that would explain her reasons for leaving.

"And then we voted, and I won!" said Streep, to cheers from the Cannes crowd.

 Misplaced Oscar

Streep admitted she almost lost that Oscar, however, leaving it in a toilet cubicle at the ceremony.

"Yes, I did leave it in the restroom. It was a very big dress. And I had to lift it up, and put the thing down, and then forgot that it was underneath there. But someone found it!"

'The Deer Hunter'

Streep said she was unaware of how important the Vietnam War drama would become when they were filming.

"I didn't think about that. My job was on the human side, in the family side. The limited view of a small-town girl," she said.

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"I'm a small-town girl from New Jersey. My boyfriend went to Vietnam as a medic and came back a heroin addict... so I was familiar with the effect, the emotional, personal, microcosmic effect of this story."

Women in film

Streep said there had been huge progress: "The biggest stars in the world are women right now."

She pointed out that her early roles were often so memorable "because she was the only woman in the film".

The reason for that lay with the male-dominated studios.

"Even movie executives have dreams. They're living their fantasy and so it was very hard -- before there were women in green-light positions at studios -- for men to see themselves in women protagonists," she said. "They just didn't get it."

Streep chose to focus on her family — she has four children — rather than the business side, and says she is "in awe" of women like Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman who have set up their own production companies.

"I had my own production company — of babies — and I didn't want to get calls after seven o'clock at night."