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Oscar-friendly Meryl

By Michael Summers

Joey Berlin

Copley News Service


Anytime Meryl Streep comes out with a new movie, it's a pretty good bet she'll be receiving a nod from Oscar. Already the winner of a record-breaking baker's dozen Academy Award nominations, and two golden statues, 55-year-old Streep is magnificent again in "The Manchurian Candidate."

The political thriller is directed by Jonathan Demme and co-stars Denzel Washington, both of whom are fellow Oscar winners. "The Manchurian Candidate" gives Streep a juicy role that displays her awesome gifts as an actress.

In a variation on the character first played by Angela Lansbury in the 1962 original movie, Streep portrays a domineering senator with ambitious secret plans for her war hero son, played by Liev Schreiber. Always offered the classiest parts Hollywood has, Streep is currently tackling roles in three different genres. Next year will bring the romantic comedy "Prime" with Sandra Bullock and "Flora Plum," a drama directed by Jodie Foster. And this December, Streep appears with Jim Carrey in "Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events."

Q: In "The Manchurian Candidate" you play a ruthless political shark. Did anyone serve as a model for your character?
A: Yes, but none that I would identify. But there's this right-wing crazy guy that has a Web site who wrote that Paramount had to edit the film differently because I was doing Hillary Clinton. Katie Couric told me about that. I went home and Googled him and found the guy. He's a really scary guy. First of all, it's not true. My character couldn't be further from Hillary, politically or otherwise. And now every reporter is asking me about this. It's so interesting. It's just like the movie!

Q: Did you feel obliged to check out Angela Lansbury's performance in the 1962 version of "The Manchurian Candidate?"
A: I hadn't seen it, and I decided early on not to see it before we shot because I thought I would copy her. I'm kind of a sponge! I also thought I might do something arbitrarily in reaction to it. Whatever I did would be in the context of that performance, and I wanted to start from whole cloth. Now that I've seen the original, our movie is very different. It's a rewrite, not a remake.

Q: You are probably a good judge of quality in another actor's performance. How would you evaluate your co-star, Denzel Washington?
A: He's absolutely amazing in this movie. There are certain actors who just appear on screen and they already have the stuff. They don't have to make a big character for you or push an idea forward. He has a disheveled dignity in this part that is ineffable. As he disintegrates, his character actually gets stronger and stronger. And that's a sign of a very powerful, powerful talent.

Q: You also are considered a powerful talent. You must have considerable self-confidence as an actress.
A: I don't! And it's gotten worse. I always think I don't know what I'm doing. I am insane. And I think that's because I have no methodology for acting. I have a bunch of different techniques, incompletely understood bits and pieces. It's important to me to disassemble myself at the beginning of a film. I have to deconstruct everything so I don't revisit the same things. It opens up a terrifyingly blank landscape. And then I can't believe I've done that to myself.

Q: Does that get easier with time?
A: No. If anything, it's worse.

Q: Are you surprised that this film still has contemporary relevance, given that it was written decades ago?
A: Heh, think how events have galloped to keep pace with our movie! You couldn't have designed this. It took a long time to make this movie but synchronicity has somehow caused these events to be present-day. People kill themselves to try and make this synchronicity happen. But you can't. It's just the way it is.

Q: How do you feel about the current political climate? Are you cynical about politics?
A: Not cynical, worried. And I'm scared. People get spanked now. People get hurt because the stakes are so high, the money is so big today. It's about money, and people will do anything to get their way and that makes for scary times. People are afraid to speak up. But we must speak up.

Q: You heard Whoopi Goldberg make some off-color jokes about President Bush at a fund-raiser, and she later lost some commercial contracts. What was your reaction to that?
A: I think that's the way the world works today. People are driven by their fears. I think she was off-color and funny. And I think the vice president was off-color and on the floor of the Senate. And we're his employers! We didn't fire him, yet. I hope people continue to speak up and not be afraid, especially journalists. They're the ones that have the ears of the nation. You shouldn't be afraid. You have the right to talk.

Q: You were recently Emmy-nominated for HBO's "Angels In America," which received numerous other Emmy nominations. How satisfying is that?
A: Very, very, very! It received 22 nominations! My make-up man and hairdresser even got one. Maybe "Angels In America" will now be seen wider than the HBO subscription audience, which would be great.

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