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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 14:09 GMT
Meryl Streep: Oscar's favourite female
Meryl Streep in The Hours
Meryl Streep plays a modern Mrs Dalloway in The Hours
Meryl Streep, who defined quality acting in the late 1970s and 80s, has won praise for her recent roles in The Hours and Adaptation.

Meryl Streep could almost claim to be on the best actress Oscar list simply by default.

The actress, best known for a string of heavyweight roles in the 1980s, has been nominated for best actress 12 times, and has won twice.

No other actress in modern times has had such consistent success.

Streep's reputation has been built on an almost uncanny ability to take on her characters.

STREEP'S PREVIOUS OSCAR NOMINATIONS
The Deer Hunter - 1979
Kramer vs Kramer - 1980
The French Lieutenant's Woman - 1982 (above)
Sophie's Choice - 1983
Silkwood - 1984
Out of Africa - 1986
Ironweed - 1988
A Cry in the Dark - 1989
Postcards from the Edge - 1991
The Bridges of Madison County - 1996
One True Thing - 1999
Music of the Heart - 2000

She picked up her first Oscar playing one half of a disintegrating marriage in 1979's Kramer vs Kramer opposite Dustin Hoffman.

Three years later, she won for her portrayal of a death camp survivor in Sophie's Choice, a harrowing tale of a woman's guilt in surviving the Holocaust.

She said of her win: "No matter how much you try to imagine what this is like, it's just so incredibly thrilling right down to your toes."

Worthwhile

Her acting has prompted US critic Leonard Maltin to say she is "arguably the best actress working in American films today".

And actor James Woods said she "embodies everything a great, worthwhile artist is about".

More respect has come her way for refusing to become part of the Hollywood glamour machine, preferring to keep herself out of the spotlight and letting people judge her on her performances.

Meryl Streep in Adaptation
She stars as an author in Adaptation
Her view of film-making as art has contributed to her remarkable success rate, as has her quest for understanding about life through her roles and her immersion in her characters.

"I want to feel my life while I'm in it, and I'm curious about other people," she told an interviewer recently.

"That's the essence of my acting. I'm interested in what it would be like to be you."

Her Silkwood director Mike Nichols said she was so convincing that the actor playing her lover would fall in love with her a little, and the person playing her best friend would become her best friend for real.

"She shifts her soul slightly and changes the chemistry of all the relationships," he said.

She shifts her soul slightly and changes the chemistry of all the relationships
Mike Nichols
Director
Born in Summit, New Jersey in 1949, she was a college cheerleader and homecoming queen before attending Vassar College.

Tortured tale

It was there that she became interested in acting, and she moved to Yale's School of Drama before appearing on stage in New York.

From her first big screen role - as Anne Marie in the 1977 Lillian Helman biopic Julia - she gave outstanding performances.

She followed that up with The Deer Hunter, a tortured tale of Vietnam veterans failing to piece their lives together.

Also starring Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter saw her nominated for best actress in a supporting role at the 1979 Academy Awards.

In 1981 she received another place on the list for the title role in the lavish The French Lieutenant's Woman.

By this time, Streep was becoming famous for her perfectionist technique and her ability to completely change her personality from one role to the next.

Though she has not won an Oscar since 1983, many of her major roles since have garnered nominations.

Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman
Streep got an Oscar nomination for The French Lieutenant's Woman
One of her most powerful roles was in 1983's Silkwood, a dark, true story of the life of a campaigning nuclear power worker.

Throughout the 1980s, her stock as one of the most dependable leading actresses rose with roles in Out of Africa, opposite Robert Redford, edgy drama Ironweed with Jack Nicholson, and A Cry in the Dark, based on the true story of a woman whose baby was killed in the Australian outback.

Impact

All of those earned her yet more Oscar nominations - but despite her good pedigree and high ideals, she has had her turkeys too.

In 1989, she starred with Roseanne Barr in lame comedy She-Devil, which probably did not trouble the Oscars judges too much.

The 1990s saw her continue to accumulate Oscar nominations and acclaim, even if films such as The Bridges of Madison County and One True Thing did not have the same impact as Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie's Choice.

But with her roles in The Hours and Adaptation, she has reminded Hollywood and film fans alike - if they had forgotten - that she is an acting force that many consider to be unmatched in the current film world.


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