“Do you ever watch the classic movie channels?” Meryl Streep asks. “Sometimes I do, and I realize how different they are from many films now. They’re like the great novelistic things that are on TV now. Film has decided it’s only going to concern itself with one specific kind of senate experience. TV has scenes. TV is stylistically adventurous in the way that films were.”
So would she do TV, if offered the opportunity? “Oh, sure,” she says breezily. “Have you ever been to the Golden Globes? All the movies are down on the floor. TV is way in the back. They should really flip them.”
You know cinema is on the decline when an actor as legendary as Streep, 67, who has earned 19 Academy Award nominations over a career spanning four decades, is fantasizing about doing television. But for viewers who share her nostalgia for an era of moviemaking that seems to be disappearing, Streep’s new film Florence Foster Jenkins, in theaters Aug. 12, should provide relief—at least until the perfect TV project for her materializes.
The film, directed by veteran English filmmaker Stephen Frears, tells the wild true story of its title character, a New York socialite (Streep) who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, even though she sang terribly. Her husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) kept her insulated from the reality of her lack of talent, bribing critics to favorably review the intimate concerts she gave at Manhattan nightclubs, caterwauling in over-the-top costumes. But her genuine passion for music led her all the way to a performance at Carnegie Hall and earned her a cult following of ironic devotees.
Joined by Frears at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, Calif. for a feature in the issue of TIME on stands Aug. 12, Streep opened about the film, the upcoming election and the shape of her storied career. Here are some highlights:
Florence Foster Jenkins isn’t a movie for just one demographic—and we shouldn’t be thinking that way at all: Though there’s been a recent boom of films about the emotional lives of older women—from last year’s I’ll See You In My Dreams, starring Blythe Danner, to this spring’s Hello, My Name Is Doris, which earned Sally Field widespread acclaim—Streep says Florence transcends those divisions, which aren’t even that useful in the first place. “I want to know when we decided it was O.K. to categorize ourselves into little boxes,” she says. “God, we are just enthralled to the data-driven markets. Young people go into the sluice gates dutifully, like cattle to the slaughter. Then we wonder why the audience shrinks every year.”
She can’t be calculated about her career: When asked whether she looks for certain types of material to challenge herself, Streep compares her work to a romance: “You can’t strategize falling in love, can you?” she asks. “It’s never worked. People love you the most and set you up, and it doesn’t work because you can’t predict these things. You fall in love serially. That something turns up on your doorstep that turns you on…” Frears adds: “It’s such a stroke of fortune—a lucky piece of privilege.”
She wanted to appear at the DNC to help make the conversation more inclusive for a polarized public: Streep is vocal in her support of Hillary Clinton: “Since she was very young, Hillary’s had a commitment to working on behalf of disenfranchised people,” she says. “It’s unheralded, uncelebrated, unknown mostly. What’s known about her is the result of millions of dollars dedicated to bringing her down and wounding her.” Still, she doesn’t rail at Trump supporters. “I think you have to listen to the people who are deeply unhappy,” she says. “You have to find the source of it and not overreact to the craziness in it.” She cites the woes of a declining middle class: “The conversation has to address the feeling of uselessness and despair and marginalization on the part of people who were never rich but had a job they could count on. Now they can’t, for several generations now. There’s meth and opioids. There’s real despair. That’s part of inclusivity as well.”
But she’s worried for the future of the country: “It’s amazing how easily people are led to fury and chaos,” Streep says. “Unhappy people with guns are not going to make this country great.” Still, the progress that’s been made is noteworthy. “We’ve failed to include people for centuries. We’re getting there. Now that’s thrilling. Trying to hold back that tide is crazy.”
She’s glad that the discussion about Hollywood’s wage gap has moved into a public sphere: “It’s not being held by women!” Streep says. “Men are ashamed that they’re getting that money. It used to be, everybody didn’t say anything about it, so it was kind of fine. Now they’re a little more nervous that somebody will find out what they make vis-a-vis their co-star. That’s the best vigilance: the vigilance of privilege. People will always be battling and whining about it. When the other side says, ‘You know, I think that sucks’—that’s great.”
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