The Devil Wears Prada - Meryl Streep interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
MERYL Streep discusses her role in Devil Wears Prada, who she based her performance on and what fashion really means to her…
Q: How interested are you in the world of fashion and the way we look?
A: I don’t have very much interest in trends and fashions. I don’t follow the fashion shows and stuff like that into my real life. But I’m very, very interested in how people put themselves together, how women and men announce themselves to the world, through what they put on their bodies. Whether we choose Birkenstocks or whether we choose Burberry – it all signifies something and it’s really interesting to me.
So costume and what that brings to a character is what I’m really interested in. But I’m not necessarily interested in the finer points of design,
Q: What kind of clothes do you feel comfortable with and what is your style?
A: I feel much more comfortable dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. I’m wearing very fancy clothes today. It’s Valentino. But the film did not make me change my style. If anything, it has made me appreciate the people who do this every morning in a serious way, get dressed up and really put together that look. I mean, wow. It’s amazing.
Q: What is your view on your character Miranda?
A: I wish that she could take more deep enjoyment from her life, but maybe it’s not in her physical, emotional and mental makeup to enjoy life the way that I like to enjoy my own life.
One of the things that I admire about her is her willingness to just say directly what she wants, and she has an expectation that she will get it. That is not viewed in our society as an attractive quality in a woman sometimes. People are very intolerant of it. In my own life, I have noticed when I have been meeting directors, that the same sentence with the same inflection can be said by a man, like: “Get me this.” But if the same thing is said by a woman, it’s seen as harsh and unacceptable. That always fascinates me.
Q: What was the particular challenge of this role? What was the thing you hadn’t done before?
Q: Well, a great deal of it was similar to a film I made very early in my career called Kramer Vs Kramer. In that film, the audience also judges my character very harshly right off the bat, right from the start: BOOM they’ve decided. Bitch. And then the challenge with both characters is to find the humanity in them: what’s the side that’s hidden? What’s the side you don’t know about? What’s the side you’re not privileged to see? So that was the challenge of it.
Q: Many people are always intimidated by you in your real life – how do you deal with that?
A: I don’t know how to deal with it. On every film set it’s different. In the beginning they may be intimidated, but then they quickly see that there is no reason to be scared. On the first day of filming when I forget my lines, everybody goes: “Hmm…. the greatest what?” That happens a lot now [laughs].”
Q: Patricia Field said you lost weight during filming is that true?
A: I did lose a few pounds, I think that was just anxiety. There was a lot of anxiety in this character. Everybody says, was it fun to play a villain? No. It was not fun to be in this person’s body, it just wasn’t at all.
So, maybe I took the pressures that she felt too much to heart. But I felt that was in the plot. I read the script and I read that there was pressure to replace her in her job as editor. And I know how replaceable middle-aged women are in our society. I felt that and so it wasn’t enjoyable to be her. It was hard work dressing like that too, I felt like I was wearing or putting on underwater gear. I guess a normal woman would find it extremely enjoyable to wear those clothes. For me, I didn’t enjoy it. It felt like a straight jacket.
Q: What do you think this woman’s character says about women in positions of power and their relationships?
A: I think there’s a danger of reading too much into these things. This character does not stand for every woman who has an important job. In terms of her relationship, Miranda’s marriage is very specific and might have fallen apart for the very specific reasons that are embedded between two people. And in the film, we don’t really concern ourselves with that. The film is not really interested in the nature of their relationship; we get a contracted version of what the problem is between them.
But I think it is typical for many men to have problems when their wives make more money then they do, or when their wives are higher on the corporate ladder than they find themselves. I think that often is an issue.
Q: Given that you are an icon in the film industry, do you think it’s ironic that you’ve played other real life iconic characters? In this case, people suggest that Miranda is a veiled portrayal of the legendary editor of ‘Vogue’ Magazine, Anna Wintour?
A: I think we reserve a special place in our hearts for women who dare to try and be powerful, or occupy a special elevated place in society or when they are ‘the bosses’. I think we really don’t like it as a society and we have a harsh view of them. We look much harder at them, than the millions of men who aspire to the same positions and I can’t figure that out.
But it was really interesting to investigate that with this piece and honestly; I wasn’t looking at Anna Wintour at all for this character. I never met her and I don’t know anything about her. It’s so uninteresting to copy somebody or be a version of somebody, through somebody else’s lens. I don’ t know how to do that. I wanted the freedom to make this person up.
I have watched the people in my business and I encounter a lot powerful people, women and men. They contributed to my portrayal. If you watch the movie and imagine that Miranda Priestly is a 6ft 2ins silver-haired gentleman in a well-cut suit, it would be very different. All the things that she says would be much more powerful if they come out of a baritone voice.
Q: Did you know much about the fashion business?
A: I didn’t know very much at all and I certainly had no idea before making the film. I learned a lot about global branding and the larger corporate entities that rule the fashion world, as well as the different fashion houses and the necessities of getting advertisers and pleasing them.
But I didn’t do deep, deep, deep research. It is interesting how fashion filters down and we discover in the film that we’re all prey to trends, even if we think we are not. In one scene, Miranda tells Andy how it all filters down from a great creative designer and how it all works. Some people hold themselves above the fashion business but are still complicit and fall prey to it.
Q: There is a quote in the movie about size zero being the new size two. How do you feel about that and the pressure that girls feel of getting into a size zero?
A: I just think that we’re all trying to make ourselves emaciated, in order to pretend that we’re all disappearing, as we move forward in every level of society and it’s so frightening. This is all a big reaction to the fact that there are more women in medical school than there are men now and I am pretty sure it will be the same soon in law schools and in business.
I think this is all compensatory and I think for girls it’s really horrible to be 13-years-old at the moment; it’s really tough. It’s much tougher then when I was growing up and felt burdened by the images of Seventeen magazine. Even then, I remember feeling: “This isn’t good. This isn’t good for me to think that looking skinny like Twiggy is what I should aspire to.” But I did feel that maybe I should try to look like that. I think these things are very destructive.
Q: What do you think of what’s going on in world politics just now?
A: Oh my God. Well, I think that we pay much more attention to fashion and our hair, skin and foreheads, our abdominal muscles and shoes than what is happening in the world. And we willingly take that ‘drug’ and go along with that.
I do honestly think that if women were running the world there would be more investment in peace, because basically as women we do not want to see our children killed. Maybe I am completely idealistic, but until we see women in equal positions of power in the world, I just think that we are doomed.
Q: Could you compare the fashion industry to Hollywood, as you know it?
A: Well, I don’t really pretend to understand my own industry, so I really shouldn’t speak about something I’m not even peripherally involved with. But it’s a good question. I don’t know what the similarities are: maybe in that they’re both dependent on a very fickle market. Nobody can figure out why people go to the movies and nobody can decide why they’ll crop their pants this year. Maybe the similarities are in the volatility.
These industries are not providing something like surgical appliances, where you know how many people will need them each year. With movies and fashions, you can’t really predict anything, that’s why there are opportunities for interesting and idiosyncratic visionary people to come forward and rise meteorically – then next year their visions often don’t work any more.
Q: What singles Anne Hathaway out as a rising young actress?
A: First of all, we’ve seen her since she was an adolescent in The Princess Diaries and then she emerged as a fully flowered woman in front of us and her beauty is breathtaking.
That sort of walks ahead of her and some people are going to forget what a good actress she is, because that precedes her in a stunning way. The most overlooked performance of last year was her role in Brokeback Mountain. It was beautiful. And this is quite different. She’s just got an open-hearted, friendly appeal for someone so beautiful. I think that’s her strength. She can do lots of things and she’s very talented.
Q: Have you had to sacrifice anything in order to be successful?
A: Yes, I think everybody sacrifices things. Miranda is a very specific kind of woman. It would take a very specific kind of man to love her, whatever job she found herself in. I don’t think we can say that all working women will get divorced – it’s so dangerous to make these things emblematic of anything – but having said that, every person who has a big, important job and tries to have a family, has to make decisions every single minute.
You are thinking about where your brain is at any time. It’s very tricky but it’s why women are very well suited to rule the world in the future, because of the multi-tasking they do and their ability to be moving in 15 directions at once. It’s the women who behave like men, who focus in that singular way with the blinkers on, who have problems. You get a lot more done that way maybe, but you also lose the perception of who’s behind you, what’s going on, the 360 degrees of it, the whole picture of life that we do have as women.