Meryl Streep Talks Favorite Sex Scene, Time’s Up at Cannes 2024

“The roles are wonderful now, I think, for women, and so many women are producing for themselves,” marveled Meryl Streep at a Cannes Film Festival “rendez-vous” held on Wednesday afternoon, just hours after the legendary actress collected an honorary Palme d’Or at the fest’s opening night ceremony. (She reported that she didn’t go to sleep until 3 a.m.) “I’m so in awe of the ones who have done that — Reese [Witherspoon] and Nicole [Kidman] and Natalie Portman. Everyone has their own production company!” The mother of four and grandmother of five added with a chuckle, “I had a production company: making babies! I didn’t want to get calls after seven o’clock at night, so I didn’t do that.”

During a conversation with French journalist Didier Allouch in front of a packed Théâtre Debussy within the Palais complex, the 74-year-old reflected on not just how opportunities for women have changed over the course of her nearly half-century screen career, but also on specific projects on her filmography (she said of the choice scene from Sophie’s Choice, “It was upsetting, I don’t like to think about it”); collaborators living (Steven Spielberg is “a genius,” Clint Eastwood “never raised his voice — well, once” and Adam McKay “an amazing filmmaker and so funny”) and dead (Mike Nichols was “a great director,” of Carrie Fisher, “I really miss her”); and how her one prior visit to Cannes, 35 years ago with the film A Cry in the Dark (for which she was awarded the fest’s best actress prize), was so different from this one.

“When I came to Cannes the first time, they said, ‘You will need nine bodyguards,’” Streep recalled, noting that she had almost never used bodyguards before and doubted she would need nine — until she got to town. “I needed maybe a dozen!” She recalled that the lack of security meant that wherever she went, paparazzi thrust cameras right in her face in a way that she had never experienced before. “I almost didn’t recover from that … That’s what I remember about it, really. … I was so afraid.”

This time, though, security has been much tighter, and her experience has been much better. She said of the honorary Palme d’Or presentation, which was presided over by French actress Juliette Binoche, “I felt just a wave of feeling coming from the audience, and it’s so much bigger than I thought — so many tiers of people, all the way up to the top. Yeah, it was a lot. I live a very quiet life, and really I don’t get any respect at home, so it’s sort of amazing to come into this arena and have that big tidal wave.” She also noted that she is a fan of the emcee: “I did watch Camille Cottin in every single episode of [Call My Agent]!”

Streep also admitted that she often got nervous ahead of her first day of working on a film (“I used to say to my husband the night before, ‘I don’t know how to do this’”); the considerable number of roles she has played using an accent (“If I had played women from central New Jersey all my life, I wouldn’t be in this room. … I’m interested in people that are not like me.”); and being in hit movies: “I wasn’t aiming for a blockbuster ever,” she insisted. “The ones that ended up being blockbusters — 2008’s Mamma Mia! and 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada — happened when I was 58 and 60, and I never thought they were going to be anything but fun. I didn’t know they were going to be big, but I knew that I could get them made.”

A charter member of the Time’s Up movement, she said of the organization’s work, “I think it did change things in not just Hollywood, but … it had a filter around effect … It has made a little correction in things — and in places, I’m sure, went overboard, and in other places, appropriately so, identified real abuse.”

On a lighter note, she reflected on the famously sexy scene in 1985’s Out of Africa in which Robert Redford shampoos her hair: “We’ve seen so many scenes of people fucking, but we don’t see that loving touch,” she said before cracking, “I didn’t want it to end, that way.”


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