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Meryl Streep on Doubt

Published December 8, 2008 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Miramax Films
Most people would be called conceited if they expected awards for every piece of work they do. Meryl Streep has rightly come to expect it. Hollywood and the world seem to expect that every movie she does will feature an Oscar-worthy performance. Despite decades of nominations and wins, Streep never tires of the appreciation. Her latest film, Doubt is generating the same buzz and there's no reason for false modesty.

Meryl Streep Has No Doubt


"Pffft, no, I don’t think is should be less," she laughed. "You want me to say that, but no. I’m very grati4fied that people are responding to it but I feel like it’s the whole thing in this one. It’s the whole thing. There isn’t one area of fat or indulgence or show-offy directorial flair. It’s just what the story needs. That’s all it is. And because it’s so tight, it just tightens as it goes. Beautifully plotted. And I am the recipient of praise for something John [Patrick Shanley] conceived. We are all as good as that script."

Streep plays Sister Aloysius Beauvier, a senior nun who questions a priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) on suspicion of abusing a parish boy. She begins the movie as a stalwart for tradition, but develops her own doubts as the case develops in surprising ways.

"That’s the way we are. We make snap judgments about each other. And it’s great, because movie characters have become reductive, generally, and the more complicated and contradictory that they are, the more fun they are to play and to watch and to follow and to recognize as familiar, because we are complicated people, all of us. We all have a lot going on and it’s very gratifying to contend with the complications of humanity and how mysterious the ways of men and women. I mean it’s just so rich, this landscape of human beings and their conflict. I just think that’s great and I wish there were more opportunities. Usually it’s because you are adapting a play they say, ‘Oh, it’s just too talky. Just show me what are you doing.’ There is something to that, the power of film. But there is also a power in this kind of paring away of everything except the encounter of human beings."

DoubtDoubt


Playwright and writer/director Shanley held a three week rehearsal for the film. A powerhouse like Streep could certainly say whether or not she needed practice, but she happily adapts to each of her directors.

"I don’t have a ‘thing’ or a ‘way.’ Everybody does it differently. Every director wants a different thing. Spike Jonze we’d just roll up to the set and he’d say, ‘O.K., let’s go.’ I liked that. That’s fun. That was on Adaptation but this was fun too and very valuable because we didn’t have a lot of time. It’s good to have rehearsal when they don’t give you money, because you need to condense the time. Each 10 minute scene, that big fight scene with Philip and I, we knew just in terms of time we had three takes at it. Or at least that’s what they told us. I believed everything. So it was intense and good to have a really in depth rehearsal period. That isn’t to say when we weren’t on the set stuff didn’t change. Stuff did change, because you get there and it’s real. It’s not taped on the floor. There’s the wall. Oh, you just walked through a wall. It wasn’t like that. You’re surrounded by the actual world and the air is actually different and you walk in the church it’s just different, different, and having the kids around us, because we didn’t really rehearse with them. That raised the stakes in all of this."

The character of a strict disciplinarian nun could easily become a caricature. That's why you hire Meryl Streep. "It’s tough, because this was a very specific thing at the beginning John wanted at the beginning. It was completely thought out, how he wanted it. He said, ‘You have to bend down and have your head like this and it has to turn like this and say, "Straighten up.’’ So I chafe against such intense direction. ‘Oh, I gotta put my head down like this? And go like this?’ Oh, it drove me nuts. But his visual, he wanted to set an expectation and to make judgments about her very early on. He wanted to set that up and than complicate it. But he wanted it to be very uncomplicated in the beginning to make you trust your first instinct about who she is and what she is about. That was important to him."

Doubt opens to theaters on December 12th.

For the trailer, poster, clips and more movie info, go to the Doubt Movie Page.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Miramax Films
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