Meryl Streep talks ‘The Giver’ and says ‘I like to be boss’

NEW YORK — Currently, Meryl Streep has 18 Academy Award nominations and three wins.  The first nomination was in 1979 for “The Deer Hunter” and the most recent one was this year for “August: Osage County.”  It is more Academy Award nominations than anyone else has received.  When she takes a role, people take notice.

It is no surprise that at the press conference for the upcoming film, “The Giver,” that despite the large number of people on the dais, Meryl Streep sits in the middle of the upper row, a position of prominence.  It is further no surprise that the first time she speaks during the press conference, everyone grows a little more quiet, and the shutter noise from cameras taking photos occurs at a greater frequency.  She is, after all, Meryl Streep.

As for the film in question, “The Giver” is a Phillip Noyce (“Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger”) directed adaptation of Lois Lowry's young adult novel of the same name.  Originally published in 1993, “The Giver” might not have taken on that “young adult” moniker until far more recently.

However one might want to refer to the genres, “The Giver” certainly falls into that grouping of movies/books.  The film deals with teens (they are slightly younger in the novel) coming of age in a dystopian future society where memories of the world at large have been erased and everyone is told what to do.  Families as we know them don't exist, and there is a generally narrow-minded, task oriented, nature to everyone's life.

In this community, Streep plays the Chief Elder, the leader who is responsible for overseeing everything and everyone, making sure it all runs according to plan.  It is neither a role nor a genre with which one might normally associate Streep, so why did she sign on for the part?

“I like to be boss,” Streep jokingly explains before going on to the more serious answer that she, “Always wanted to work with this gentleman my entire career,” gesturing to Jeff Bridges, one of the film's stars and a producer on the project.  Bridges has actually been trying to get the book made into a movie since just a couple of years after publication.  Streep continues about wanting to work with Bridges that she, “Never got the chance, somehow he eluded me, so that was a big, big, part of the draw.”

Streep was aware of the book before being offered the role as it was required summer reading for her children growing up, just as it is for many students in this country.  She notes when her kids were reading it that she didn't have to crack the whip for them to complete the assignment.  “The Giver” was “put in front of them and they devoured it.”

Streep's Chief Elder, along with everyone in the community, takes medication on a daily basis to remove emotions.  Certainly, the Chief Elder's feelings bleed through from time-to-time, which Streep explains as follows, “It's an interesting thing to play people who have suppressed emotion, but I felt that the Chief Elder didn't take her medication as well on certain days…. Like we all skip, probably. Because, clearly she had some deep history with the Giver [Bridges].”  That too, she says, “Was something that intrigued me about this script.”

Both the book and the film ask the audience to ponder the question of whether that suppression of emotion is a good thing, of whether the world may be better off if we didn't all feel as deeply as we do.  There are, as the film notes, advantages to not feeling as deeply – in the world of “The Giver,” war has been eliminated, poverty has been eliminated, strife has been eliminated. 

Of course, things fall apart in the movie and Streep notes, “You can't suppress the things that make us human.  It's pointless to try.”

Over the length of the press conference, we hear from Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, Taylor Swift, Katie Holmes, Noyce, Lowry, and more.  They all chime in with their thoughts and feelings about what it was like to make the movie and the changes from the book. 

Interestingly, of the younger members of the cast, only Swift had read “The Giver” prior to joining the film.  She says that the book, which she read for school around the fifth grade, actually changed her perspective on the world as she hadn't considered any of those larger issues previously.  It was the memory of that experience which made her say yes to the movie.

Fittingly, the press conference closes with one last question to Meryl Streep and the diverse nature of the roles she is taking on in her upcoming projects.  Not only does she have “The Giver” releasing this weekend, but she is the Witch in the upcoming adaptation of “Into the Woods,” set for release this December, and is about to begin production on Diablo Cody's “Ricki and the Flash.” 

“I certainly am having fun with the things that I've been offered” Streep says.  “I'm so fortunate.”  She closes stating, “I'm really happy to have been included in this amazing group. And in the next things, God knows how they'll turn out, but I have hope.”

You can see how “The Giver” itself turns out this Friday, August 15, when it opens nationwide.