There’s a biography coming out about Meryl Streep (though Streep’s reps have told Gossip Cop that the biography is unauthorized), and the incredible excerpt circulating today is all about how she delivered an Oscar-winning performance in Kramer vs. Kramer, opposite an abusive screen partner in Dustin Hoffman.
Vanity Fair has an excerpt from Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep, written by Michael Schulman, that focuses on the Kramer vs. Kramer shoot. This is the movie that not only put Streep on the map as an actress, but was the first movie she made after the death of her partner John Cazale. Still grief-stricken, she apparently hadn’t impressed the producers in the room during her audition, but Hoffman lobbied for her, and she got the part.
And when they started shooting the film, Hoffman thought that he would use torturous “method acting” techniques on Streep to elicit the best performance from her, like the time he slapped her right before the scene where her character leaves his:
Benton heard the slap and saw Meryl charge into the hallway. We’re dead, he thought. The picture’s dead. She’s going to bring us up with the Screen Actors Guild. Instead, Meryl went on and acted the scene. Clutching Joanna’s trench coat, she pleaded with Ted, “Don’t make me go in there!” As far as she was concerned, she could conjure Joanna’s distress without taking a smack to the face, but Dustin had taken extra measures. And he wasn’t done.
This is when Hoffman decides to taunt Streep about Cazale’s death from cancer while she tells his character that she doesn’t love him anymore from the elevator, and that she’s leaving their son, too. In a later scene, when she informs Hoffman’s character that she wants their son back, he breaks a wine glass, but she keeps acting through it, even with shards of glass in her hair.
Damn. We all knew that Streep is badass, right? But not to this extent. Read what happens when she shoots her pivotal testimony scene:
Benton filmed the speech in a wide shot first, reminding Meryl to save her energy for the close-up. But she delivered it with “the same sense of richness” each time, even when the cameras turned on Dustin for his reaction. “Part of the pleasure she must have taken is showing to Dustin she didn’t need to be slapped,” the director said. “She could have delivered anything to anybody at any time.”
She would go on to thank Hoffman in her Oscar acceptance speech. What a freakin’ class act.
(Via Vanity Fair)