One is considered the greatest actress of her generation; the other is American cinema’s most enchanting “It” girl. But any notion that one is on the downward trajectory of her career while the other flies high is demolished by the sheer resilience and ambition of Meryl Streep’s recent career choices.
Streep, whose first all-out musical, “Mamma Mia!,” opened July 18, will be seen in two films with the effervescent Amy Adams in the coming year: “Doubt,” adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play by John Patrick Shanley, and “Julie and Julia,” in which Streep plays the indomitable Julia Child to Adams’ food-blogging New Yorker who cooks her way through Childs’ “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” While they don’t share any scenes in the latter film, they act as kindred culinary spirits.
Asked if she had learned anything working with Streep, Adams doesn’t hesitate. “I learned that I will never be Meryl Streep,” she says in all sincerity.
If this were all fodder for a remake of “All About Eve” or subject to tabloid fancy, Streep would be cast as the ferocious diva to Adams’ upstart ingenue. But in real life Streep couldn’t be more generous and Adams couldn’t be any less calculating.
“She really reaffirmed for me the professional side of acting,” Adams says of Streep. “There is no ego; she is totally committed to the job at hand. Also, just watching how she treats people, her generosity of spirit — that’s what I took from her.”
In a recent article in USA Today, “Mamma Mia!” producer Judy Craymer says Streep in their first meeting told her, “I am really looking for something that will take 110% of my energy.” And given all the singing, dancing and tumbling she pulls off in the movie (Variety’s review referred to her as “the bouncy and rejuvenated Streep”), the actress tackled the role with the abandon of a chorus girl.
Versatility is one of Streep’s hallmarks. She has worked in film, theater and television; she excels at both comedy and drama; she acts, sings and dances. She has won almost every award that the film and theater worlds have to offer (only the Tony has eluded her). Her Oscar-nominated role (her 14th) in “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) proved that a withering, 50-something fashion editrix can be as much of a box office draw as a studly action hero or a buffoonish man-child (the movie grossed $125 million domestic).
For her part, Adams — after wowing audiences and critics alike with her Oscar-nominated turn as a sweet-natured and very pregnant Southern naif in “Junebug” (2005) — has been on a tear. She invited comparisons to a young Julie Andrews as a fairy princess come to life in “Enchanted,” played an earnest but perky congressional aide in “Charlie Wilson’s War” (complete with bouncing ponytail), portrayed a desperate, single mother in the dark comedy “Sunshine Cleaning” and was an aspiring diva in “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.” She is currently shooting the sequel to “Night at the Museum.”
Also a talented singer and dancer, Adams, just shy of 34, found performing opposite Streep, now nearing 60, more than a little intimidating. “We did a scene in ‘Doubt’ where I have to yell at her, and I almost got stage fright,” she confesses. “The feeling never really went away. I just had to learn to deal with it.”
Asked to describe herself, Adams thinks for a moment before replying, “Scrappy.” “There’s no formula in this industry, so all you can do is your personal best,” she says. “If things aren’t going well, you just have to come back again and again and again. I didn’t know I had that in me as much as I’ve learned that I have.”
It sounds like something Meryl Streep might have said 30 years ago.
Role model: “The women I have worked with: Francis McDormand, Susan Sarandon and Meryl Streep. In addition to (their talent), they have a really wonderful balance in their lives.”
Three things in life I can’t do without: “Coffee, Mexican food and my fiance. I even discussed this with him, and I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m not reversing the order.’ When it comes to Mexican food, I am very aggressive.”
What I’m reading now: “Anything I can get my hands on. Currently I am reading ‘Suite Francaise’ (by Irene Nemirovsky).”
Fave leisure activity: “I love reading. And I just started playing the guitar. I tend to pick up a new hobby with every job. On ‘Doubt,’ I was a knitting nun.”
Career mantra: “One day at a time.”