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Meryl Streep and ‘Osage’ Team Offer Master Acting Class at Q&A

It’s unclear how many films will fare at Thursday’s Oscar nominations, including “August: Osage County.” Critics have been mixed, even surprisingly mean; but actors (who comprise 20% of Academy voters) love the film — a fact brought home Monday night at a screening for SAG members.

In a season jam-packed with Q&A’s, Meryl Streep’s “Into the Woods” filming schedule has limited her to only doing a few. But she got a prolonged standing ovation when she came onstage for the session at Harmony Gold, which also included John Wells, Ewan McGregor (in photo with Streep), Julianne Nicholson, Dermot Mulroney and Abigail Breslin (and which I was lucky to moderate).

Of course it’s standard for collaborators to praise each other at these sessions, but the affection and admiration seemed genuine and deep. The six panelists provided 45 minutes of laughs and, more seriously, offered a master class for actors as they talked about the challenges and process of working on Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer-winning material.

Wells said the company had the advantage of a week’s rehearsal and of working like a genuine ensemble, as much of the filming (and the lodging) took place in a home near Bartlesville, Okla. for the eight-week shoot.

When talking about the famous 19-minute dinner sequence, Mulroney said it was instructive to watch Streep at work; the movie audience only sees one take, but the other nine actors around the table saw her multiple variations through the three-day filming sequence.

Asked about maintaining energy with such an intense role, Streep talked about commitment and focus as an obligation to your fellow actors. She said she couldn’t recall ever experiencing “the depth and inspiration” in every member of the company.

“It all starts at the top,” she said, gesturing to Wells. The three-hour play had to be severely cut, and each actor came to the rehearsals with the play script, hoping to restore lines that had been cut. “He was such a diplomat the way he handled that,” she said, and it set the tone for the shoot.

Surprisingly, Streep said of Oklahoma, “Of all the places I’ve filmed, that’s the one I feel most drawn to return to.” She talked about how the area seeped into her sensibility while filming. She described driving an hour from the actors’ condo complex (“behind the Toyota dealership”) to the location, passing churches with signs bearing inspirational thoughts, and homes with a notable lack of gardens. She also described the negative reaction to her Prius from the folks in an oil-centric state.

Her short monolog was rich in small details, and had nothing, yet everything, to do with acting.

A woman in the front row mentioned that the audience had wept loudly during the film and asked Streep if she cried when watching the movie. “Yes, I cried,” she said. Pause. “When I saw how I looked.”

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