I have had some amazing experiences in my life. I have been fortunate to be able to interview some pretty amazing people for my blog. Last week I attended a press screening for Disney’s Into the Woods followed by cast interviews. When I found out that I was going to have the chance to interview with Meryl Streep, Tracey Ullman and Christine Baranski I admit that I was both extremely excited and petrified. I mean, what do you ask three legends? Well, I didn’t need to be nervous as our interview turned into more of a conversation about motherhood, life, and what it was like to work in Disney’s latest film, Into the Woods.
Last Friday, these actors sat down with 25 mom bloggers. Before their arrival there was a mix of nervousness filling the room. We all had the same look on our faces, I can’t believe we are about to meet Meryl, Christine and Tracey. Many of us were taking deep breaths and looking around the room with nervous laughter in our breath. I believe at one point, one blogger even said ” I can’t believe I am going to be sitting next to Meryl!” It was an amazing opportunity that we were all grateful to be having and sharing together.
Then they walked in the room…
My nervousness immediately left the room as soon as Tracey Ullman announced “I love the smell of estrogen in here!”
These three ladies have been friends for quite some time. And while they may not have worked as many scenes together as they would have liked in this movie, their friendship was evident. Meryl and Tracey met when Tracey was 21 (and a British pop star) on the set of a movie called “Plenty”. Christine and Meryl met while filming the movie musical “Mama Mia.” The three of them bonded over parallel experiences. They all are “theater babes,” “Connecticut moms,” and their kids are roughly the same age. All three of them also had long marriages which as we all know is very unique for celebrities. The three of them share similar family values and value strong roles for women that defy the typical stereotypes.
Your characters are all like exaggerated versions of parenting methods gone wrong. Did any of you feel — or, even more interesting, did any of your kids feel or see some similarities, and you guys were like, “Oh my God, you’re right”?
Christine: I hold the girls a little too closely. Yes, perhaps.
Tracey: “Stay with me…” (One of the songs in the movie)
Meryl: No, we’re beaten up by our children. Well, I really feel — I mean, just speaking for the group, I feel like so much has changed. Raising little kids now is so different from when our children were little kids. I think that’s part of why this film and its warnings and its overweening care of the mothers, it speaks to this time when it’s harder and harder to keep the world out. The worst parts of them out. To keep them in the little tower is impossible. People were worried about this film, that it maybe is too dark for kids. Kids know so much now. And they’re aware of so much, and yet they’re so resilient, and innately hopeful. That’s sort of what the film is.
Christine: Visuals can really affect kids, and you can explain it away, but be careful what you give them visually. I remember seeing a documentary on an African tribe. There was this leopard man with long fingernails, and a mask, and I mean, it just had such an impression on me, it just happened to be on the television set. You never know what image can really get to them.
Tracey: But it goes back to these Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and we all portray them as they were written. I do smack the kid ’round the head, and I was always loving him afterwards. Fairy tales were so frightening when I was a kid. “Don’t play with matches. Your hair catches on fire.” And all of those illustrations. They were terrifying.
Meryl: what stayed with me the most is what I wanted to share with my children necessarily, but I remember being really marked by is Bluebeard. This idea of a man who would take serial wives, one after another, and kill them in the castle. And I was terrified by that. It’s probably why I just stayed married to the same man.
Christine: I was always telling my kids, as read to them, that there was such a thing as the world of the imagination. I said, “You’re safe. If you’re in the world of the imagination, you can go anywhere, and you come back from that, so you’re safe. This sounds so quaint. It’s impossible, now, I guess, but I literally hauled the big television set out of our house. We raised kids without a television set. I don’t know how you protect kids now, but I would really recommend encouraging quiet time when you just talk to your kids. Say, “Okay. We’re just going to get rid of all of this stuff. Let’s just be together, and experience, real time and quiet.” We will read this book, and it’ll take you places, but don’t worry. You will come back. There is that world.” It can be tricky when a child is too young. They don’t know how to do that. Just take care of them, their little psyches.
Tracey: I’m very disturbed when I see kids now, it’s such a different generation with me, when they’re out at dinner with their parents. Everyone’s sitting around a table. And there’s a child in a high-chair, with a headset on, with an iPad. Then they take the headphone off, and they scream and cry. The parents put the headphones back on. I don’t know. I don’t like that thing. At the dinner table. That really disturbs me.
What is your favorite role to play?
Meryl: I think each, each particular person you play deserves their own voice, and deserves their own place in the world. They’re all about 5’6″ and a half, and they’re all about, you know, my weight and age that I play. But I feel like there are so many different women. So many different stories. They each deserve their voice and their particular neuroses and needs and passions. I don’t make a distinction — I mean, there are stupid stuff I’ve done that I won’t say what.
Tracey: Your empathy for Margaret Thatcher for extraordinary for me. Because, when you first said you were going to be Margaret Thatcher in the Eighties. And everyone was like me, “Oh. Not her!” But you saw her in a way, as a woman, and how she faced the world,– it was amazing to me.
Meryl: Well, I was just interesting in an old lady. I like old ladies.
Christine: (on playing evil parts) Yeah. No, they are fun, but I think more to the point is the project that you’re in if you feel like it’s contributing, actresses who have an opportunity in our work to maybe move the culture forward, and show women in a deeper, more complicated way. I love that I’m playing somebody on television who is well-educated, she runs a law firm, she actually has a relationship. She’s not the butt of a joke. She’s not an old crone. There’s never a mention of menopause or any of these clichéd things that we have put on things after a certain age. I love that these are just non-issues, and she’s a woman who is in the world, dealing with a complicated moral topography in her personal and professional life. So being part of anything like that. This movie is transformative, and contributes good to the world, so I think that’s what would we look for.
Meryl: Increasingly, that’s what I think about. I mean, I’m — I have thought, about each part is this helping? Or this hurting? What’s this doing? Because everything makes a mark on the culture. Everything you do, every actress has a choice, you know? Even if you’re supporting a lot of kids by yourself, you still have a choice what you’re putting out into the world, and I think it matters.
Christine: Yeah. Are you reinforcing clichés, or are you breaking? Breaking boundaries with the work?
Last night you had mentioned that one of the things that kind of helped you find your character was coming up with designs. So, what else helps you develop that character into your own, instead of being that exact character that was on Broadway or just to kind of create it as “you”?
Meryl: I feel like the part I played was so indelibly done on Broadway by Bernadette Peters. But it’s also been indelibly done by many, many kids, throughout the country, in their high schools, and in colleges. It’s like any really good play, the part can morph to the shape of the person who is in there. I felt completely free, and also a failing memory helps me in this, because I couldn’t have remembered. I would’ve stolen from Bernadette more, if I could remember the thing. So I felt free too. Rob Marshall, and certainly Sondheim said “Do what you want.” He also wrote me a song for this, that isn’t in the film, because it sort of halted the action, but it’ll be in the DVD extras.
Christine: You know, I was just thinking about this getting ready today, about the look of the step-family. I will never forget, my first day on the set was a huge, huge scene at Dover Castle, with the arrival of Cinderella. And I had been going back and forth, doing Good Wife, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time for hair and makeup tests and all. This marvelous man, Peter King, he put on my blonde wig, it was really big, because we originally conceived of them as a truly over-the-top, larger-than-life, trying-too-hard kind of family. I showed up and Rob took one look at me, and went…”too big.” As I look at the movie, and I see my various hairstyles in there, they’re a little bit bg, and then a little off, I think, but that’s exactly right. These women, they are trying so hard. They look in the mirror and go, “Mmm, no, that’s not enough, I need more hairspray. More, more, more.” And so they’re actually —
Meryl: They’re defined by their looks. Yeah.
Christine: Yes. And they don’t get it exactly right. It’s funny. Little accidents can be very helpful and very human, and exactly right for the character.
Tracey: I loved my approach. Peter King said to me on the first day, “I’m going to make you a gray wig.” And most people would be like, “I don’t want to go gray.” I was like, “Great.” Made me go gray, having this wig, I put it up in this topknot, and I had this beautiful, simple, Colleen Atwood outfit, that reminded me of a sort of Dries van Noten peasant look. I could roll around in the leaves, and there was just no vanity, I just loved it. I’d done so many things where I’d wear these extravagant make-ups. And just to come in and just smudge my cheeks with mud and become a peasant girl, I found it just wonderful. It’s feeling comfortable in who you are, and getting older, and not worrying about it. It’s just such a relief. And there is so much pressure on how we all look, and it’s just exhausting. Dignity, girls! Aging with dignity.
Christine: The man who is sitting right over there has created that extraordinary look for Meryl.
Tracey: The Oscar-winning Roy Helland.
Meryl: Well, that was a joke, because Roy decided early on that we would have a joke on blue-haired ladies. You know. Making fun of old ladies, because they put the blue rinse, so they don’t have yellow in the white hair. He said, “Well, we’re gonna have blue hair!” And it was so fabulous. And then we came out to LA and I see all of these young girls with blue hair, and I think: “I am on trend!”
Photos courtesy of Louise Bishop and Disney.
Through the years Meryl Streep, Tracey Ullman and Christine Baranski have given us amazing voices in incredible roles. I have admired them for their amazing acting ability. After last week’s interview, I admire them more for the women that they have become. As a mother of a daughter I find these women to be amazing role models.
I hope you caught my review of Into the Woods. Stay tuned next week as I bring you more of our interviews from the cast and crew of Into the woods including Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick as well as director Rob Marshall and costume designer Colleen Atwood.
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