The actress plays the boss from hell and relishes it
Meryl Streep delights as the bitchy boss from hell, Miranda Priestley, in the film adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada. Meryl eats up the screen as the cutthroat fashion editor obsessed with perfection and terrorizing underlings. Meryl is anything but the sort in person. She is convivial and charming, much more relaxed and outgoing then you would think. This was the second round of interviews with Meryl in a month. She was also front and center promoting A Prairie Home Companion a few weeks ago.
Your interpretation of Miranda is a lot less harsh. Why change her from the book? Did you want to portray her as more human?
Meryl Streep: She wasn't some things that a lot of people think she is. I was just interested in making a human being as contradictory and messy as we all are. I think she is an exacting, highly disciplined, demanding, ambitious person who doesn't necessarily take the time for all the nice social lubricants that help make the work place grateful and fun. She's not as good at it as many women are. I think there is a kind of career path that demands a certain thing that not everybody wants to give. People have to make their own decisions about their lives. From Miranda's point of view, she wants to excel on every level and it's really hard.
The character in the book is modeled after Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Did you also model your character from her?
Meryl Streep: Most of my models for this character were of the male end of the species. Unfortunately, we don't have enough women in power, or I don't know them to copy. Compared to the people that I know, Miranda is so well behaved. She's almost like a diplomat compared to some people who are very, very powerful in our business. I know the book was based on an assistant's view of Anna Winter, but it didn't interest me to do a documentary on Anna Wintour and I don't know anything about her. I only met her at the first benefit auction screening and she came to it and we were introduced at the very beginning. She's been a good sport about it. I think she's been told that I don't resemble her. It's much more fun to make the uber boss out of my own pastiche of experience.
Is there anything we can learn from Miranda?
Meryl Streep: I don't know. It's not instructional, this movie.
How did the clothes help define Miranda and in general, how do you use costumes to inform your character?
Meryl Streep: I'm a notorious pain-in-the-butt for any costume designer because I have so many opinions. I feel very strongly that we make decisions about what we're giving to the world, what we're withholding from the world, by virtue of what we put on our bodies. For me, clothes are kind of a character. They're more interesting in those terms. I don't follow fashion or understand the trends, but I understand more about marketing than I ever did after doing this movie. The clothes that I wear, this achievement is Pat Field [the costume designer], that she put this movie together because she had no money. I've used the analogy before so I'm not going to think too hard to make another one up. They made a movie about aerospace and they decided to make it in a garage in Paramus. These clothes cost so much money. One of the handbags is $12,000. It's almost inconceivable to me. There were many, many bags that were that expensive. So, a $4000 bag seems like a bargain and you readjust your whole way of thinking. It's just insane. Pat had to make it by relying on her many good relationships with designers and talk them into loaning us stuff and went to archival things. That's another word for "used." People were very, very generous in the fashion business. We just had a volume of stuff we needed to achieve. We had three weeks to put it together. I had sixty some costumes and each one of them had to be coordinated with the shoes, the belt, the earrings, the jacket and everything perfectly tailored. It was really very laborious for me but that was because it was all condensed into one space of time.
With the fashion industry already projecting a negative self-image to young girls and women, did lines like "6 is the new 14" affect you at all?
Meryl Streep: I think about them everyday. I have three daughters and it affected me as a teenager, so I had my little ideas about all this stuff. I think it's highly destructive.
Is there an answer or is it going to keep going?
Meryl Streep: I don't know the answer. People want what they want. Sometimes you just have to walk in defiance of it and just be yourself.
Would you say this is a feminist film?
Meryl Streep: Well, there's a way to kill the box-office. (laughs)
Did you give any acting advice to Anne Hathaway? What was it like working with her?
Meryl Streep: I didn't give her any advice. Interestingly, young people don't come to you for advice. Especially the ones who are related to you! (laughs) She's just a delicious talent. I think she can delight us for years and years in lots and lots of different things. Her beauty is so stunning in this movie that when we're all watching the dailies, we were all like (gasps) because it is amazing. It's a burden sometimes for actresses to work around that because it so precedes her, but her own personality is so appealing and fresh and open and warm. I think she can have a unique career.