September 9, 2009

The Next Meryl Streep? She’s Already Here.

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 10:39 pm


After more than thirty years acting in films, Meryl Streep might be more popular than ever and has become a staple of the summer movie season. Where once reigned Arnold, Tom and Harrison now rules a fifteen-time Academy Award nominee whose career was built not on light summer fare, but on weighty dramas. Oh, she can still act the hell out of those too, have no doubt (pun intended). But Streep has become as sure-fire a summer success story as Will Smith. 2006 – The Devil Wears Prada. 2008 – Mamma Mia. 2009 – Julie & Julia.

With her talent and popularity, Streep is the inspiration to every young actress who came up after her, and so naturally people are always surveying the landscape looking for her successor. The Seattle Times recently published this article, positing a handful of up-and-coming actresses as Streep’s heir. The author’s suggestions are fine, but her question comes years too late. The next Meryl Streep has already been found, and we’ve been marveling at her for over a decade. Her name is Cate Blanchett.

Like Streep before her, Blanchett has a gift for deep immersion into her characters and an ear for any accent on the globe. Even more so than Streep, she also has an ability to physically transform. At the Oscars a few years back, when Blanchett was a double-nominee for I’m Not There and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, host Jon Stewart praised her range by pointing out that she played the pit bull who chased Josh Brolin across a stream in No Country for Old Men, and that he himself at that moment was being played by Cate Blanchett. Both statements could have been true. She can move effortlessly between comedy and drama, and she never backs away from a challenge (see her take on Bob Dylan in the aforementioned I’m Not There). In 2001 alone, Blanchett was onscreen as a frustrated housewife on the run in the comedy Bandits, a white-trash, idealized dream girl in The Shipping News, a Scottish resistance fighter in Charlotte Gray and the ethereal elf queen in The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Three different genres. Four different dialects. Four different physicalities. One remarkable actress.

Blanchett’s similarities to Streep extend outside of what each is capable of as a performer. Both are beautiful, but not by traditional standards. Neither was ever the fantasy-girl knockout; their beauty is more classic, more elegant. Both always come across in interviews as genuine and down to earth. Both keep a distance from the Hollywood scene, preferring to focus on their family when not engaged in the actual work of making movies. Both have demonstrated excellent taste in material throughout their careers.  A quick glance at their filmographies shows that disappointments are few and far between, at least in terms of performances. Even if they’re in a movie that’s only so-so, how often do they fail to deliver? Not very. And both have made a frequent habit of returning to theater and performing on stage.

Leading roles, supporting roles, comedic roles, dramatic roles, glamorous, gritty, German, Russian, American, playing men, playing multiple characters in the same film…Blanchett has proven there’s pretty much nothing she can’t do, and Streep did it all first (well, they haven’t both done all the same accents, but each has mastered whatever vocal alterations they’ve undertaken). Blanchett may not be on track to break Streep’s record of Oscar nominations (if anyone is poised to do that one day, it’s Kate Winslet), but in terms of this discussion, such statistics don’t matter. The facts are on film, and they’re irrefutable. And just because Blanchett has proven a worthy successor, Streep is not going anywhere (a fact assured by her continued box office success). There is plenty of room for both her and Blanchett to shine on….perhaps alongside each other sometime soon, if we’re really lucky.

While we can always be on the lookout for the next exciting ingénues, and some of them might even earn comparisons to Streep in due time, the position of Next Meryl Streep has been filled. The question now is, who’s the next Cate Blanchett?


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