- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

LOS ANGELES — It's one thing for the fictional incarnation of a relatively new screenwriter to beat himself up with self-loathing and doubt his own talent. It's another thing for Meryl Streep to do the same when she is approached about co-starring in a film about said screenwriter.
Twelve Academy Award nominations and two wins should be validation enough. Yet Miss Streep says she was struck by the same sense of inadequacy she often feels when she was asked to appear in "Adaptation," a wildly inventive yarn in which "Being John Malkovich" writer Charlie Kaufman inserts a neurotic manifestation of himself into the story of his failed attempt to adapt a nonfiction book for the screen. The movie opens in Washington Dec. 20.
"There was no denying that Charlie's script was so vivid, and I just read it over and over and over," Miss Streep says in an interview. "And I went, 'Why do they want me?' I was so thrilled that they did, but I kept wondering why. I thought, this could be somebody so young and sexy and interesting and blah, blah. They just finally convinced me they wanted me, so I was just beside myself."
Miss Streep, 53, plays a far-out variation of Susan Orlean, author of "The Orchid Thief," a book about obsessive guerrilla horticulturist John Laroche (played in an equally fictionalized version by Chris Cooper). Nicolas Cage stars as Mr. Kaufman and his fictional twin brother, who in "Adaptation" wind up interacting with Orlean and Laroche in a darkly absurd tall tale.
Also this month, Miss Streep co-stars in another book adaptation, "The Hours," based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Miss Streep plays a modern rendition of the heroine of Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway"; her story is interwoven with that of Woolf (Nicole Kidman) as she begins writing the book and that of an anguished '50s housewife (Julianne Moore) who is reading the novel.
Like Mr. Kaufman, who found "The Orchid Thief" impossible to adapt for the screen, Miss Streep initially felt "The Hours" would prove tricky to translate to film.
"I'd read it and loved it; then they said they were going to make a movie of it, and I went, 'You're kidding,' because it's such a completely interior world," Miss Streep says. "But [screenwriter] David Hare did an amazing adaptation. It's really quite, quite beautiful."
Miss Streep plays multiple roles in another Pulitzer-winning work, Mike Nichols' HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner's two-part play "Angels in America," tentatively scheduled to air late in 2003. The cast includes Al Pacino and Emma Thompson.

Most recently nominated for an Oscar for 1999's "Music of the Heart," Miss Streep won the supporting-actress prize for "Kramer vs. Kramer" and the best-actress honor for "Sophie's Choice." A nomination for either "Adaptation" or "The Hours" would be a record-breaker for Miss Streep, who is tied with Katharine Hepburn for most acting nominations.
She tries to avoid musing about her Oscar prospects.
"It enters my brain mostly because every reporter brings it up when I do these things. It just gets me nervous; that's all it does," Miss Streep says. "But when people mention it, I'm thrilled, because it means they like the movie, and that's what I'm hoping for. If they like it, then it's something other people may want to go see."
Miss Streep grew up in New Jersey, performed in high school musicals and settled on an acting career while studying at Vassar College. She continued her education at the Yale University School of Drama, acted onstage in New York City and moved into film with 1977's "Julia."
In the ensuing 25 years, Miss Streep has earned a reputation as the most heavyweight actress of her generation with such films as "The Deer Hunter," "The French Lieutenant's Woman," "Silkwood" and "Out of Africa."
She attributes her long list of prime roles to "probably dumb luck, a good agent. I don't know. Maybe I've liked material that other people haven't. I've done some characters that are sort of unattractive people. I've been drawn to difficult people, so maybe that's part of it."
With mixed success, Miss Streep has lightened up in a range of comedies, including "Death Becomes Her," "Defending Your Life" and "Postcards From the Edge."

"Adaptation" director Spike Jonze, who also collaborated with Mr. Kaufman on "Being John Malkovich," says Miss Streep's comic sensibilities and her ability to express deeply internalized emotion made her ideal for the movie's take on Orlean, a character who goes from subtle introspection to outrageous action by film's end.
"I didn't know if it was realistic to get her, but Meryl was our first choice to play it, because Charlie and I loved her in so many movies," Mr. Jonze says.
"For our movie specifically, her part is very quiet in a lot of scenes. She's a journalist; therefore, she's asking a lot of questions, listening to what other people say. We needed somebody like Meryl who could bring a character to life even though she's not a particularly active character in the first half of the movie."
Miss Streep found herself identifying not only with her own character, but with Mr. Kaufman's insecurities about his self-worth, which she figures is a universal pitfall among artists.
"You realize that everyone is just eaten up by that feeling," she says. "Maybe it's a good thing. I hope it's some sort of breaking down of whatever is familiar to you. Whatever is complacent, whatever is easy. Whatever you've done before.
"You're starting over. You're starting with nothing. How do you know how to do anything? Who do you think you are? That's sort of where you have to start in order to start true."

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