Movies Spotlight

Meryl Streep: Box Office Queen

She's long had respect, but with ''Devil Wears Prada'' and ''Mamma Mia!'' she's become astonishingly bankable too. Now, ''Doubt'' could bring her another Oscar. At 59, she's a bigger star than ever -- and, by the way, she's loving it

Meryl Streep | MERYL STREEP Becoming a bankable movie star at age 59 is astounding -- to others. ''I've worked hard, so this is what I expect,'' she…
Image credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY RICHARD PHIBBS
MERYL STREEP Becoming a bankable movie star at age 59 is astounding -- to others. ''I've worked hard, so this is what I expect,'' she says. ''It doesn't normally happen, but it should.''

Meryl Streep looks like she's been gut-punched. As she sits in a dimly lit hotel room, her alabaster skin has turned a pale shade of gray. Her eyes have gone glassy. She winces slightly. ''It's been a rough morning,'' she says. She suspects the culprit was food poisoning from the salmon at last night's Los Angeles premiere of her new Oscar-contending drama, Doubt. She pads over to her minibar to settle her stomach with a Coke. She shuts her eyes for a moment, and then grumbles, ''I'm going to live.''

So she's mortal after all. On screen, however, she's become indestructible. Streep has been the driving force behind two enormous summer blockbusters, The Devil Wears Prada and Mamma Mia!, which shattered records and even bested a few superheroes. That's a coup for any actor. But given that Hollywood treats actresses over 40 as if they've passed their sell-by date, Streep's transformation into a bankable movie star at age 59 is astounding. Just don't tell her that. ''I'm not amazed,'' she says. ''It's like Obama. For the two days after he was elected, people were going around to every black person they knew saying, 'Aren't you amazed?' Why should people be amazed when the most qualified person is elected?'' (Her political passion extends all the way to her toenails. She's painted them Obama blue.) ''I've worked hard, so this is what I expect,'' she continues. ''It doesn't normally happen, but it should.'' She's right, of course. But it's still unprecedented. Studios are now carving out space in their summer schedules, between the Pirates and the Pixars, for a Streep film. ''A Meryl Streep slot,'' says Sony Pictures chairman Amy Pascal. ''Who ever thought you'd say that?''

Nobody. The common assumption is that women will go see movies starring men, but men won't buy a ticket to see a movie about a woman. Streep has changed the game. Of the 50 highest-grossing films of all time worldwide, only one is female-driven: Mamma Mia! ''She's the hottest actress in America,'' says Nora Ephron, who wrote and directed Streep's August '09 film, Julie and Julia, in which the actress plays chef Julia Child. ''Many years ago, when we did Silkwood, [director] Mike Nichols said to her, 'You're going to have a career as huge as Bette Davis.' And the truth is, multiply that by 20. At this age Bette Davis was playing crazy ladies in bad movies.''

NEXT PAGE: Acting ''is very satisfying if you can manage to not have your feelings hurt when they don't like you. I haven't really had any breakthroughs in that area. It still hurts my feelings.''

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