Meryl Streep will be one of two guest poetry readers at the upcoming Birthday Tribute to Emmett Lee Dickinson on October 12 at the Folger Coffee Plant (a related Birthday Tribute to Emily Dickinson will take place at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, on December 10).
I sat down with Meryl recently for an exclusive interview to discuss her career, the upcoming event, and her love of America’s greatest poet, Emmett Lee Dickinson (Emily Dickinson’s third cousin, twice removed –at her request).
Oh, I do. I love Emmett Lee Dickinson. You know, I grew up at a time when educational opportunities just weren’t the same for girls as they were for boys, so my parents had me dress like a boy, and they registered me as Merl Streep at the Emmett Lee Dickinson School for Boys and Military Academy in Benardsville, New Jersey.
Below: Meryl Streep attended the Emmett Lee Dickinson School for Boys and Military Academy in Bernardsville, NJ, as "Merl Streep."
Were you thinking of a career in the military?
Yes, yes I was. But my drama coach at the Dickinson School, Wallace Creakle, saw something in me that led me down a completely opposite path.
A path to Hollywood and super-stardom?
Well, yes – but it wasn’t easy. Early in high school he choose me for perhaps the most challenging role I’ve ever tackled, the title role in a production of “Harvey.” That’s what really changed my life.
A drama coach from the Institute for the Study of Body Language, Mummery, and Mimery was in the audience one night – her name was Lavinia Bassingham – and she convinced me to pursue acting as a career. After I graduated high school I joined the Institute and was part of what is now known as the “Sixty-seven Class from Heaven.” I graduated with Andy Kaufman, Sissy Spacek, Garry Shandling, and so many more.
You’d mentioned that the title role in “Harvey” was challenging. What are some of the other challenging roles you’ve had in your career?
Two come to mind. The first was when I played Lindy Chamberlain in “A Cry in the Dark.” I had to work with wild dingos in that movie. Have you ever had to work with dingos?
Just once – with Nicki Minaj on tour.
Then you know what I mean. It was quite a surreal experience.
What was the other challenging role that came to mind?
Oh – that was playing the droid BB-8 in “The Force Awakens.”
You were marvelous as BB-8! It really showed your versatility.
I got so dizzy rolling around in that costume though. J. J. Abrams, the director, would allow longer and longer breaks between takes because I would get so sick. I literally barfed up my burrito lunch on Adam Driver’s boots one day, and he wasn’t too happy – but hey, you try rolling around a set in a tin ball and see if you can hold it in.
In November I start filming a bio-pic about Ethel Merman’s marriage to Ernest Borgnine. Ron Howard is directing and Rob Lowe is set to play Borgnine.
And you’re playing Ethel Merman?
Yes. It’ll be challenging too. I thought I’d signed on to play Ethel Mertz in some sort of tribute to Lucille Ball, but then I read the script! Isn’t that a hoot? It’ll be fun though.
Except the honeymoon scenes?
YES! Borgnine and Merman flew to Muttaburra in the outback of Australia for their honeymoon – and there are dingos in all the scenes! I’ll be working with those (bleep)ing dingos again!
Below left: Ehtel Merman and Ernest Borgnine on their wedding day. The two met at the sesquicentennial Birthday Tribute to Emmett Lee Dickinson at the auditorium of the Folger Coffee Plant in Washerst, PA, in 1953.
Below right: Meryl Streep and Rob Lowe are set to play Merman and Borgnine in a new major motion picture directed by Ron Howard.
For more information on the upcoming ELD Birthday Tribute on October 12, click HERE.