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13 Musings On the Art of Acting From Meryl Streep

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Meryl Streep really needs no introduction: She's widely considered to be one of the best film actors alive. She's portrayed real women like Julia Child, Margaret Thatcher and Karen Silkwood to legendary effect, and brought to life fictional ones as wide ranging as Sophie Zawistowski and Miranda Priestly. Anyone who's seen her knows Streep's ability to enchant audiences and critics with her chameleon-like ability to fully inhabit the characters she plays. Her incredible career—marked by record-setting nominations and wins (including three Oscars, two Emmys, and eight Golden Globes)—makes her more than qualified to share some words of wisdom on the art and craft of acting.

1. ON THE VALUE OF ACTING.

“I think there’s great worth in it. And the worth is in listening to people who maybe don’t even exist, or who are voices in your past, and through you, come through the work and you give them to other people. I think that giving voice to characters that have no other voice—that’s the great worth of what we do.”

— From a 1998 appearance on Inside The Actors Studio

2. ON HOW SHE CREATES A CHARACTER.

“I have been smug and willfully ignorant. I've cultivated a deliberate reluctance to investigate my own method of working because I'm afraid of killing the goose. I'm afraid if I parse it I won't be able to do it anymore.”

— From a 2006 lecture at Princeton University

3. ON WHAT SHE HAS ACHIEVED.

“My achievement, if you can call it that, is that I've basically pretended to be extraordinary people my entire life, and now I'm being mistaken for one.”

—From a 2006 lecture at Princeton University

4. ON WHAT YOUNG ACTORS SHOULD STUDY.

“My own bias is to educate yourself in everything but acting. Learn about the world. Learn about everything else. Learn about the human condition. That's the kind of actor I wanted to be. I'm curious about everything and everybody and not to limit myself with a certain kind of acting.”

—From a 2014 interview with the Hartford Courant

5. ON BEING A CELEBRITY VS. BEING AN ACTOR.

“Being a celebrity has taught me to hide, but being an actor has opened my soul.”

— From her 2010 commencement speech at Barnard College

6. ON BEING CALLED THE GREATEST ACTRESS OF ALL TIME.

“I don't think of myself as the greatest anything—cook, housekeeper, actor or developer of material. I don't think there's the best of anything.”

— From a 2010 visit to the University of Texas theater department

7. ON PLAYING JULIA CHILD AND MARGARET THATCHER.

Columbia Pictures

“Julia Child's so alive. Margaret is so designed, so intent upon making her point. That's the most important thing—that she win the argument—and there is nothing that stands in the way of that train. Julia's just alive in front of you; that's part of why people loved her.”

— From a 2012 interview with NPR

8. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF CURIOSITY.

“…I don't think you can really be an effective actor if you're not curious about people and events. And if you're interested in things, you want to go deeper and you want to know more. At least, the thing [that's always] ignited my own excitement about working is to know more about somebody: What made them do this? What in God's name went wrong?”

— From a 2010 speech at the University of Texas

9. ON HER STAGE FRIGHT.

“It's odd: I have this career that spans continents, but the pathetic thing is that I can't get up in front of people and speak. I get really, really nervous … Fiction is something you can lie down and wrap yourself up in. In reality, you're alone on the mountaintop in the wind and the storm, and you don't know if you're going to be blown away. In the movies, I know the ending. It's the first thing I read.”

— From a 1988 feature in Interview Magazine

10. ON CAREER UNCERTAINTY.

“The uncertainly is going to be there. You're going to be unemployed for months at a time if you're looking over a 40-year period. I said you have to really make sure you've got your life right, to keep your friends close. Relationships matter. Your career is one thing but your life's work should be in your relationships—which are going to sustain you.”

— From a 2014 interview with the Hartford Courant

11. ON WHAT SHE WISHES SHE HAD KNOWN WHEN SHE WAS YOUNGER.

Warner Bros.

“I think the power of optimism and understanding what kind of stamina it takes to be an actor. And I don't mean just physical stamina—spiritual, mental, character stamina. Because it's very hard to be rejected or have bad reviews, or if you do become successful, to feel the chattering about you in other ways. It's kind of weird.”

— From a 2010 speech at the University of Texas

12. ON WORK/LIFE BALANCE.

“You have to get your life right before you can get your art going. At least for me the things that matter most are peripheral to my awards or parts I've played, my life is what matters.”

— From a 2010 visit to the University of Texas theater department

13. ON THE CHARACTERS SHE FEELS DRAWN TO PORTRAY.

TriStar Pictures

“…I've always been drawn to characters who are difficult to translate to other people, prissy women, disagreeable women, women whose motives are easily misconstrued, women who are hard to love.”

— From a 2006 lecture at Princeton University

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10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
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Winning an Oscar is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you’re Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are, Colin Firth.

1. ANGELINA JOLIE

After Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world wrinkle their noses, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage with the rest of Marcheline’s belongings when she died in 2007, but it hasn’t yet surfaced. “I didn’t actually lose it,” Jolie said, “but nobody knows where it is at the moment.”

2. WHOOPI GOLDBERG

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said.

3. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS

When Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. “For $78,” they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. MARLON BRANDO

“I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.” He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. “The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don’t know where it is now.”

5. JEFF BRIDGES

Jeff Bridges had just won his Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the next year’s ceremony, where he was up for another one. He lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. “It’s been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now,” the actor admitted. “I’m hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven’t won a spare! But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better.” Which brings us to ...

6. COLIN FIRTH

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed the British actor as he said those words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. MATT DAMON

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn’t sure where his award went. “I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it,” Damon said in 2007.

8. MARGARET O'BRIEN

In 1945, seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O’Briens’ maid took the award home to polish, as she had done before, but never came back to work. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O’Brien’s mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O’Brien. “I’ll never give it to anyone to polish again,” she said.

9. BING CROSBY

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school’s library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a three-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. “I wanted to make people laugh,” the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. HATTIE MCDANIEL

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2013.

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15 Wonderfully Wise Quotes From Judy Blume
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Judy Blume was the queen of the YA novel before the concept even existed, inspiring generations of passionate fans—and a fair share of dissenters—in her nearly 50-year career. Here are just a few of our favorite thoughts about books, writing, and life from the iconic author, who turns 80 years old today.

1. ON BEING ONE OF THE MOST BANNED AUTHORS OF THE 20TH CENTURY

“I’ll tell you what I make of that—that censors, those who want to censor, they don’t come after books until they know that kids really like them, and once kids like a book, it’s like, ‘There must be something wrong with this book, because why do the kids like it.’ You look at the banned books and you’ll see that they’re popular books with kids.”

— From a 2012 interview with PBS

2. ON THE EFFECTS OF CENSORSHIP

“But it's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”

— From Blume's official website

3. WHY SHE WORRIES ABOUT KIDS THESE DAYS

“Yes, I was a great daydreamer. You know what I worry about? I worry that kids today don't have enough time to just sit and daydream. I was a great pretender, always making up stories inside my head. Stories and stories and stories, but I never told anyone.”

— From an interview with Scholastic

4. ON BEING A WRITER

"Everybody who writes fiction draws from their own life, but if it ended there, it would be very boring. When I talk to kids and they say, 'How do you become a writer?', well, I don't know that you become a writer: you just are. I always had stories, they were always there inside my head."

— From a 2014 Interview with The Guardian

5. ON WRITING

"Writing saved my life. It saved me, it gave me everything, it took away all my illnesses.”

— From a 2014 Interview with The Guardian

6. ON THE CREATIVE PROCESS

“I don't understand the creative process. For years I would say one thing when kids would ask where I got my ideas. Because I was forced to think up something even though I don't really know. And now I'm just saying to people, 'I don't know. I don't understand how it works. How do I know?'”

— From an interview with January Magazine

7. ON DEALING WITH REJECTION

"It's all about your determination, I think, as much as anything. There are a lot of people with talent, but it's that determination. I mean, you know, I would cry when the rejections came in—the first couple of times, anyway—and I would go to sleep feeling down, but I would wake up in the morning optimistic and saying, 'Well, maybe they didn't like that one, but wait till they see what I'm going to do next.' And I think you just have to keep going."

— From a 2011 interview with NPR

8. ON YA AUTHORS AND BOOKS

“[My husband] George and I listened … to the first Hunger Games and we loved it. And we couldn’t wait to get my car and come home. And when we came home, I’m not sure if we’d quite finished, and we sat in the car until we finished. I did not read any of the others. I had no interest in Twilight. But I did see the first movie.”

— From a 2014 interview with Lena Dunham through KCRW

9. ON THE PROS AND CONS OF TWITTER

“I like it. It’s a tremendous—I don’t want to say waste of time, but it also … what can I say? I enjoy reading the people I follow and discovering new people. It’s a lot of fun. I get a lot of laughs from it. And it connects you; it’s nice.”

— From a 2013 interview with Vanity Fair

10. ON GETTING KIDS TO READ

“Whatever gets them excited about reading is good! If you want them to read my books don't tell them so. Maybe just leave around a paperback with a new cover and say, 'I'm not sure you're ready for that.'"

— From a 2013 Reddit AMA

11. ON HER LITERARY INSPIRATIONS

“I was so inspired by Beverly Cleary's funny and wonderful books. And also, Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy. And E. L. Konigsberg's first book, Jennifer Hecate. And my favorite books from when I was young, the Betsy-Tacy books.”

— From an interview with Scholastic

12. ON "MARGARET" AND TEENAGED JUDY

“Margaret is fiction, but based on the kind of twelve year old I was. Growing up, we did have a club like The PTKs. And Margaret's interests and concerns were similar to mine. I was small and thin when thin wasn't in. I was a late developer and was anxious to grow like my friends. Margaret was right from my own sixth grade experience. I wanted to tell the truth as I knew it.”

— From an interview with Scholastic

13. ON HOW BOOKS HELP US COMMUNICATE

“I’ve never really thought in terms of taboos. I think that books can really help parents and kids talk together about difficult subjects. I’ve always felt that way. The parent reads the book. The kid reads the book and then they can talk about the characters instead of talking about themselves. You know there’s a connection even if you don’t talk about it when you read the same books.”

— From a 2014 interview with Lena Dunham through KCR

14. ON THREE THINGS THAT WOULD SURPRISE US ABOUT HER

“I’m phobic about thunderstorms. Writing is incredibly hard for me. I’m not the world’s best mother, though kids always assume I must be. And I love a good cupcake. (I know, that makes four things, but I’m hungry and wishing I had that cupcake.)”

— From a 2012 interview with Smithsonian Magazine

15. ON REVISITING OLD CHARACTERS

"I don't want to rewrite anything. My characters are who they are. For years, people have written and asked me to let Margaret go through menopause. And it's like, 'Hey guys! Margaret is 12 and she is going to stay 12. That's who she is.' No, I don't want to rewrite any of them."

— From a 2018 interview with NPR

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