INTO THE WOODS – Interview with Meryl Streep

We catch up with the legendary Meryl Streep to talk all things INTO THE WOODS

For almost 40 years, MERYL STREEP has portrayed an astonishing array of characters in a career that has cut its own unique path from the theatre, through film and television. In 2014, in a record that is unsurpassed, she earned her 18th for Academy Award® nomination for her role in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY She has won three times, for her performances in THE IRON LADY (2012), SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1983) and KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1980). She appears this week in Disney’s new movie INTO THE WOODS playing The Witch.

What attracted you to playing The Witch in INTO THE WOODS?
Meryl Streep: When I turned 40, I was offered three witches in one year and I realized this was the way my career was going to go: they don’t know what to do with women past a certain age. So I turned them down and I have said “no” to playing witches ever since. However, I changed my mind when this role came along because this witch is quite different. First of all, she transforms. Her whole reason for being is to reverse a curse that has been placed on her; she sets in motion all sorts of devices and causes a dramatic upheaval in everybody’s lives. I believe fairy tales have evolved as cautionary tales. They were told to scare children away from the dangers they would encounter in their lives and to encourage young women to marry rich men. Everybody is encouraged to find a Prince and live happily ever after and sometimes it doesn’t work that way. This is where the INTO THE WOODS fairy tale becomes reality and it gets really exciting, random, weird and almost like real life. For an actor, they are great fun.

Were you familiar with the stage production prior to signing onto the film?
MS: I went to see the musical when it was on Broadway with the great Bernadette Peters playing the Witch, and I thought it was fantastic. There is no one like Stephen Sondheim. There is no one who writes singable, character-driven music that tells a story. The wit, the intelligence and the daring in his music is unparalleled, so I was really happy to have the chance to work on it.

Tell us about the look of the film. Did that have an impact on you as an actor?
MS: I really depend on my hair and make-up designer, Roy Helland, who is amazing and has created two very different looks for the Witch and the Witch transformed. It is exciting, every time we get into a new project we’re full of anxiety wondering if we have pushed it too far, but it is really fun to work that way. Why be safe? I’m playing a witch! And Colleen Atwood, our costume designer, is a tornado. Her work is so imaginative, free and dramatic. At the same time, she is well known for her attention to detail and some of the work is so carefully thought out, delicate and beautifully made – it is really beautiful and fun to wear. The sets were extraordinary as well. There was a forest built on many different stages, because in one state it’s one way, and post- apocalyptic, another kind of landscape entirely. And we also shot some scenes outside in real settings. We shot the Rapunzel sequence in an 11th century abbey north of London called Waverley Abbey and the “earthquake” scene at the beautiful Dover Castle, which is down on the Southern coast. As an actor when you’re at a real castle and you have horses carrying people in carriages with rose blossoms falling from the sky, you’re already in this sort of imaginary world so your work is practically done.

Tell us about the singing the film required?
MS: I really love the music from INTO THE WOODS I actually love it more every time I listen to it. When you first encounter the music, it’s arresting but on the second and third listening it has more and more to give you. And when you’re in a musical they pump the music that we’ve recorded in a studio beforehand through the whole set. I remember coming out of the theater on Broadway and singing “No One Is Alone” to myself – that song just pierces you when you hear it. The other songs are equally as wonderful.

INTO THE WOODS is now showing at Irish cinemas