Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Meryl Streep interacts with rapt University of Texas students

At the University of Texas on Friday, Meryl Streep gives career advice and more to ecstatic film and theater students

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com
Fran Dorn, who heads the acting program at the University of Texas, listens to Meryl Streep speak on Friday. Dorn invited Streep, a friend from Yale Drama School, to talk with students at UT.

Asked by a University of Texas student whether she ever foresaw an acting career crowned by more than 100 major awards, Meryl Streep cackled.

"This is so sick," Streep said to more than 400 film and theater students at the B. Iden Payne Theatre on Friday.

Then she explained how, in acting class, she was directed to picture something that would make her cry onstage. She refused to think of anyone in her family dying, so: "I suddenly imagined I was the most famous actress in the world, and really, really old — 45. And I'm onstage at the Academy Awards, announcing my retirement — because I was so old."

Streep, dressed in dark slacks, loose jacket and colorful scarf, reassured the crowd that she had no intention of retiring. (She is 61.) The actress spoke to the university crowd at the invitation of her friend from their Yale University School of Drama days, Fran Dorn, a distinguished Austin actress and teacher, and wife of former LBJ School of Public Affairs director Edwin Dorn.

The former Yale classmates kidded each other harmlessly, leaving most of the afternoon to questions from nervous, enthusiastic students. While speaking to the rapt audience, Streep curled into an armchair atop an oval rug, next to a small table holding flowers and bottled water.

Early on, when a male theater professor wandered onstage by accident, Streep quipped: "It's the theater department. I feel so at home."

Streep talked about preparing to play Margaret Thatcher for a film ("I think it's going to be fun") and performing in Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" ("He is one of our greatest playwrights ever. He has an actor's soul"). Her early inspirations included titanic stage actresses such as Irene Worth, Colleen Dewhurst and, unexpectedly, singer Liza Minnelli ("There's selling it, too").

For success, Streep counseled reliability, hard work and high standards. She wished out loud she hadn't worried so much about her weight, admitting, however: "It pays off on the red carpet." When asked about efforts to promote diversity in casting and representation, Streep said that, even within races, every person was diverse, different and "everybody is crazy!"

She sidestepped queries about favorite roles and people, but said that making "Death Becomes Her" — standing still for all those special effects — was deathly boring.

At one point, Streep repeated the familiar dictum that "acting is really listening." If so, a house of UT students, who didn't miss one syllable of Streep's carefully enunciated responses, are one step closer to careers in film or theater.

mbarnes@statesman.com