American actress Meryl Streep, 73, is the winner of the 2023 Princess of Asturias Award for the Arts, a prestigious annual prize which this year reaches its 43rd edition. In recent decades, Streep has become, quite simply, the actress, a figure of worldwide prestige, especially on the big screen. And the awards reaffirm this: she has won three Oscars (the last, for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady), in addition to having nominated on 18 other occasions; three Emmys; two British Academy Film Awards, the Donostia Award from the San Sebastian Festival and Best Actress at Cannes for Evil Angels (1988).
“Over five decades, Meryl Streep has developed a brilliant career, stringing together performances in which she gives life to rich and complex female characters, which invite reflection and the formation of the viewer’s critical spirit,” said the jury of the Princess of Asturias Foundation, named after Spain’s heir to the throne, Princess Leonor, who will hand out the prizes to winners in the arts, sciences, humanities, and public affairs. The jurors also highlighted Streep’s“honesty and responsibility in the choice of her works, in the service of inspiring and exemplary narratives,” as well as her commitment to being “a tireless activist for equality.”
Her presence on the screen has not waned, despite all her years she has been acting. Her body of work includes blockbusters such as Mamma Mia! or, pending release, the third season of the series Only Murders in the Building. Her last film was for Netflix, in which she played President Orlean in Don’t Look Up (2021). By turning to comedy, she has managed to shed the aura of intense actress that has accompanied her for decades. She herself is aware that being categorized as the best living actress in Hollywood can become a burden. When she collected her third Oscar, in 2012, she said: “When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, ‘Oh no. Come on... Her, again?’” She is the only artist to have surpassed two dozen Oscar nominations, and the only one to have a registered trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office since 2018.
She is known for her progressive ideas, something that led then-President Donald Trump to target her on Twitter in 2017, defining her as “a Hillary [Clinton] flunky” and “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood.” The former Republican president was responding to a speech Streep gave at the 2017 Golden Globes in which she denounced him as a bully who disrespected and humiliated others. The speech went viral and further elevated Streep’s moral standing.
As an example of her status as a moral standard-bearer, following Trump’s attacks, Streep reflected on the underlying problem, gender inequality and women’s rights in a speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s 2017 Greater New York Gala dinner: “We have the right to live our lives, with God or without, as we choose. There is a prohibition against the establishment of a state religion in our Constitution, and we have the right to choose with whom we live, whom we love and who and what gets to interfere with our bodies. As Americans, men, women, people, gay, straight, L, B, G, T, Q, all of us have the human right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And if you think people got mad when they thought the government was coming after their guns, wait till they come and try to take away our happiness!”
The queen of dramas
Her home turf for decades has been drama. After graduating from Yale, she quickly jumped to the theater in New York. In one of her first auditions for the movies, producer Dino De Laurentiis turned her down for King Kong for “not being pretty enough.” So her film debut came later, with Julia (1977). The following year she already participated in The Deer Hunter and in the series Holocaust. In the former she worked alongside her then partner, actor John Cazale, who was unsuccessfully fighting cancer. Cazale’s legend is comparable to Streep’s: he only acted in five films, and all of them were Oscar nominees, before he died in March 1978.
In any case, Streep could be considered the queen of weeping in the stalls: from Kramer vs. Kramer to Sophie’s Choice; from Evil Angels or The French Lieutenant’s Woman to Out of Africa, from Postcards from the Edge and Silkwood to The Bridges of Madison County, no one has handled drama like her. Which is something she never sought out to do. In several interviews, she has assured that she always sought to “collect experiences to give them back to the world,” that her career “has never been guided by strategic reasons.” Having been the mother of four children, she has never produced or generated her own projects, nor has she had any control of the scripts she has been given.
The interpreter of Heartburn, The Devil Wears Prada, Adaptation, The Hours, Angels in America and Manhattan, the actress of a thousand accents and absolute master in the art of voice and body language, now joins the list of artists who have won the Princess of Asturias Award for the Arts, including the composers Ennio Morricone and John Williams (2020), the playwright Peter Brook (2019) or the filmmaker Martin Scorsese (2018).
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