When Disney invites me on a press trip, I always know that it will be an amazing event, and one that I will leave flipping through my photos in order to remember all the things I got to see and do in just a few days. They are always busy and I always leave wondering how’d I get here? I truly love what I do and am always grateful for what the last adventure entailed. This trip is one of those, that days later you are still trying to comprehend. I have been listening to the transcript recording over and over, reliving the amazing experience of talking to great friends that happen to be in Disney’s latest release, Into the Woods. Yes, I am speaking of THE Meryl Streep along with her BFF’s Tracey Ullman and Christine Baranaski.
Into the Woods Interview
Meryl Streep Chats with Friends and Co-Stars Tracey Ullman and Christine Baranski
There are so many different ways that we have been set up for interviews. This long table is my favorite. It makes it easy to share via Twitter what the people we are interviewing are saying, but also, I feel it’s just more comfortable and relaxed. I want to kinda share with you how it’s done. So here’s a quick look.
It was easy to see from the moment Meryl, Christine and Tracey walked in, that we would be hanging with 3 girlfriends that would tell fun stories and make this an interview that not only is truly exclusive, (Meryl only met with our group on this day), but one that left us wishing we could have just a little more time to hang out.
So, it’s completely obvious you guys are friends. I love the chemistry. Can you tell us how that friendship came to be? And any funny stories you want to share with us?
Christine: Where do we begin? Well, Tracy and Meryl are old friends, so you can start there. That’s an old friendship.
Meryl: Well, I’m a way older friend than Tracy.
Meryl: I met her when she was 21. We did a movie called Plenty. I was 31. And I thought I’d just met my new best friend, who was my age, because I had no idea she.. (Turning to Tracey) I think you were 20, maybe, when we started it.
Tracey: I was a pop.
Yes, she really was – see for yourself.
Meryl: She was a pop star in England. Yeah. Totally, she really was. Discovered by Paul McCartney and —
Tracey: He was my mate, yes. And then we worked — we worked on Plenty.
Meryl: Kinda top 10 — couple top 10 things —
Tracey: I did. I did. I was a one-hit wonder here. And an MTV vee-jay. And yeah, we got on great. We ended up in Tunisia, and we —
Full story here that Tracey shared at the AFI Lifetime Achievement tribute to Meryl –
Tracey Ullman: I think one of our most memorable and poignant moments together was at the end of filming Plenty. And we were on our way home from Tunisia on a crowded flight, sipping champagne and we were laughing at somebody that you and I know who we were laughing at. We’re not mentioning any names here! Ooooh. There’s always one actor you hate on a production. Ooh, I hate him! I hate him! I hate him! We’re not saying who it was, ever. And, um, we were bitching about him, and so you guess what happens? An engine blew on the plane, and the other one cut out. And we began to descend, and the lights went off, and a young air stewardess started crying, which is never a good sign! And after the initial screams, we were both very pale and we held hands, and we became reflective. And you said, “Oh damn, that woman who’s writing that horrible unauthorized biography on me will have a terrific ending, peanut.” And I thought, Oh God, I’m definitely gonna get second billing here, Trace. You know, I could see the headlines: “SCREEN LEGEND STREEP IN TUNISIAN AIR DISASTER. Also aboard, limey comedienne Stacey Pullman.” And we made an emergency landing in Nice, France, where the charming French ground staff, not surprisingly, treated us like crap.
[pointing at Meryl Streep]
Tracey Ullman: Even you! Even you, and you so rarely get treated like crap, then or now.
Tracey Ullman: “I don’t care. She said to you, do you remember zees bitch from Air France? I don’t care. I don’t care. You must have your original boarding pass, Madame.”
[wags her finger, smacks her lips, and poofs]
Tracey Ullman: So, anyway, you are a cut above the rest, Meryl. You are the cream of the crop. And all these tribute lifetime achievement humanitarian in show business millennium thespian of the millennium awards. They’re happening now, and it is puzzling to me because you’re only in your early 50s. A wonderful time for most actresses.
[rolls her eyes and snorts]
Tracey Ullman: YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE WORKING! ALL THE REST OF US HAVE TO SHOW OUR TITS!
[holds her dress open slightly]
Tracey Ullman: Please give me a job, please! It’s come to that. I love you, and it’s lovely to be here tonight.
[blows kisses to Meryl Streep]
Meryl: Yeah, we lived through that.
Tracey: Yeah. We broke down in the desert, and, oh, we — we flew back together, and the plane had been — the engine went, and we thought we were going to die. (Lots of laughing going on here) So we went through these dramatic moments.
Meryl: Over the Mediterranean.
Tracey: It was bad. It was bad.
Meryl: It was amazing. Mmm. But, um, we stayed together. In spite of it all. Had kids the same age. And Christine and I —
Christine: We were dynamos in Greece together, on Mama Mia. So then we had to do research by being friends, so we just hung out all the time, doing “research,” so we had a lot of fun with all of that research.
Meryl: But we’d known each other a hundred years.
Christine: We have. We have, because we’re theater babes, and we’re Connecticut moms, and our kids are roughly the same age, and all three of us had long marriages, and like, shared, ya know, parallel experiences, and it’s a trick, being an actress, and wife, and mother, and having that longevity. That’s a real achievement, in my opinion. That’s the greatest achievement, not just in career, but holding your life together, and look at Meryl, with four kids…
Meryl: It’s a tribute to our husbands.
Tracey: Yes. Fantastic fathers.
Christine: Yes. And our sense of equilibrium. But, yeah. Girl friends. It’s great. But then I met Tracy, and it was like, “Oh, wow…”
Tracey: Yeah. Dying to meet you. (Laughing)
Christine: We didn’t spend nearly enough time together on this movie, because, you know, you have different scenes and plot lines, but we did have one wonderful, long dinner one night in London. And that was great to have .
Tracey: And we had one elongated scene where we were all in it where I got to shout at the giant, and we all had that and it took like, three days, and we all got really silly, and we were talking a lot. You were in your big platform shoes, and kept falling over. And it was great. It was good fun.
Your characters are all like exaggerated versions of parenting methods gone wrong. Did any of you feel — or, even more interesting, did any of your kids feel or see some similarities, and you guys were like, “Oh my God, you’re right”?
Meryl: Yeah. (Laughing – she has the best laugh!)
Christine: I hold the girls a little too closely. Yes, perhaps.
Tracey: (Laughing and then breaks out into the song from the film) Stay with me...
You all mentioned motherhood. What advice do you guys have for us young mothers with little kids, eight and under, little kids. What do you do to survive the life? You know, what advice do you have for us mothers, I mean, because you ladies are moms.
Meryl: Well, I really feel, just speaking for the group, I feel like so much has changed. Raising little kids now is so different from when our children were little kids. I mean I think that’s part of why this film and its warnings and its, you know, overweening care of the mothers and — it speaks to this time when children are, it’s harder and harder to keep the world out. The worst parts of them out. To keep them in the little tower’s impossible. And all of the bad stuff comes in, and people worried about this film, that it maybe is too dark for kids. Kids know so much now. And they’re aware of so much, and yet they’re so resilient, and innately hopeful. So that’s — and that’s sort of what the film is.
Tracey: (Speaking to Meryl) Would we have taken Mabel and Grace to see this? When they were like, six? They would have handled this.
Meryl: Are you kidding? You’d let them watch Cops.
Meryl: When they were seven. And Gracie came home and she said, “Oh.” And then she was imitating, you know, the people, and the crack addicts, getting pulled by their hair.
Tracey: (quickly trying to think of something she could pin Meryl on) Downstairs at your house, watching those —
Meryl: No, never.
Tracey: Oscar screeners with Liam Neeson and the wife getting murdered and —
Meryl: No. No. (Laughing) Iwould have taken the kids at, well, I would say, seven, eight — wouldn’t you?
Christine: Maybe. Maybe seven, eight. But kids are really like, visuals can really affect, and you can explain it away, but be careful what you give them visually. I mean, I remember seeing a documentary on an African tribe. There was this leopard man with long fingernails, and a mask, and I mean, it just had such an impression on me, and it just happened to be on the television set, so you never know what image can really get to them.
Tracey: But it goes back to these Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and we all portray them as they were written. You know. I do smack the kid ’round the head, and I was always loving him afterwards, but, you know, when you would cut your child’s foot off to marry a prince. (Laughing) Lock your daughter in the tower. And there was — the fairy — fairy tales were so frightening when I was a kid.
Meryl: Bluebeard. Remember Bluebeard? Ooh.
Tracey: Yeah. They were for children to be scared of. They did get sort of sanitized a bit, fairy tales, the last 20 years. And — and all of that.
You have all played a variety of drama, comedy, and “Wicked”. What is your favorite role to play?
Meryl: I don’t know if I think about it that way. I think each, each particular person you play deserves their own voice, and deserves their own place in the world, and they’re all about 5’6″ and a half, and they’re all about, you know, my weight and age that I play. But that’s the through-line, but I feel like there are so many different women. So many different stories. And they each deserve their voice, you know, and their particular neuroses and needs and passions. So, I don’t make a distinction — I mean, there are — you know, stupid stuff I’ve done that I (Laughing) — I won’t say what. But, you know, and more cartoony sort of things. Um —
Tracey: Your empathy for Margaret Thatcher for extraordinary for me. Because, when you first said you were going to be Margaret Thatcher, and I’d grown up, you know, in the Eighties. And everyone was like me, it’s like, “Oh. Not her!” But you saw her in a way, as a woman, and how she faced the world, and in a way that you — it was amazing to me.
Meryl: Well, I was just interesting in an old lady. I like old ladies.
Tracey: Yes. (Laughing) And that vulnerability. And that’s what it became — it was amazing, her vulnerability, and how we have our time. And that, you know, my initial reaction was “Margaret Thatcher! Ughhh!” You know?
Meryl: Yeah, but, you know, you’ve played evil people, but they’re fun.
Christine: Yeah. No, they are fun, but I think more to the point is the project that you’re in if you feel like it’s contributing, especially being an actresses who have an opportunity in our work to maybe move the culture forward, and show women in a deeper, more complicated way. I love that I’m playing somebody on television who is well-educated, she runs a law firm, she actually has a relationship. She’s not the butt of a joke. She’s not an old crone. You know, there’s never a mention of menopause or — or any of these clichéd things that we have put on things after a certain age. I love that these are just non-issues, and she’s a woman who is in the world, dealing with a complicated moral topography in her personal and professional life. So being part of anything like that — and I think that this movie is transformative, and contributes good to the world, so I think that’s — that’s what would we look for —
Meryl: Increasingly, that’s what I think about. I mean, I’m — I have, I guess, for a long time, thought, each thing, is this helping? Or this hurting? What’s this doing? Because everything makes a mark on the culture. Everything you do, everything you do, every actress has a choice, you know? Even if you’re supporting a lot of kids, by yourself, you still have a choice, what you’re putting out into the world, and I think it matters.
Last night you had mentioned that one of the things that kind of helped you find your character was coming up with designs. So, what else — for all three of you — what else helps you develop that character into your own, instead of being that exact character that was on Broadway or just to kind of create it as “you”?
Meryl: Well, for — for me, I feel like it — the part I played was so indelibly done on Broadway by Bernadette Peters. But it’s also been indelibly done by many, many kids, throughout the country, in their high schools, and in colleges. And it’s like any really good play, the part can morph to the shape of the person who is, you know, in there. And, so, I felt completely free, and also a failing memory helps me in this. (Laughing) In this place, because I couldn’t have remembered. I would’ve stolen from Bernadette more, if I could remember the thing.
So I felt free, too, and he made us feel that way, (Director) Rob Marshall, and certainly Sondheim said “Do what you want.” He also wrote me a song for this, that isn’t in the film, because it sort of halted the action, but it’ll be in the DVD extras. But when he sang this for me in a private session, and I was so thrilled, and he gave me the sheet music at the end. I said, “Could — do you mind — if I — could — could I keep the sheet music?” And he said, “Sure.” I said, “Well, I hate to ask this, but would you — would you sign it?” And I did! And he said, “Yeah. I’d be glad to,” and he wrote: Don’t f*** it up. (Laughing) Don’t put that in the mommy blog!
Tracey: It’s going in, it’s Tweeting.
Meryl: But that was, ah, sobering. (Laughing)
So, back to the costumes and the makeup and hair and everything. How long was the makeup and hair process, and what was your favorite design?
Christine: You know, I was just thinking about this while getting ready today, about how the look of the step-family, and I will never forget, my first day on the set was a huge, huge scene at Dover Castle, with the arrival of Cinderella. And I had been going back and forth, doing Good Wife, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time for hair makeup tests and all. And this marvelous man, Peter King, he put on my blonde wig, and it was really big, because we originally conceived of them as a truly over-the-top, larger-than-life, trying-too-hard kind of family. And I showed up and Rob took one look at me, and went…”too big.” And as I look at the movie, and I see my various hairstyles in there, they’re a little bit, and then a little off, I think, but that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. These women, they are trying so hard. You know. You look in the mirror and go, “Mmm, no, that’s not enough, I need more hairspray. More, more, more.” And so they’re actually —
Meryl: They’re defined by their looks. Yeah.
Christine: Yes. And they don’t get it exactly right. And so it’s funny. Little accidents can be very helpful and very human, and exactly right for the character.
Tracey: I loved my approach. Peter King said to me on the first day, “I’m going to make you a gray wig.” And most people would be like, “I don’t want to go gray.” I was like, “Great.” Made me go gray, having this wig, and I put it up in this topknot, and I had this beautiful, simple, Colleen Atwood outfit, that reminded me of a sort of Dries van Noten peasant look, and I could roll around in the leaves, and there was just no vanity, and I just loved it. Because I’d done so many things where I’d wear these extravagant make-ups. And just to come in and just smudge my cheeks with mud and become a peasant girl, I found it just wonderful. And it’s feeling comfortable in who you are, and getting older, and not worrying about it. It’s just such a relief. And there is so much pressure on how we all look, and it’s just exhausting. Dignity, girls! Aging with dignity.
Christine: The man who is sitting right over there has created that extraordinary look for Meryl.
Tracey: Roy. Roy Helland. The Oscar-winning Roy Helland.
Meryl: Well, that was a joke, because Roy decided early on that we would have a joke on blue-haired ladies. (Laughing) You know. Making fun of old ladies, because they put the blue rinse, so you don’t have yellow in the white hair, and so he thought — he said, “Well, we’re gonna have blue hair!” And it was so fabulous. And then we came out to LA and I see all of these young girls with blue hair, and I think: “I am on trend!” (Laughing)
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INTO THE WOODS is rated PG and opens in theaters everywhere on December 25th!
*I was invited to take part in this Disney and ABC Family sponsored event. As always, all opinions are my own.
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I’ve been waiting to read this interview from your trip. This must have been so awesome to be in the same room with them.
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