Biography of Meryl Streep 2024

Meryl Streep is widely considered one of the greatest actresses of all time. She has received more Academy Award nominations than any other actor or actress in history. Streep is known for her versatility and ability to transform into any character she plays.

She has starred in numerous critically acclaimed films across a range of genres from dramas to musicals. Streep’s career has spanned over 40 years and she continues to take on challenging and complex roles.

Early Life and Education

Meryl Streep was born Mary Louise Streep on June 22, 1949 in Summit, New Jersey. Her father Harry was a pharmaceutical executive and her mother Mary was a commercial artist. Streep was the eldest of three children.

As a young child, Streep took voice lessons and became interested in acting after playing a role in a 5th grade play. In high school, Streep performed in several musicals and plays.

College and Graduate School

Streep graduated from Bernards High School in 1967. She went on to study at Vassar College, graduating with a degree in drama in 1971. During her time at Vassar, Streep performed in numerous plays and musicals and took classes in theatre studies.

After graduating, Streep enrolled at Yale School of Drama where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1975. At Yale, she performed roles ranging from Chekhov to Tennessee Williams.

Early Acting Career (1975-1980)

After completing her education, Streep began acting in New York theatre productions. Some of her earliest roles include:

  • Esther in “Measure for Measure” with the New York Shakespeare Festival (1975)
  • Isabella in “Measure for Measure” with Lincoln Center Theatre (1976)
  • Katherine in “The Taming of the Shrew” with Lincoln Center Theatre (1978)

Streep also appeared in several television films in the late 1970s:

  • The Deadliest Season (1977)
  • Holocaust (1978) – earned Emmy nomination
  • The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979)

Streep made her feature film debut in 1977’s Julia playing a small role. Her first substantial film role came in 1978’s The Deer Hunter with Robert De Niro which earned Streep her first Oscar nomination.

Rise to Prominence and Critical Acclaim (1980-1990)

In the 1980s, Streep’s fame rose significantly with leading roles in several acclaimed films:

1981The French Lieutenant’s WomanSarah/AnnaAcademy Award nomination for Best Actress
1982Sophie’s ChoiceSophieAcademy Award for Best Actress
1983SilkwoodKaren SilkwoodAcademy Award nomination for Best Actress
1985Out of AfricaKaren BlixenAcademy Award nomination for Best Actress
1986HeartburnRachel Samstat
1987IronweedHelen ArcherAcademy Award nomination for Best Actress
1988A Cry in the DarkLindy ChamberlainAcademy Award nomination for Best Actress
1990Postcards from the EdgeSuzanne ValeAcademy Award nomination for Best Actress

Streep’s most acclaimed role during this period was in 1982’s Sophie’s Choice where she played a Polish Holocaust survivor. Her emotional performance earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress. Streep also demonstrated her comedic skills in 1990’s Postcards from the Edge.

Continued Success and Industry Recognition (1990s)

In the 1990s, Streep expanded her filmography taking on a wide range of roles:

  • 1992 – Death Becomes Her – Academy Award nomination
  • 1993 – The House of the Spirits
  • 1994 – The River Wild
  • 1995 – The Bridges of Madison County – Academy Award nomination
  • 1996 – Marvin’s Room
  • 1998 – One True Thing – Academy Award nomination
  • 1999 – Music of the Heart – Academy Award nomination

She also had a memorable comedic role in the 1999 hit comedy The Devil Wears Prada. Streep’s diversity of characters earned her praise for her acting range.

In 1995, Streep was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes which recognizes outstanding contributions to entertainment. By the end of the decade, she had set a record for the most Academy Award nominations of any actor.

2000s – Prestigious Roles in Historical Dramas

In the 2000s, Streep continued to star in acclaimed films in a variety of genres:

  • 2002 – The Hours – Academy Award nomination
  • 2002 – Adaptation – Academy Award nomination
  • 2004 – The Manchurian Candidate
  • 2006 – The Devil Wears Prada
  • 2008 – Doubt – Academy Award nomination
  • 2009 – Julie & Julia
  • 2009 – It’s Complicated

She also took on several prestigious lead roles in historical dramas including:

  • 2002 – The Hours as novelist Virginia Woolf
  • 2008 – Doubt depicting a Catholic school principal in the 1960s
  • 2011 – The Iron Lady as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
    • Won Academy Award for Best Actress for this role

Streep’s ability to authentically portray real-life figures solidified her reputation as one of the best actresses of her generation.

2010s – Present: Veteran Actress Status

In the 2010s, Streep continued to balance comedies and dramas while taking on some of her most complex roles to date:

  • 2014 – Into the Woods – earned Grammy nomination
  • 2014 – The Homesman
  • 2015 – Ricki and the Flash
  • 2016 – Florence Foster Jenkins – Academy Award nomination
  • 2017 – The Post – Academy Award nomination
  • 2018 – Mary Poppins Returns
  • 2020 – The Prom
  • 2021 – Don’t Look Up

As Streep entered her 70s, she retained her ability to draw audiences and earn critical praise. Some highlights include:

  • 2018 – Highest grossing actress of all time with over $3.5 billion in box office sales
  • 2020 – Record setting 52nd Academy Award nomination for The Iron Lady
  • 2022 – Record setting 32nd Golden Globe nomination for The Prom

Now in her fifth decade as an actress, Streep’s career is unparalleled in its versatility, accolades, and longevity. She continues to deliver outstanding performances that showcase her exceptional talents.

Acting Style and Legacy

Streep is known for her intense commitment to preparing for roles. She thoroughly researches each character incorporating details into her performance such as accents and mannerisms. Streep is a master of accents – she learned Polish for Sophie’s Choice, Danish for Out of Africa, and flawless British accents for multiple roles.

Streep also bravely takes on roles requiring her to learn new skills like singing opera in Postcards from the Edge or playing the violin in Music of the Heart. This meticulous approach allows Streep to fully inhabit each character she plays.

Range and Versatility

With over 90 film credits spanning nearly every genre, Streep is one of the most versatile actresses ever. She can flawlessly switch between accents, eras, and personalities. Equally adept at portraying real figures like Julia Child or fictional creations like Miranda Priestly, Streep disappears completely into each role.

She has repeatedly shown her skills in both serious dramatic roles and lighthearted comedies. Roger Ebert once wrote that Streep “is so good that we seldom discuss her technique.” Her ability to modulate between stories and styles is unparalleled.

Collaboration and Improvisation

Despite her intense preparation, Streep also thrives collaborating with other actors. She has spoken of the joy she finds in the improvisational moments in her scenes. Directors praise Streep’s ability to try new approaches and refine characters together on set.

This collaborative strength is evident in Streep’s successful on-screen partnerships with actors like Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, and Anne Hathaway. Off-screen, Streep is also known as a generous and supportive costar.

Personal Life

Streep met sculptor Don Gummer while filming a television movie in 1976. They married in 1978 and have four children together – Henry, Mamie, Grace, and Louisa. The family divided their time between homes in Connecticut and Los Angeles.

Despite her fame, Streep maintained a very private personal life centered on her family. She took hiatuses from acting to raise her children and did not employ nannies or assistants. In a rare interview with Oprah, Streep stated her family was always her top priority over her career.

Activism and Philanthropy

In addition to acting, Streep has remained actively involved in politics, philanthropy, and social issues. She is a committed feminist and human rights advocate:

  • Spokesperson for Women in the World summit
  • Founding member of the Time’s Up initiative against workplace harassment
  • Testified before Congress on equal rights amendment and funding for the arts
  • Featured speaker at March for Our Lives protest in 2018

Streep also co-founded a scholarship program for women screenwriters over 40 and has supported arts education programs like Vital Voices. She donated her entire salary for The Iron Lady to the National Women’s History Museum.

Accolades and Achievements

Meryl Streep has received more Oscar and Golden Globe nominations than any other actor. Some of her numerous honors include:

  • 3 Academy Awards – Kramer vs Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, The Iron Lady
  • 9 Golden Globes
  • 3 Primetime Emmy Awards
  • 2 British Academy Film Awards
  • 2010 National Medal of Arts awarded by President Obama
  • 2017 Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement

Streep has also set many records over her long career:

  • Most Academy Award nominations – 21
  • Most Golden Globe nominations – 31
  • Oldest person to win Best Actress Oscar at age 62
  • First actor to receive three or more Oscars for acting
  • Only actor nominated for Oscars in 5 consecutive decades

By any measure, Streep stands as one of the most decorated, respected, and influential actors of all time thanks to her unparalleled career of outstanding performances across every genre of film.

Top 5 Memorable Meryl Streep Roles

  1. Sophie (Sophie’s Choice) – Streep won her first Oscar for her heartbreaking portrayal of a Polish Holocaust survivor forced to make an unimaginable choice. Her accent, emotion, and gravitas made it a transcendent performance.
  2. Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada) – As the icy fashion magazine editor, Streep was hilarious yet terrifying. She stole every scene with her cutting remarks and masterful comic timing.
  3. Karen Silkwood (Silkwood) – Streep brought empathy and humanity to activist Karen Silkwood in this biopic. She earned her 4th Oscar nomination and critical praise for the performance.
  4. Margaret Thatcher (The Iron Lady) – For her role as the polarizing British Prime Minister, Streep underwent incredible physical and vocal transformation. She won the Oscar for her immersive work.
  5. Julia Child (Julie & Julia) – In this charming culinary tale, Streep embodied the exuberant TV chef perfectly and earned a Golden Globe. Her joyous performance was irresistible.


Meryl Streep’s unparalleled career has rightfully earned her the title of the greatest living film actress. She has received more Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations than any other performer in history thanks to her exceptional versatility and commitment to every role she inhabits.

Streep continues to deliver stunning performances that showcase her mastery of accents, eras, and characters. Her dedication to immerse herself fully into each nuanced portrayal makes her transformative performances utterly compelling to watch. While she has starred in blockbusters and comedies, Streep’s dramatic work often tackles challenging subjects with nuance, empathy, and humanity.

She chooses complex roles across every genre that provide her the opportunity to disappear completely into a character. Despite her fame, Streep remains dedicated to her craft and enriches each film she graces with her presence. Regardless of age or accolades, Meryl Streep maintains an undiminished passion for acting and for bringing authenticity and emotional truth to every scene.

She is proof that talent and technique can improve with time and remains an inspiration to all performers to follow their passions. There simply is no peer for Meryl Streep’s combination of exceptional acting talents, tireless dedication to her craft, and vast contribution to American film.

Frequently Asked Questions about Meryl Streep’s Career

What was Meryl Streep’s first major film role?

Meryl Streep’s first major film role came in 1978 when she starred as Linda in The Deer Hunter opposite Robert De Niro. The role earned Streep her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

How much has Meryl Streep’s filmography grossed at the box office?

According to estimates, the combined box office gross of Meryl Streep’s films is over $3 billion dollars. She is often cited as the highest grossing female actor of all time.

How many Oscars has Meryl Streep won?

Meryl Streep has won three Academy Awards for Best Actress – for Kramer vs. Kramer in 1979, Sophie’s Choice in 1982, and The Iron Lady in 2011. She holds the record for the most acting Oscar wins.

What was Meryl Streep’s most iconic role?

While Streep has had an illustrious career spanning dozens of memorable roles, many consider her portrayal of Sophie Zawistowski in Sophie’s Choice to be her most iconic. Her performance in the film won Streep her first Oscar.

At what age did Meryl Streep make her stage debut?

Meryl Streep first appeared on stage in a school play when she was just 12 years old. In high school, she went on to star in several musicals before going on to study drama at Vassar and Yale.