Saturday, October 29, 2005

Cover girls: Meryl to Charlize

The Newsweek cover is from Jan. 7, 1980. Meryl, blonde, the rather academic headshot radiating classic beauty and classical training. Inside, an analytical think piece: five consecutive, text-heavy pages uninterrupted by ads. "A Star for the '80s: Meryl Streep," by Jack Kroll and others.

The issue of Entertainment Weekly is dated Oct. 28, 2005. Charlize, blonde, wearing only a pillow, apparently, and exuding centerfold lustiness. Inside, a Q&A: six pages, two consisting entirely of photos focused on her limbs. "Charlize Gets Dirty," by Josh Rottenberg.

What a fun difference a quarter century has wrought in the magazine industry's coverage of major film actors. Granted, different magazines and different readerships, but I'm ready to take Charlize as seriously as Meryl across the board. Charlize is our star for the '00s and beyond, regardless of how the media present her.

In each cover story, Ms. Streep and Ms. Theron are 30 years old. In two months, Meryl will win her first Oscar (for Kramer vs. Kramer), in three years her second (for Sophie's Choice). Charlize won hers a year and a half ago (for Monster), will be nominated again this January (for North Country).

The Newsweek story details Meryl's rise through the Yale School of Drama and the waves she sent through New York theatre. Joe Papp, who hired her for the Public Theatre after graduation, is quoted:

There are only a few people around I would call pure actors. Meryl is one. That means the entire body is an instrument that is used to constantly serve the character. You can see it in her face. I've seen her cheeks get red, so that you can see the internal thing through her skin, which means that there's a total emotional involvement in the situation. And she takes tremendous risks, both physical and emotional.

Watch Monster and North Country, and see that Charlize is cut from the same cloth, which is kind of fascinating. Theron grew up in South Africa, moved to Hollywood at 18 to model and look for a big break. She was discovered in line at the bank, mingled in bimbo second-banana roles for a couple years, then shocked everyone with Monster.

Neither saw success coming, or even wanted it to come. Meryl "didn't think [acting] was a legitimate way to carry on your life." Charlize says in EW, "It's not like I was a little girl going, 'I want to be an actress.' This had kind of found me." And neither has lived the life of a shooting star. Meryl got married in '78 and has stayed married. Charlize has had one steady boyfriend throughout her rise. They are not wild, or reckless with money, or whatever. In short, the tabloids are powerless to distract the public from their abilities. They may enjoy the spoils of fame, but they are in it for the work.

Both women's reserve of talent is deep and wide in front of that great equalizer, the camera lens. Meryl has cemented hers over a long career of celebrated roles. With North Country, you can see already how lasting Charlize's work will be. It's even more impactful than Meryl's, in some ways. Did we ever see Meryl do something as ferocious and fearless as Monster? Or even North Country? Perhaps in Silkwood.

Perhaps. But I always see Meryl Streep in Meryl's performances. She's very much a Katharine Hepburn in that respect -- a great actor and movie star, but also very present in her roles.

But Charlize disappears. Yes, it was with the aid of heavy makeup in Monster. But in North Country, it's just a wig. The rest is some gritty, instinctive, teeth-clamping acting. Thirty-year-old Meryl could've pulled of the role of Josey Aimes without a problem. For sure. It would've been a dignified and true performance. But it wouldn't have worked for me. Why? I dunno.

I'm sure if you were to put Charlize on a Broadway stage, she'd go flat faster than a Steinway in Death Valley. Film is a tricky performance medium, and you either have it or you've had it. Meryl and Charlize have it in different ways, but they both command the screen. They are both stars and actors. Meryl has survived almost 30 years. I think she and Charlize will command the next 30 together. The movies are lucky to have that kind of varied continuum.

I'm not just a moneymaking machine. There have been some offers, but I just didn't feel ready to spend eight months on a film set. Not one day goes by where I go, "Oh, fuck, what am I missing out on?" I love my life as much as my work. I don't want one to take over the other. Charlize Theron, Entertainmently Weekly, 10/28/05

I feel pulled in a lot of different directions but I haven't shattered yet. I feel that I've made commitments professionally, to my marriage, to my baby, to the community. ... Everyone should put their life on the line according to their art, because everything else is easy. Meryl Streep, Newsweek, 1/7/80


Beedow said...

Great story. Good work. Both, indeed, geniuses.

Mimi said...

Interesting comparison. I agree that we have a lot to look forward to with Charlize, my latest heterosexual crush. And with Meryl, still.

Ehil Bent said...

Charlize's character in Arrested Development is proof enough that she's a great actress, in't it?

mck said...

Meryl was a young woman to be taken seriously as a serious actress. What is this Cover girl picture of Charlize (EW) a backlash? See Rosalind Russell and Kate Hepburn movies for "role" models. I'm not impressed by four letter words in interviews--not cute--Enjoyed Charlize in Cider House Rules. As far as Monster it reminds me of Halloween. I don't see Charlize enjoying the long career of a Meryl or Kate Hepburn. She's appealing to a certain readership and/or viewership. Her flame will burn out quickly.

adam k. said...

Are you calling Charlize a better actress than Meryl? Cause, um, I don't think I agree with that.

A college theatre education, graduation from Yale Drama School, New York stage cred, and 13 oscar nominations still count for something.