The Devil Wears Prada
Press Conference Interview with Meryl Streep
June 23, 2006
Meryl Streep has done it all, played so many characters and used so many languages. She’s EVERYONE’s favorite actress when asked. There isn’t a film where you see her act on remote. She reinvents herself with each role. In her latest film, The Devil Wears Prada”, Streep plays fashion editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly, who ruthlessly tortures her assistants with demand after demand that goes beyond the call of duty. The book is supposedly based on real life fashion editor Anna Wintour. At a recent press conference in New York City, Streep talked about her take on the fashion world and playing a character opposite her real life.
It's called "The Devil Wears Prada" but you seem to play her not as a devil or a witch. What's your interpretation of Miranda Priestley? Secondly, she makes a very interesting speech at the end of the movie about being the person that everybody wants to be. How did that hit you personally?
Meryl Streep: Thank you for saying that she wasn't some things that a lot of people think she is, still. I was just interested in making a human being as contradictory and messy as we all are. I think she is an exacting, highly disciplined demanding, ambitious person who doesn't necessarily take the time for all the nice social lubricants that help make the work place grateful and fun. So she's not as good at it as many women are. As far as the last speech is concerned, I think there is a level of kind of career maybe path that demands a certain thing that not everybody wants to give. People have to make their own decisions about their lives and what they want from their lives and what really will make them happy and satisfied. From Miranda's point of view, she wants to excel on every level and it's really hard.
Have you ever had to make those decisions?
MS: No, show business has been really, really good to me because I can work and take a lot of time off, and I'm extremely undisciplined person and in many ways, the polar opposite of the character I play. But I really understand her, admire some things about her, and see the bind that she is as a woman.
There are probably some people in the film or entertainment industry you modeled this after…
MS: Yes, you want their names? (Laughs)
Can you talk about how you put together this character from a possible wide variety of people? Also, are there protégés under you whom you have become proud of after setting them out?
MS: The people that I modeled this on…unfortunately, we don't have enough women in power or at least, I don't know them to copy. Most of my models for this character were of the male end of the species. Compared to the people that I know, I was thinking about some of them, Miranda is so well behaved. She's almost like a diplomat compared to some people who are very, very powerful in our business. I know the book was based on an assistant's view of Anna Wintour, but it didn't interest me to do a documentary on Anna Wintour and I don't know anything about her. I only met her at the first benefit auction screening and she came to it and we were introduced at the very beginning and she's been a good sport about it but I think she's been told that I don't resemble her. It's much more fun to make the uber boss out of my own pastiche of experience. As far as my own assistants, I've always had people who are so wildly overqualified for the jobs that I sent them, the tasks I sent them, and I've had the most wonderful people. Very, very lucky. One of them has gone off to great things and I'm very proud of them. I don't claim any credit.
What's her name?
MS: Emily Sklar. She used to be my assistant and now she's a literary agent. She's really, really smart.
Is there anything we can learn from Miranda?
MS: That we can know? Oh, I don't know. It's not instructional, this movie.
How did the clothes help define Miranda and in general, how do you use costumes to inform your character?
MS: Yes, I'm a notorious pain-in-the-butt for any costume designer because I have so many opinions about how my people should present. I feel very strongly that we make decisions about what we're giving to the world, what we're withholding from the world by virtue of what we put on our bodies, and what we choose to say and not say. So, for me, clothes are kind of character; they're more interesting in those terms. I don't follow fashion or understand the trends but I understand more about marketing than I ever did after doing this movie. The clothes that I wear, basically, this achievement is amazing of Pat Field, that she put this movie together because she had no money. I've used the analogy before so I'm not going to think to hard to make another one up, that they made a movie about aerospace and they decided to make it in a garage in Paramus. They didn't save any money to build the plane and these clothes cost so much money. One of the handbags is $12,000. It's almost inconceivable to me. There were many, many, many bags that were that expensive. So then, a $4000 bag seems like a bargain so you readjust your whole way of thinking. It's just insane. So in order to make it, Pat had to make it by relying on her many good relationships with designers and talk them into loaning us stuff and went to archival things. That's another word for "used." People were very, very generous in the fashion business. We just had a volume of stuff we needed to achieve. We had 2.5 – 3 weeks to put it together. I had 60 some costumes and each one of them had to be coordinated with the shoes, the belt, the earrings, the jacket and everything perfectly tailored. It was really very laborious for me but that was because it was all condensed into one space of time.
With the fashion industry already projecting a negative self-image attitude, did any lines like "Size 6 is the new 14" affect you at all?
MS: I think about them everyday. Yes, of course, and I have three daughters and it affected me as a teenager so I had my little ideas about all this stuff. I think it's highly destructive.
Is there an answer or is it going to keep going?
MS: I don't know the answer. People want what they want. Sometimes you just have to walk in defiance of it and just be yourself.
Would you say this is a feminist film?
MS: Well there's a way to kill the box-office. (laughs)
Was it your choice to use a lot of fur in the film?
MS: It was not my idea to use a lot of fur, maybe it was. I can’t remember. We don’t assign blame or credit. It’s a non-collaborative process. I can’t remember, but it was fun, that whole montage. It makes its point.
Can you talk about the hair?
MS: That was a decision that J. Roy Helland, my makeup man/ hairdresser/ collaborator of many years made. We knew we wanted to make a sort of very definite kind of look, a woman that doesn’t look like anyone else in New York and at the shows, it would be easy to spot her and look at her, and everybody would look to see Miranda. I always admired this model named Carmen. When you wanted an older model, Carmen is there and she’s got a big swoop white hair and appears to be real, natural white hair. I also thought about Liz Tiberis, who I knew slightly and a woman named Polly Mellon, who worked for years at Vogue and I knew her. That kind of defiance in the face of the beauty industry when you’re so over the top of everything, you can sort of not dye your hair and I thought it was a great look and we went with it.
Both you and Anne have a background in theater. What kind of advice did you give her?
MS: I didn't give her any advice. Interestingly, young people don't come to you for advice. Especially the ones who are related to you. She's just a delicious talent. I think she can delight us for years and years in lots and lots of different things. But her beauty is so stunning in this movie that when we're all watching the dailies, we were all like (gasps) because it is amazing. It's a burden sometimes for actresses to try work around that because it so proceeds her but her own personality is so appealing and fresh and open and warm that I think she can have a unique career.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA opens on June 30, 2006