'An Evening of Conversation with Jane Pauley and Meryl Streep' packs IU Auditorium
November 12 was an unseasonably warm, catalog-perfect sort of fall afternoon in Bloomington, but outside the Indiana University Auditorium, things were far from tranquil.
Snaking around the Showalter Fountain in lines that reached back toward the Lilly Library and IU Art Museum, clusters of high school girls in sneakers joined moccasin-clad college students and well-heeled professionals (plus a token smattering of men) for "An Evening of Conversation with Jane Pauley and Meryl Streep at Indiana University."
The free-but-ticketed event, presented by the IU Foundation and the Kate Benns Sturgeon Fund, "sold out" within a few hours of tickets becoming available Nov. 1.
When the doors at last swung open, a jumble of power suits and skinny jeans surged forward in one squealing, pushing, cheering mass. Some women actually sprinted through the lobby to get the best general admission seat possible ("No running, please!" reprimanded an usher, with little effect.).
In her introduction, Laurie Burns McRobbie noted the Hoosier connections of each woman. The Indianapolis-born Pauley graduated from IU in 1972 with a political science degree, going on to a journalism career that included a 13-year stint on NBC's "The Today Show" and 12 years at "Dateline." Streep, who has been nominated for more Golden Globes and Academy Awards than any other actor, is married to sculptor Don Gummer, who attended the Herron School of Art and Design.
'How cool is it being married to a Hoosier?'
When the two accomplished blondes walked out on the stage in similar dark pant suits and cream colored shirts, the audience spontaneously rose for a standing ovation. "I love you, Meryl!" screamed one woman.
Pauley broke the ice with humor: "Seriously though -- how cool is it being married to a Hoosier?" ("He is good at hoops," Streep answered.) Pauley has been married to Doonsbury creator and Pulitzer Prize-winner Gary Trudeau for 30 years.
The opening question set the tone for a warm, frank and often funny discussion between the two women, whose conversation covered marriage, children, career-family balance, artistic technique, body image and Botox.
When Pauley talked about how incredible it seems that Streep's suburban New Jersey upbringing led to her becoming "the greatest actress of our time," Streep responded with humility. "There is no such thing as that. Every year, I go to the movies and am in awe of so many different people. Acting is even better now than during 'the golden age' in the 1940s."
"But you can do everything," Pauley insisted. "I saw you on stage doing Shakespeare in the park, and you did a cartwheel. You can sing . . ."
"I'm not a singer like the people here in the music school (referring to the Jacobs School of Music); they're real singers," Streep said, adding that all actors secretly want to be singers.
'Develop what you do'
In a conversation about high school, Pauley said that when she didn't make the cheerleading squad, she joined the debate team, which led to her political science major and career in journalism. She brought up one of the high school stories Streep sometimes shares. "You said you ran for everything and lost -- until you found the peroxide bottle," Pauley said.
"There's a lot of pressure on girls," Streep said. "My advice: Don't waste so much time worrying about your skin or your weight. Develop what you do, what you put your hands on in the world."
At one point, Pauley asked Streep about her acting technique -- the "special sauce" she draws upon when getting to know a character. "I would say that my curiosity about other people is the thing that animates my work," said Streep, who so internalizes and understands each of her characters, she becomes slightly offended when people ask how she can play people so different from herself. "I have played only people I understand."
Streep invoked and paraphrased one of her favorite quotes, which she attributed to Pablo Picasso: "To copy others is necessary, but to copy oneself is pathetic." In other words, she explained, pushing oneself beyond what's comfortable is important in life. And she has never forgotten the advice of a former dance teacher who told her every movement should come from the core, keeping the abdomen a source of strength from which all energy and movement flows.
All about aging
Female actors have many more options than women did in the 1940s, when Bette Davis starred in All About Eve as an aging actress whose sly young assistant seeks to steal her spotlight. "She was 40 -- that's Angelina Jolie's age," Streep said. "And when Bette Davis and Joan Crawford starred in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, they were 10 years younger than I am now."
"You're famous for not having had work done," Pauley said to Streep, who paused, trying to compute the comment before she realized it referred not to her body of work, but to the lack of (cosmetic) work on her body.
"It's a thing my eye always goes to -- the non-movement," Streep said, referring to the many frozen, Botoxed foreheads she has seen. "Your eye usually goes to the anomaly. You're not sure what it is, but something isn't quite right."
Pauley shared her own brush-with-cosmetic surgery story. "I went to see a cosmetic surgeon about a year ago -- true story," she said. There were a lot of areas Pauley didn't want the surgeon to go near. "He said I wasn't motivated enough," Pauley said, laughing. "Then, when I got up, I accidentally shattered a mirror into 1,000 pieces."
Pauley asked Streep about the unique quality she exudes that makes everyone love her. "I've interviewed a lot of people," Pauley said. "You're a real person."
"We're not ourselves when we're being interviewed on TV," Streep said. "It's acting. I can't wait to get home (from interviews). Even people who are on TV showing off their legs in interviews can't wait to get home."
Streep mentioned Lindy Chamberlain, her character in A Cry in the Dark (the film that spawned the phrase "A dingo ate my baby"). People judged Chamberlain as being somehow responsible for her nine-week-old baby's death because of her stoic, cold-seeming personality on camera. "We do this when we watch TV. We sit back and go 'look at her.' This film shows how we prejudged this woman in large part because of how she behaved in front of cameras."
The conversation wrapped up with 15 minutes of questions for Streep written by audience members. Among them: "Who are your favorite actors?"(A Liza Minnelli performance she caught during drama school that blew her away.) and "What's the worst experience you've had while filming?" (Almost being attacked by a lion during the filming of Out of Africa.) When Pauley read the question "Do you feel like a goddess?" Streep responded, "Not this morning! No, no I don't."
"I do all the time," countered Pauley.
"Oh, I wish I'd thought of this one," Pauley said, reading over the next question. "Do you ever do something that's out of your comfort zone?"
"Yes -- right now," Streep said. "I have a little of the Protestant idea that it's good to push yourself and do what you don't necessarily want to do, that if you're not automatically good at it, you should try it. Trying is so important.
"It never ends," Streep said. "You're the same insecure person you were when you were 10 or 14 and a half -- it doesn't matter how many awards they announce before you come out."