Cannes: Meryl Streep Says Male Studio Execs Struggle to ‘See Themselves’ in Female Protagonists

There’s nobody who has had a career quite like Meryl Streep, and as the esteemed actress sat down for a Q&A on Wednesday at the 77th Cannes Film Festival after receiving an honorary Palme d’Or, she got candid about a frustrating trend she’s seen play out through her entire career: male studio executives failing to understand movies with female protagonists.

Taking a broader look at the state of the industry, as France currently goes through its own #MeToo reckoning, Streep considered how significantly the film industry changed once women gained greenlight authority at the studios.

“Before there were women in greenlight positions at studios, it was very hard for men to see themselves in a female protagonist. It was not difficult for the women executives to see themselves in a male protagonist, but the hardest thing — I’ve said this 150,000 times — the hardest thing is for a male to live through the female in a movie who’s the lead,” Streep said during the Q&A. “They just didn’t get it.”

In fact, the first movie Streep made where men told her that her character was relatable was released in 2006.

“The first movie I ever made where a man came up to me afterwards and said ‘I know how you felt’ was “Devil Wears Prada.’ It was more than one man who came and said ‘I know how you felt, I know what it’s like to be the one to take the decisions and nobody understands you.’ That was fascinating to me.”

After an extended standing ovation at the top of the Q&A, Streep talked through her first experience at the Cannes Film Festival back in 1989, where she would go on to win the best actress award for “A Cry in the Dark.” She remembered not feeling “safe” there.

“I needed maybe a dozen [bodyguards] the first time I came here because, in the olden days, I don’t know, there wasn’t the same security. All the barriers weren’t there…The cameras were shoved up like this,” Streep said, demonstrating by mimicking a camera being pushed right up in the face of the Q&A’s interviewer. “It was insane. I almost didn’t recover from that.”

Streep further expressed how she was shaking back in her hotel room following the experience.

“I couldn’t believe how wild it was. So that was 35 years ago. It’s changed a lot, the world has changed a lot,” Streep said. “That’s what I remember about it really. The moment of getting the prize, I don’t think I remembered it. I was so afraid.”

When asked further about this, she said it’s tied back to how she doesn’t consider herself a “rock star” and instead has a “life that is filled with things that are not hyperbolic like that.”

Streep went on to discuss key moments in her career, like working with Robert Redford in 1985’s “Out of Africa.” In an iconic scene, her co-star washes her hair and recites poetry by the river. However, Streep said Redford needed a little help to get the moment just right. She demonstrated how he “wasn’t good” to start, but that he had gotten it down in later takes.

“He just really got into it and he was great. By take five, I was so in love,” Streep said, leaning back in her to emphasize the point. “It’s a sex scene in a way because it’s so intimate and we’ve seen so many scenes of people f–king, but we don’t see that loving touch, that care, you know? It’s gorgeous. I didn’t want it to end that day, even in spite of the hippos.”

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