On Tuesday night, I had the great privilege and pleasure of moderating a Q&A in New York with the actress Meryl Streep and director Phyllida Lloyd following a SAG screening of The Iron Lady, their new film about select moments in the life and career of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. The chance to moderate any Q&A with Streep, in particular, is inherently special, but what made this one even more so than usual was the unusual source of the questions.
As you can see by checking out the video of the full Q&A at the bottom of this post, some questions came from me, as you would expect; others came from the in-house audience, which is also par-for-the-course; but most came from some of the thousands of people who tuned in to live video of the Q&A that was made available online and submitted their question(s) into an accompanying chatbox, which threw them to an iPad that I held on the stage.
I have to give credit to The Weinstein Company, the film's distributor -- and especially Bladimiar Norman, their vice president of marketing and head of digital initiatives -- for upping their game this year. They have always found creative ways to promote their films, but last year decided -- in an unprecedented move -- to provide a live webcast of a special Q&A with some of the talent from The King's Speech and take questions from people watching online. Because it went so well they decided to do it again this year (in partnership with Melissa Thompson of Intercast Network), but with a slightly different approach that allowed them to reach beyond only those who chose to visit TWC's website, the film's webpage, or its Facebook page.
This year, Norman came up with the idea of using the ads that TWC had already purchased on many film-related websites across the Internet to not only promote but also broadcast the Q&A. Consequently, they got a huge bang for their buck last night -- thousands watched it live, and many more have re-watched it since. This sort of format entails a lot of advance legwork and personnel, but reaches many more people than the usual Q&A that it seems to me inevitable that it will be replicated often in the future.
Here are some highlights of remarks from the Q&A itself:
Streep on what the film is about
"Three days in the life of a little old lady who just happens to be the person who was the longest-serving prime minister in the 20th century and the only female in the western world to rule a nuclear country. I mean, pretty interesting stuff, to look at a life in its ebbing and in its diminishment... Our movie is about her history through her eyes. Her regrets may not have been political regrets, and her sadness might not have been triggered by entirely political things... We took things from three days of a life -- things that would be called up from a fire on a television, an explosion. What memory would that trigger? A son calling and saying he’s not gonna make it again up to see her. What memories would that trigger about lost sons? It’s imagining Margaret Thatcher as a human being, which is very, very hard for some people."
Streep on the size of the film
"We had 14 million dollars to make this movie which takes place in, like, a million different eras, and no time -- I think I worked, like, nine weeks. And makeup that took a lot of time. Usually they give you four months to make a movie that had that sort of a requirement."
Lloyd on the controversy stirred up by the idea of the film, if not the film itself
"People are angry about the film in England without having seen it... People started on the IMDB website -- they started a year ago with, 'Oh, this is a load of lefties, a load of liberals that are making it. It’s gonna drag her through the mire'… or 'It's got Hollywood behind it. It's gonna be a whitewash job'... Then they began to forget the movie and just started tearing each other to bits.”
Streep on what attracted her to the part of Thatcher
"Some of them you can kind of roll out of bed and go to work, and with this one I realized that it would be a different kind of challenge... There are so many secrets in many lives that we've already decided we know everything about… you don’t know everything, and why we’re alive is to learn more... [And] I really like to portray prickly people, or people that are just, sort of, 'difficult women,' on a certain level... [Also] I went to high school when there were no girls sports… this really appealed to every feminist bone in my body... [Also] I’ve always been interested in old ladies... You have the old man that you’re gonna be right here with you right now -- you do -- and I have the old woman I’m gonna be."
Streep on her personal connection to the film
"Every movie is an opportunity to tell something about your own life -- at least that’s the way I work it out, kind of as therapy in some way. And so you end up bringing things that don’t necessarily have to do with the plot, but kind of help it along. They’re tangential... Like hearing the whispers. My father would hear whispers all the time when he was 92, and it threw him right back to Newark, New Jersey, and to terrors of his childhood."
Lloyd on being a woman director in the 21st century (with a follow-up from Streep)
Lloyd: "I didn’t really realize I was a woman director until I walked onto the set at Pinewood Studios when I did Mamma Mia! and everybody was calling each other 'Governor' and 'Sir'… and then looking at me, 'Well… good morning!'..."
Streep: "There definitely was a difference between that crew… and I think that’s seven years, maybe? You know, they’re getting more used to it… There was a definite difference in this crew."
Streep on studying Thatcher's voice
"Listening to her gave me an idea of really the reserves of strength that she had, and also how she had to stand, and sit, and always be alert."
Streep on her uncanny ability to mimic voices
"You know, that’s like the easiest thing that I do. In my brain, that’s the kid part of it, you know, is copying a voice in my head that I’ve heard before. And it just comes in, and I work hard -- I mean, it’s not easy -- I work hard, too. But, for me, it’s part of a whole thing to capture how someone speaks is to capture them, because how people speak delivers their personality, on a certain level. And, you know, like me? I hesitate. I’m like -- I say 'like.' I look around the room for the answer to the question that I’ve partially forgotten what it was. But, to me, that’s character. That tells you about-- Margaret Thatcher, from the moment she drew breath, she knew where she was going… So I don’t think of it as separate from the other work of living as someone else and taking on their body, and their feelings, and their cares, and what they love, and who they miss. The sound of it is maybe because people who have a little bit of a musical bent catch on quicker. But my theory is everybody can sing and everybody can do accents. Everybody I’ve ever met thinks they can do Julia Child!"
Streep on the greatest physical challenge of the part
"It was really hard to stand like that for a long time. Even in her younger years, she kind of pitches forward. It puts your balance in a different thing. But also, when she was older, to curve your spine like that—I really needed a masseuse!"
Lloyd on her funniest memory of the filmmaking process
"My funniest memory is of a day when the paparazzi were chasing Meryl -- there were about 200 people… and Meryl, dressed as old Margaret, was shuffling around the crowd, kind of going around to the catering wagon, and asking what was going on, and having a look at the sandwiches. That was pretty cool!"
Streep on what she hopes people will leave the film thinking and doing differently...
“I would like to think that everybody that got on a subway and saw some old lady sitting across from them -- that they would imagine that a whole huge life lay behind all those wrinkles and that seemingly nondescript forgettable face. I mean, there is almost nothing less interesting in our consumerist society than an old lady. Dismissed. We don’t make movies for her, we don’t give a damn, we can’t sell her anything, she doesn’t buy anything. But just the idea that everything -- the whole panoply of human experience: births, deaths, struggles, joy -- everything’s in there. And just to imagine that. That’s what I would hope.”