Pick any random Academy Awards ceremony over the last 40-plus years and it may seem as though Meryl Streep is as much a presence as the Oscar statue itself. That’s because the actress has been nominated a staggering 21 times since 1978 in both the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories, winning three times (for 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer, 1982’s Sophie’s Choice, and 2011’s The Iron Lady).
Now 74, Streep isn’t up for any recognition during the 2024 ceremony, but she remains the gold standard for screen acting. Below, check out some facts about her early television work, her time playing a 7-year-old, and why she’s not particularly fond of Rotten Tomatoes.
1. Meryl Streep wanted to be a lawyer but overslept.
Born in Summit, New Jersey, on June 22, 1949, Streep began acting while playing a robot in a grade school play. That led to leading roles in school musicals and eventually enrollment at Vassar College and the Yale School of Drama, though she briefly considered veering into law instead. However, Streep said, she slept through her board exams.
2. Streep’s first screen performance was on television.
After school, Streep began garnering attention in Manhattan for her stage work: She appeared in six leading roles in less than a year. Then, in 1977, Streep appeared in a made-for-television movie, The Deadliest Season, that predated a big-screen debut that year in the World War II drama Julia. The TV film was about a hockey player who kills a rival on the ice and subsequently stands trial for manslaughter. Streep portrayed the player’s wife. Streep also appeared in the 1978 miniseries Holocaust, for which she won an Emmy.
3. Streep left her first Oscar in the bathroom.
Following 1978’s The Deer Hunter, in which she co-starred with partner John Cazale, Streep made a splash with 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer. The divorce drama with Dustin Hoffman was a grueling experience for Streep—Hoffman tried to elicit an emotional response from her during their scenes by invoking the recent passing of Cazale from lung cancer. After winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her work in the film, Streep famously left the statuette on the bathroom floor (but fortunately, managed to retrieve it before the end of the ceremony).
4. Silkwood prompted Streep to pick a specific house.
Streep found the idea of nuclear power discomfiting after her performance as nuclear plant whistleblower Karen Silkwood in 1983’s Silkwood. So much so, in fact, that it influenced a real estate purchase. According to a 2004 New York Times profile, Streep purchased a home in Connecticut precisely because it was a safe 90 miles away from any nuclear facility. “We actually drew the circles on a map,” she said.
5. She once played a 7-year-old.
Streep continued to alternate between stage and screen work into the 1980s. In 1978, she appeared as Alice (of Alice in Wonderland fame) in Alice in Concert, a musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s works. At 29, Streep was considerably older than the Alice featured in the books; she also returned to the role in 1981.
6. Streep has a problem with Rotten Tomatoes.
In 2015, while promoting Suffragette, Streep voiced a critique for the popular critic aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. The site, she argued, had a disproportionate number of male critics. By Streep’s own count, the site had 760 men to 168 women. “I submit to you that men and women are not the same, they like different things,” she said. “Sometimes they like the same thing, but sometimes their tastes diverge. If the Tomatometer is slighted so completely to one set of tastes, that drives box office in the United States, absolutely.”
Rotten Tomatoes has made steps to be more inclusive. Since 2018, the site says it’s added over 1000 new critics, 50 percent of whom are women.
7. Streep has a unique connection to Alien.
Streep doesn’t often venture into genre pictures, save for 1994’s action-thriller The River Wild. But she was considered for the lead role of Ellen Ripley in 1979’s sci-fi classic Alien. Director Ridley Scott and casting director Martin Goldberg wanted Streep for Ripley. When that didn’t pan out, the part went to Sigourney Weaver. As it happened, Streep and Weaver were classmates at Yale School of Drama.
8. Streep trademarked her name.
In 2018, Streep filed for a trademark for her name as it relates to “live, televised, and movie appearances by a professional actress and entertainer.” Some celebrities make the attempt in order to prevent unauthorized use of their name for endorsements or false advertising.
The trademark was for Streep’s stage, not legal, name: Her real full name is Mary Louise Streep. Early in her career, talent agents suggested she change it to “Merle Street.” Fortunately, common sense prevailed.