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Meryl Streep in Suffragette
© Mary Rozzi

Meryl Streep on feminism, family and playing Pankhurst in ‘Suffragette’

Meryl Streep stars as Emmeline Pankhurst in the new film 'Suffragette'. Here she talks feminism, Hollywood sexism and window-smashing, wearing a t-shirt with a famous line from her character

Written by
Cath Clarke

Do you have a motto you try to live by?
‘Do what you can.’

What lesson did you learn from your mum and your grandmother?
‘My mother’s highest compliment: “You’re capable, Meryl. You are capable and you can do anything you set your mind to.” My grandmother, on the other hand, said: “Fools’ names and fools’ faces always appear in public places.” Which was less helpful in the profession I chose!’

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
‘Don’t waste so much time thinking about how much you weigh. There is no more mind-numbing, boring, idiotic, self-destructive diversion from the fun of living.’

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
‘From my husband who says: “Start by starting.”’

How would you like to be remembered?
‘With love by my family.’

‘Being ladylike is underrated’

What’s your biggest regret?
‘That my friendships suffered from lack of attention (compared to my mother’s deep and long-lived attachments) in favour of the time taken up by my family, my career and civic concerns.’

What could you not live without?
‘My family.’

What makes you angry?
‘Deliberate ignorance of global warming by the richest, best-educated people and institutions in the world, as if it will not profoundly impact on them, their privileged lives and their families.’

Is being ladylike overrated?
‘I would say it is underrated. Grace, respect, reserve and empathetic listening are qualities sorely missing from the public discourse now.’

What lesson could the suffragettes teach us today?
‘Don’t give up or give in in the face of patronising ridicule, amused disdain or being ignored.’

Who inspires you?
‘Malala Yousafzai and her classmates in Pakistan.’

Are you a feminist?
‘I am a humanist, I am for nice easy balance.’

What’s the most annoying question women get asked in interviews that men don’t get asked?
‘“You often play very strong women… Why do you choose…? Blah blah blah.” No man is ever asked: “You often play very strong men. Why?” It would be an absurd question.’

What single thing would you change about the film industry to make it less sexist?
‘Men should look at the world as if something is wrong when their voices predominate. They should feel it. People at agencies and studios, including the parent boards, might look around the table at the decision-making level and feel something is wrong if half their participants are not women. Because our tastes are different, what we value is different. Not better, different.’

Do you believe in impostor syndrome – where you think you’re a fraud who’s about to be found out?
‘I have a pretty good idea of what I am not good at, and have it front and centre of my consciousness every minute I am doing it.’

If you could remake one film and replace it with a female lead which film would it be?
‘HAL would be Siri.’

Describe a suffragette in four words.
‘Courageous, relentless, righteous, and right.’

Does it piss you off knowing you get paid less than male colleagues?
‘Oh darlin’, why ever would you imagine that?’

'Suffragette' opens the London Film Festival on Oct 7 and is in cinemas on Oct 12.

Read our interview with Carey Mulligan

Read our review of ‘Suffragette’

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