From Meryl To Margaret: Becoming “The Iron Lady”

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher

Here is an excerpt from an article about Meryl Streep and her latest film, The Iron Lady, prepared by the NPR staff and featured online.  Streep stars as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in director Phyllida Lloyd’s latest film. To read the complete interview, listen to the story, and/or watch a clip from The Iron Lady, please click here.

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Margaret Thatcher’s policies as British prime minister earned her the nickname “The Iron Lady,” and now that’s also the title of a new film about her life.

Thatcher was famously tough on British labor unions, IRA hunger strikers, the Soviet Union and the war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. So in the film, when visiting U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig questions Thatcher’s knowledge of war, the then-prime minister’s response is predictably unyielding.

“With all due respect, sir, I have done battle every single day of my life and many men have underestimated me before,” says Thatcher, played by Meryl Streep. “This lot seem bound to do the same, but they will rue the day.”

The Iron Lady sets itself apart from many other biopics in that it tells the story of a woman who is still alive and still a divisive figure. Phyllida Lloyd, the film’s director, tells NPR’s Melissa Block that she was moved to tell Thatcher’s story because of how larger-than-life the former prime minister is.

“It’s a sort of mythic story of somebody who came from [a] very humble background to somebody who became a global superstar and then was brought down, as she saw it, by the treachery of her colleagues,” Lloyd says. “It’s a sort of … Shakespearean tale.”

The Magnitude Of Margaret Thatcher

Lloyd chose Meryl Streep to fill the role of her larger-than-life character in part because of what the actress and Thatcher had in common.

“We wanted somebody of the magnitude of Margaret Thatcher,” Lloyd says. “I think Meryl being the outsider [as an American playing a British role] was also something that really was immensely powerful when we were shooting the film.”

Just as Thatcher had worked to perfect her persona — changing her voice, hair and costume — Streep worked to perfect her performance of Thatcher. The actress tells Block that the biggest challenge she faced was re-creating the might of Thatcher’s speech.

“She had enormous reserves of stamina, will, determination. So how she said what she said was actually who she was,” Streep says of the former prime minister. “There was a key in that.”

Still, how she said what she said didn’t exactly come naturally. Streep says first Thatcher worked on losing her Lincolnshire accent; then she had to lose the light, airy voice she had acquired at Oxford — a voice that tended to screech when raised. To accomplish all that, Thatcher started seeing a vocal coach.

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To read the complete article, listen to the story, and/or watch a clip from The Iron Lady, please click here.

 

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