Meryl Streep stepped up her game for The Post, Spielberg and Hanks
Meryl Streep praises director Steven Spielberg and co-star Tom Hanks in long-awaited collaboration for political thriller
Steven Spielberg had always wanted to work with Meryl Streep, but she was "the wrong type" for his 2011 war drama War Horse.
The veteran Hollywood film-maker, 71, was joking about why it took so long to direct the award-winning US actress.
"I could not find a role for her in (2012 historical drama) Lincoln, even though when Daniel Day-Lewis got the Best Actor Oscar, he actually said Meryl was my first choice," he said.
"So when this project came to me, I felt there was nobody on the face of the earth that could play Katharine Graham better than Meryl. So finally, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks had a chance to make a film together. And I am just so pleased that I got to be the director."
Political thriller The Post is about the real-life publishing of the Pentagon Papers by The Washington Post and the friendship between Graham, its first female publisher, and its editor, Ben Bradlee (Hanks).
It opens here tomorrow.
Graham took over the family business after the suicide of her husband in an era where women were mostly seen and not heard.
She was on the verge of taking the company public in 1971 when The New York Times published an expose of government secrets on the Vietnam War.
I have never worked with anyone who has a more intuitive feel for how to construct a visual narrative.Meryl Streep on director Steven Spielberg
When an injunction was placed on the Times by the Richard Nixon administration, it was Graham's decision to either pick up the mantle of the Times, risking charges of treason, or protect her paper.
Her decision to publish the exposing of the Pentagon Papers had a direct bearing on the Watergate scandal that closely followed. The Post broke that story.
While Streep, 68, was familiar with Graham's story, she did not know much about the woman. She read and listened to the latter's Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir to get a sense of her.
Streep said in a separate interview at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills: "It was a way of entering her voice, her head, her heart. She reads so movingly, some parts of it are almost unbearable to listen to because she is so present.
"Her voice was distinctive. It was a way of speaking that very well-educated American ladies of a certain class had at that point in time."
Despite the decades-long kudos that have been heaped on her, Streep still confessed to nerves before starting a film.
She said: "I have a lot of fear. I always feel like I have dismantled something in my confidence before I begin.
"My husband points out to me that I always do this and I always say, 'No, no, I have never done this before. I do not think I should do the film, I am going to call them and tell them that I have to get out of doing it.'
"And he says, 'You know, this is a pattern.' So now I have realised that I probably do it on purpose to try to just get out a clean blank page. It deserves something that feels real and authentic, and each time you have to prove it."
On working with Spielberg for the first time in her 40-year career: "I have never worked with anyone who has a more intuitive feel for how to construct a visual narrative. No one else. It was exciting to go to work.
"He does not rehearse, so that was completely terrifying and destabilising for me, but Tom knew he did that. Tom was ready, so that was even worse."
She said she knew about 61-year-old Hanks' reputation as the nicest guy in Hollywood, but "he is also really smart, crackerjack smart. That is the quality he shares most with Ben, that crackling wit and the feeling he is always a few steps ahead of everybody in the room."
In a time when journalism is attacked as fake news by politicians who feel targeted by the truth, Streep sees optimism.
She supports the Committee to Protect Journalists - a group she endorsed in her Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award acceptance speech at last year's Golden Globes - and funds a journalism scholarship at the Columbia Journalism School in New York City.
"The dean told me there has never been such an explosion in kids applying to journalism school. It is not just Columbia, it is right across the country. They do not know what to do with the applications because this is inspiring a whole new generation of young people. I am very hopeful by the quality of journalism now," Streep said.
She was one of the first ones to publicly speak out against the sexual predators of the entertainment industry and is one of more than 300 top women in Hollywood who have thrown their support behind the Time's Up initiative that tackles sexual harassment in the workplace.
Streep said: "I think the (#MeToo) movement is not going away. It will go right through every enterprise in America and around the world. It already did.
"The best outcome of all this will be in the structures - not just at the Oscars, but in the movie studios, agencies and funding entities and boardrooms of the larger holding parent companies of these studios.
"When the boardroom is comprised of half men and half women, then a lot of this stuff will go away."