Tracey Ullman, Robert De Niro, Mike Nichols, Kevin Kline, Anne Hathaway Paid Tribute to Meryl Streep at Kennedy Center

By Andrew Gans
December 6, 2011

Numerous stage and screen stars turned out to pay tribute to Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep Dec. 4 at the annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, DC.



Playbill.com has learned that the tribute to multiple Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner Streep featured Tracey Ullman, Robert De Niro, Mike Nichols, Kevin Kline, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci and Anne Hathaway.

Emmy Award-winning actress and comedian Tracey Ullman began the tribute, stating, "I'm here to talk about my friend Meryl Streep – which is a great honor, but not easy. I was with my daughter Mabel a couple of weeks ago, who has known Meryl all her life, and I asked her what she thought I should say. 'Hmm,' she said. 'It's getting harder and harder, Mum, I mean, what hasn't been said?' And this is true because it's obvious that Meryl is brilliant, the actress of her generation, the cream of the crop; she's strong, tenacious, a champion of women worldwide…"

Ullman continued, "I could talk about how brilliant she is as Margaret Thatcher in her latest film, 'Iron Lady,' and how amazed I was to see the girl from Jersey becoming the girl from Grantham. I mean, only Meryl could give such a compassionate portrayal of a woman I raged against in the '80s… 'You need an angle, Mum,' Mabel said. There was a long pause and then she looked at me with a furrowed brow and said, 'Is there anything Meryl's bad at?' Well, we tried to think of something, and we couldn't! She can sing, dance, cook – cooks like Julia Child, in fact… and if she was bad at something she would practice like crazy in private so that she would be more brilliant at it than anyone else in the world. We even have secret footage of her in bed at six in the morning learning to speak Chinese! I'm not saying how we got it... so I am officially in awe of you, dear friend; you try harder, give more and remain as humble as anyone I know. I'm honored to be here tonight to be a part of this prestigious tribute to you."

Academy Award and Golden Globe Award-winning actor Robert De Niro continued Streep's tribute: "As an actor looking at those moments of Meryl's life, my first thought is… I was amazing in 'Deer Hunter,' wasn't I? I gave a performance that was strong yet sensitive, fiercely masculine, but with an affecting inner beauty… I was nominated for an Academy Award for 'The Deer Hunter.' And so was Meryl. That was her first. She's up to 16 now. You know what that means? She's sat through the Academy Awards 16 times! Jesus! Now that's a record. Coincidentally, Meryl and I have each won two Oscars, but I've only been nominated six times, so I actually have a better winning percentage."

De Niro continued, "One factor keeping Meryl's average down is that she has to compete with Meryl Streep. In the Golden Globes, where she set records of 25 nominations and seven competitive wins, she's actually lost twice to herself… including last year, when her performance in 'Julie and Julia' beat out her performance in 'It's Complicated.' Meryl was so gracious in losing… In each of those movies and in everything I've seen Meryl do, I'm continually struck by how perfectly she inhabits, humanizes, and honestly portrays such a wide range of characters. There's never a false note, never an overlooked detail. Truly, no one does it better."

Oscar and Tony winner Mike Nichols spoke next: "Meryl becomes a different person in each movie, body, soul and all. She stands alone as an actress. She could handle any part thrown at her except maybe Gidget. She's the definition of versatility which makes her a nightmare as a dinner partner… the fact is I have no idea how she does it, I only know that watching it is one of the great experiences of my life. Frankly, I'm not sure she knows how she does it. If she does, we'll never get it out of her. She simplified it for me when she told the only thing I ever heard her say about it: 'Well, you know. You never know what you're going to do 'til you do it.' Best description of movie acting I ever heard."

Nichols then introduced a tribute to Streep, beginning with Academy Award and Tony Award-winning actor Kevin Kline, who co-starred with Streep in "Sophie's Choice." "Meryl doesn't take shortcuts. In her work, she insists on going the extra mile. Sometimes literally. We were doing our first dress rehearsal of Mother Courage at the Delacourt Theater in Central Park. After 12 grueling hours of rehearsal in the sweltering heat in our winter-weight costumes – Meryl giving 110 percent, perfecting what would become a bravura performance, it's now midnight, I'm exhausted, we all are. I'm hailing a cab to take me three blocks to my house. And I see Meryl climbing on a bicycle. Now Meryl lives at the other end of Manhattan, about six miles away from Central Park. I tell her she's crazy as she peddles off into the dark New York streets and she yells over her shoulder, 'I have to build up my stamina!'"

Golden Globe Award-winning actress Emily Blunt, who starred in "The Devil Wears Prada" with Streep, then took the stage, along with Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor Stanley Tucci, who further extrapolated upon Streep's many virtues.

Emmy Award-winning actress Anne Hathaway, who also starred in "Prada" with Streep, concluded the tribute by singing "She's Me Pal," joined by her fellow actors.

Recipients honored at the 34th annual national celebration of the arts also included Tony winner Barbara Cook, singer and songwriter Neil Diamond, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins. To read about the tribute to Barbara Cook, click here.

The Honors Gala was recorded for broadcast on the CBS Network for the 34th consecutive year as a two-hour primetime special on Dec. 27 at 9 PM ET.

For more information, visit www.kennedy-center.org.