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Me and Meryl Streep

The venue was a small,trendy Soho hotel tucked away in a side street away from the madding crowd. I go up the stairs past the candy pink sofas and expensive looking contemporary art. A PR person tells me Meryl is running late. She's jet-lagged and hungry so do I mind waiting while she has a sandwich. I'm shown into a comfy suite where I meet Meryl's personal make-up artist who is clearly a regular companion He's on the phone ordering the sandwiches. "She forgets to eat on these trips" he clucks in a maternal way. He's late 50s, grey haired, dressed in black, slightly camp but not in an over the top way. He asks us if we've seen the musical Priscilla. Apparently the make-up is stupendous.My producer, who is about to get married, gets some tips on applying false eyelashes.
After 20 minutes we are ushered along the corridor to meet Meryl. It's dark outside and the light in the room is dim but I note that there is something luminous about her skin. The make-up is minimal, she looks almost bare faced, not a false eyelash in sight. Dressed in black trousers and a green silk top, I observe that she's smaller and thinner than I imagined, but then movies stars always seem diminished in real life, stripped on the lights, the large screen and the celluloid. Meryl is clearly nervous, arms crossed over her chest. "I don't like radio interviews" she confesses. I wonder if she needs a camera to feel comfortable but keep that thought to myself. This is a performance for her but not one she relishes. As the interview progresses I conclude that Meryl Streep prefers to inhabit the skin of others, not her own, certainly not in front of a stranger and a journalist ta boot.
We're discussing her role at Maggie Thatcher in The Iron Lady which I've seen the day before. She is nervous about the way we Brits will percieve her portrayal. It's flawless of course. The accent is pitch perfect and so is the body language; the purposeful stride made staccato by high heels, the large handbag gripped with just the right amount of force and the slightly forced smile, stretched richter across the Iron Lady's face. Hard work goes into a performance like that. She says she locked herself in a hotel room for over a week and watched tapes of Maggie over and over again going right back to her very first TV interviews in the 1950s when she was first elected as an MP to FInchley. Her voice was very different then, higher says Meryl who then launches into an imitation of the sort of "elecution posh" we're used to hearing in post war British films.
I point out that the film will probably upset a lot of people. The Left won't like it because it's too sympathetic and the Right won't like it because it shows Thather as she is now, diminished by dementia. Meryl points out its not her job to judge. She's just trying to empathise, to slip into Thatcher's skin. After a while I try to change the subject from the Iron Lady to Merly Streep. But she's not having any of it. I begin to understand why we know so little about this HOllywood star. She won't let us in. I ask how she feels about 3 of her 4 children going into showbiz. She smiles fondly "are you asking whether I would have preferred them to become bio-chemists or doctors instead of actors "?. A big sigh follows, "I worry for my two daughters with a mother like me but they seem happy" She tails off. There's a knock on the door. My time is up. I've met Meryl Streep but then again I'm not sure...........
There is nothing like the laughter of recognition. "Jumpy" - a new play by April de Angelis at the Royal Court in London - is about a woman who has just turned 50 and has a 15 year old daughter. HIlary -played by the wonderful Tamsin Greig - is teetering on the brink of a mid-life crisis. She's worried about her job, her marriage and her daughter (who is more interested in getting off with boys than doing her GCSEs). Hilary is a feminist. She went to Greenham Common in the early 80s and is appalled by her daughter's superficial consumerism and desire to dress like a little tart. She wants to communicate with her child but feels she is shouting across a insurmountable cultural chasm.

I went with a friend who has very similar problems with her own teenage daughter and was crying with laughter throughout the whole play while whispering in my ear "that's me on stage, that's what I'm always saying. I have teenage boy but I too could relate to Hilary's desperate efforts to talk to her child.

HIlary: How was school ?
Tilly: All RIght
HIlary Did you have a good day? Tell me something that happened ?
Tilly: Christ. I just walked in the door
Hilary: DOn't go upstairs yet.
Tilly Why ?
Hilary Just sit down, have a cup of tea with me
Tilly No

So if you're feeling down about being middle-aged and having teenagers go and see Jumpy. It will make you realise you're not alone

Educating Essex

Am loving this series on Thursday nights about a comprehensive school in Essex. This is proper documentary making as opposed to contrived reality TV. I've been watching it with my 13 year old son and it's prompted several pretty interesting discussions between us which is quite something given that he has recently entered the 'grunt" stage (think Harry Enfleld's Kevin) . There was a great moment tonight when the deputy head says "sometimes I think we forget that teenagers are still kids and they do things without thinking" and my son shouts from the sofa "yeah Mum, I wish you could remember that". THis programme has filled me with admiration for the job that teachers do. If every comprehensive was like this I don't think we'd have so many complaints about our education system. These guys really 'get' teenagers and I'm picking up some good tips on how to deal with them.

feeling guilty about my mobile

I haven't posted for a long time which I'm going to blame on several things, work, back to school, organising my husbands book launch (publishers don't pay for these things anymore) and the flu. I am the sort of person who never calls in sick. I have even been known to present a live TV news show with a tummy bug, puking into a bin when there is a video tape running but this lurgy (sore throat, aching bones general shit feeling) has defeated me.
However my time in bed has not been totally wasted. I have been watching a documentary called Blood in My Mobile. It's done in the style of a Michael Moore or Nick Bloomfield, you know the sort, documentary maker with large furry boom mike sticks his foot in the door of a corporate giant and asks tricky questions to shifty looking people in suits. In this case it's Nokia which is still one of the world's largest producers of mobile phones. It claims to be an "ethical"company but it hasn't done too much about tracing it's supply chain. As this film reveals every mobile phone, lap top and games console contains a vital mineral element called Coltan, much of which is mined in the war zones of Congo by small children working in appalling conditions. But that's not all. The Coltan funds the militias who rape and pillage their way through the jungle so everyone one of us with a mobile is indirectly funding the war in Congo. Apparently what we need to do as consumers is demand that someone - Nokia Apple Google etc - makes a phone which is free of conflict minerals. To find out where you can see it check out their website http://bloodinthemobile.org/ and do listen to my interview the filmmaker on Radio 4's Front ROw this Friday 23/9

And while we are on the subject of phones/computers etc please take a look at my husbands new book Dark Market: Cyberthieves, Cyber cops and You by Misha Glenny which is a true life story about a gang of cyber-criminals who ran a criminal website selling stolen credit cards and bank account details. It reads like a thriller but also contains useful info about how you can protect yourself from being hacked into.

Comedian Mark Thomas

You don't expect to cry when you see a stand-up comic. And I'm not talking about crying with laughter. No these were real tears. I wasn't the only one. As I got up to leave my seat in the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House on Saturday night, there were several women dabbing their eyes. What got us going was the comedian Mark Thomas talking about his Dad's love of opera. He explained that his Dad was a builder. He was proud of his working class heritage and regarded most people involved in the arts (including his own son) as toffs or queers. But he had a passion for opera and would occasionally burst into song while repairing a roof, much to the embarrassment of his son. At this point we were all laughing but he stopped us dead in our tracks but confiding that on the downside "He could also be a c*** . He would raise his fist to us kids and my mum. He even put my mum in A&E once".
Mr Thomas Senior is now a very old,very sick man confined to a wheelchair, unable even to feed himself. So when someone from the Royal Opera House rang Mark Thomas and asked if he'd like to take part in the annual Deloitte's contemporary arts festival - curated this year by film director Mike Figgis - Thomas said yes, on one condition. "Can you lend me a couple of opera singers? Just for a day to perform for my Dad in his bungalow in Bournemouth?". THe Opera House obliged and two singers were dispatched down to Bournemouth with a pianist to perform some Verdi. As Mark Thomas told this story he flashed up stills of the bungalow performance on a big screen. On the stage there was an empty wheelchair with a blanket on it and we were played recordings of the comedian trying to talk to his Dad about Opera. It could have been maudlin and sentimental but it wasn't. He told us his Dad was far from perfect, that they disagreed on most things. Mark THomas is a committed Leftie, his Dad a Thatcherite with very un-PC views on most things. But this was a son both coming to terms with his father and saying goodbye in a very special way.

The Hedgehog

Just watched a really sweet French film called The Hedgehog about the friendship between an 11 year old Parisian girl and the concierge who lives in her building. It's based on bestselling novel called The Elegance of the Hedgehog. You do have to suspend your disbelief a bit when it comes to the little girl - she is way too articulate for an 11 year old. Her observations about the adults are very funny and wonderfully astute. But it's also very moving - a little too sentimental in parts but I'm a big softie.

Jonathan Ross and comics

IF you've been wondering what Jonathan Ross has been up to during his absence from our TV screens - he's been writing a comic book called Turf. It's set in New York during prohibition and combines gangsters with aliens and vampires thrown in. There is plenty of of sex and violence so not one for the kids. I quite enjoyed the first half but found the endless fight scenes a bit tedious - maybe it's boy thing. Jonathan himself is a very engaging interviewee. He's a nerd when it comes to comic books but his enthusiasm is infectious and his knowledge of the genre is impressive. He's back on TV this weekend in a new ITV chat show that comes straight after the X-factor. I asked him if he wouldn't just prefer to carry on writing comics rather than return to the chat show sofa and he looked rather appalled by the suggestion. He clearly loves it but I guess being paid large sums of money for hanging out with celebs is pretty nice day job to have.



You can hear my interview on Friday Front Row 7.15 Radio 4 or listen again bbc.co.uk/frontrow

Little Angel Puppet theatre

I went to the wonderful Little Angel Puppet Theatre in Islington yesterday. I'd been before as a parent and audience member but this time because I was doing something for Front Row I went backstage and saw how the puppets are manipulated and then into the workshop where they are made. It's was like a scene from Pinochio watching these two people carving little faces and hands out of wood. In fact the whole place is rather magical. It was founded 50 years ago by JOhn and Lyndie Wright who came over from South Africa, bought an old ruined Temperance building with trees growing through the roof and with £750 inherited from an aged aunt realised their dream of running a puppet theatre. Their son is the Oscar nominated film director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, Hannah)and he describes growing up back stage at the puppet theatre as being so endlessly fascinating as a child that he never wanted to go to school. They do workshops and courses in puppet making for kids and adults and I found myself quite tempted to sign up. Apparently the success of War Horse means there is quite a big demand for puppets these days. If the BBC ever make me redundant, apprentice puppeteer could be my next career.
you can listen to my piece on this fridays programme bbc.co.uk/frontrow

The Inbetweeners

My 13 year old son is debating with his mates whether they can pass for 15 in order to get into The Inbetweeners film. Given that he has already watched all three TV series on DVD at a friends house (certificate 18) I consider that this horse has already bolted. However I can't say I'm entirely comfortable with the content. For those of you who don't know The Inbetweeners, it's about four teenage boys who are obsessed by wanking, drinking and girls. I had to interview the four actors involved last week for Front Row (my radio 4 prog). In order to prepare my producer suggested I watch some of the TV series which I had heard about from my son, but never seen. I watched one episode of series 3 at random and was horrified. It was all about how three of the boys fancy their friend, Will's Mum - referred to as a M.I.L.F (MOther I'd Like To Fuck) - and joke about going through her knicker drawer etc. I didn't find it funny in the least - but then I'm not a teenage boy.
The four actors - all in the mid twenties - were rather sweet and assured me it's all quite innocent really - just teenage bravado.

Books etc.

I’m reading an incredibly moving memoir by the American novelist, Francisco Goldman, whose wife, Aura, died after a freak accident on a beach in Mexico in 2007. The premise of Say Her Name could be very painful but is in fact a beautiful love story. It reminds me of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking which she wrote after her husband died.

I suppose that the thought I have on reading the Goldman is that it represents an attempt to somehow keep his loved one present as a living memory and to celebrate a relationship which was clearly full of great joy. As a consequence what might have collapsed into the genre of misery memoir is in fact incredibly uplifting and romantic.

I’m about to re-read HIsham Matar’s Anatomy of a Disappearance as I’ll be interviewing him at the Voewood festival in Norfolk later this month. Matar is a Libyan-born writer whose own father was kidnapped by the Gaddafi regime and never seen again. The novel, told through the eyes of a young boy, is clearly inspired by these events. The writing is absolutely beautiful and I can’t for the life of me understand why it isn’t on the Booker long list this year.

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