The fantastic Ms. Streep
Recognizing a movie star on the street — or any place other than onscreen — can be a thrill. But being recognized by a movie star — when you're just a regular kid — is a different story.
I went to Carnegie Hall on June 1 to cover the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and interview some of the winners. I also had the opportunity to interview three-time Academy Award winning actor Meryl Streep, who was the special guest speaker. I was so excited!
Ms. Streep had been my first interview ever three years ago as a new Scholastic News Kid Reporter, covering the red carpet premiere of the film Fantastic Mr. Fox in New York City. I was 9 years old at the time and had no idea that a red carpet assignment is pretty much the opposite of glamorous. You're assigned to stand for hours in a space the size of a Kleenex — usually on a busy sidewalk in the snow or 100-degree summer heat — while an army of adult reporters and camera crews keep shoving you just so they can get a better shot or shout "Who are you wearing?!" to every star who walks past. As a kid reporter, you're always the smallest person in the press line — easily trampled and frequently ignored.
But at the Fantastic Mr. Fox red carpet, Ms. Streep walked right over to me, shook my hand, gave me great quotes, complemented me on my interview questions, and then rushed off to get inside the theater for the premiere of her movie. She only spoke to a few reporters, and I was the last of them, so all the adults in the press line who had been shoving me minutes earlier were suddenly super friendly, asking to "borrow" my quotes and urging me to take their business cards.
I owed that first journalistic success to the graciousness of Meryl Streep, but I didn't expect her to remember me now, three years later, backstage at Carnegie Hall.
But once again, I was pleasantly surprised — shocked, really — by Meryl Streep. Waiting outside her dressing room, I saw her step out of the elevator, surrounded by helpers and publicists telling her who I was and what I was there for. She swept them aside and came straight toward me.
"It's nice to see you again," she said warmly, smiling at me. She remembers me? I thought. Suddenly, my excitement turned to nervousness. Seeming to read my mind, Ms. Streep put her arm around me just like a mom, calmed my nerves, and steered me toward the dressing room where our interview would take place.
She pulled out two chairs for us, but before I could sit down, she said, "Hang on a moment. You've grown."
"I'm wearing heels," I replied, blushing.
"You've still grown," she insisted. She was right — I'm about four inches taller now than when we first met.
I had been told beforehand that I would only have five minutes with Ms. Streep. I got nervous again. What if I said the wrong thing? What if I took up too much of her time? What-ifs whirled around in my head. Calm down, I told myself sternly. You'll only make her uncomfortable if you keep stalling.
I asked my first question. Somehow, the words came out in the right order and sounded fine. She answered thoughtfully. I surprised myself by forgetting my nervousness, becoming absorbed in the interview, and asking follow-up questions with ease. It all ran smoothly. At the end of the interview, I asked her to describe in one word how she felt to be there that night.
"Nervous," she said. What? I thought. Meryl Streep, world-renown, award-winning, famous actor is actually nervous?
"Why?" I asked her.
"I'm going on stage at Carnegie Hall!" she exclaimed, referring to the speech she was about to make. "It's nerve-wracking!"
I was surprised. "But you've been in so many films with so many stars," I said.
"I know! You'd think it'd go away!" she exclaimed, smiling.
After the formal interview was over, Ms. Streep talked with me for a few more minutes, about my reporting and her movies. I realized I had been there for much longer than five minutes. Yikes! I stood up to leave and Ms. Streep said the nicest thing a Kid Reporter can ever hope to hear: "It was great seeing you again. I'm sure I'll be seeing you forever and ever."
I smiled, thanked her again, and hoped she was right.
Photo: Meryl Streep laughs during her interview with Kid Reporter Grace McManus before the 2012 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards celebration at Carnegie Hall. (Photo: Dante A. Ciampaglia)