She stares. That's the first thing you notice about her. She tilts her head back with that sly suspicious smile and she stares for a long time. And you think, "Do I have something in my teeth or does she want to kick my ass?" which is not going to happen.
And then she'll ask questions. "What did you do last night Viola?" Oh, I cooked an apple pie. "Did you use pippin apples?" No, I didn't use Pippin apples, what the hell are Pippin apples? I used Granny Smith apples. "Did you make your own crust?" No, I used store bought crust, thats what I did. "Then you didn't make an apple pie, Viola."
Well that's because I spent all my time making my collard greens. I make the best collard greens. I use smoked turkey, chicken broth, and my special barbecue sauce. Silence. I shut her down.
"Well, they don't taste right unless you use ham hocks. If you don't use ham hocks it doesn't taste the same. So, how's the family."
And as she continues to stare, you realize that she sees you and, that like a high powered scanning machine, she is recording you. She is an observer and a thief. She reveals what she has stolen on that sacred place which is the screen. She makes the most heroic characters vulnerable, the most known familiar, the most despised relatable. Dame Streep.
Her artistry reminds us of the impact of what it means to be an artist, which is to make us feel less alone. I can only imagine where you go, Meryl, when you disappear into a character. I imagine that you are in them, patiently waiting, using yourself as a conduit, encouraging them, coaxing them to release all their mess, confess, expose, to live. You are a muse. Your impact encouraged me to stay in the line, Dame Streep. I see you. I see you.
And you know, all those rainy days we spent on the set of Doubt, every day my husband would call me at night and say, "Did you tell her how much she means to you?" and I would say, nah, I can't say anything, Julius. I'm just nervous. All I do is stare at her all the time, and he said "Well you need to say something, you been waiting all your life to work with this woman, say something." I said Julius, I'll do it tomorrow. "OK, well you better do it tomorrow because when I get there, I'm gonna say something." Never said anything. But I'm gonna say it now.
You make me proud to be an artist. You make me feel that what I have in me — my body, my face, my age — is enough. You encapsulate that great Emile Zola quote that if you ask me as an artist what I came into this world to do, I as an artist would say, I came to live out loud.
April Yvette Thompson