Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep, Michael Schulman: Book Review

On becoming an Iron Lady.

her again becoming meryl streep michael schulman book review
Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep Book Cover Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep
Michael Schulman
Biography
Harper
2016
Paperback
259

A portrait of a woman, an era, and a profession: the first thoroughly researched biography of Meryl Streep—the “Iron Lady” of acting, nominated for nineteen Oscars and winner of three—that explores her beginnings as a young woman of the 1970s grappling with love, feminism, and her astonishing talent.

In 1975 Meryl Streep, a promising young graduate of the Yale School of Drama, was finding her place in the New York theater scene. Burning with talent and ambition, she was like dozens of aspiring actors of the time—a twenty-something beauty who rode her bike everywhere, kept a diary, napped before performances, and stayed out late “talking about acting with actors in actors’ bars.” Yet Meryl stood apart from her peers. In her first season in New York, she won attention-getting parts in back-to-back Broadway plays, a Tony Award nomination, and two roles in Shakespeare in the Park productions. Even then, people said, “Her. Again.”

Her Again is an intimate look at the artistic coming-of-age of the greatest actress of her generation, from the homecoming float at her suburban New Jersey high school, through her early days on the stage at Vassar College and the Yale School of Drama during its golden years, to her star-making roles in The Deer Hunter, Manhattan, and Kramer vs. Kramer. New Yorker contributor Michael Schulman brings into focus Meryl’s heady rise to stardom on the New York stage; her passionate, tragically short-lived love affair with fellow actor John Cazale; her marriage to sculptor Don Gummer; and her evolution as a young woman of the 1970s wrestling with changing ideas of feminism, marriage, love, and sacrifice.

Featuring eight pages of black-and-white photos, this captivating story of the making of one of the most revered artistic careers of our time reveals a gifted young woman coming into her extraordinary talents at a time of immense transformation, offering a rare glimpse into the life of the actress long before she became an icon.

This review contains quotes from the book

*Special thanks to HarperCollins for allowing us to review this title.

Meryl Streep  is a legend. We all know that. But how did she become the legend she is today? What led her to this incredible career? Michael Schulman answers these questions by going back to Streep’s childhood in New Jersey in his biography on the star, Her Again. From there, Schulman takes us through many of the details that shaped Streep as the iconic actress she’s known as today.

“Oh, my God. Oh, come on,” she begins, quieting the crowd. She laughs to herself. “When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, ‘Ohhh, no. Oh, come on-why? Her. Again.’ You know?”

— excerpt from Michael Schulman’s Her Again

One of the most interesting aspects I found with the book was Schulman’s decision to label each chapter as the name of a character Streep has played in the past. In the beginning, Schulman describes who and how she was as a high school student; he discusses how Streep had to be someone else because of the boys and girls in her high school. She became a cheerleader to show everyone that she could be the “it girl” and not the tom boy she was growing up.

In the following chapter, Schulman he also recounts her college years at Vassar College. She learned to be more confident in herself because it was an all-girls school. There was no pressure when it came to boys because they were all at Yale or Dartmouth, far enough away for Streep to act the way she wanted. Schulman does a good job with describing each stage of Streep’s life, and it is refreshing to know that she, too, had self-esteem issues because who doesn’t? Nowadays, you only see her as this confident A-list actress, but it took a lot of hard work to get her there.

Another aspect that I liked was how each character she played impacted her life immensely. The first chapter is called “Mary,” which Schulman choses methodically because that was the name she was born with, but only used when she was growing up. Mary was also the character she played in high school because she wanted to be popular and be liked by all the boys. A memory that Schulman describes about Streep in high school is when she won homecoming queen in her senior year. She realizes then that she completed her act; she had truly become the popular person in high school.

“I reached a point in senior year when my adjustment felt like me,” Streep would recall. “I had actually convinced myself that I was this person and she me: pretty, talented, but not stuck-up.”

— excerpt from Michael Schulman’s Her Again

That was truly her first role when she changed everything about herself and became someone who was voted homecoming queen her senior year of high school.

“Mary Louise Streep spent four years trying to ace conformity and succeeded.”

— excerpt from Michael Schulman’s Her Again

Schulman makes sure to show who Streep truly was before she became a star. She was this girl who struggled with self-identity and wanted everyone to like her. She is like every other girl in regards to just wanting to be liked. This helps explain what she does and who she is now after having so much success in her life. When reading this book, you get an in-depth knowledge on how she felt during some of her roles.

“It’s like church for me,” Streep once said, before stumbling on the question of where she goes when she is acting. “It’s like approaching the altar. I feel like the more you talk about whatever it is, something will go away. I mean, there’s a lot of superstition in it. But I do know that I feel freer, less in control, more susceptible.”

— excerpt from Michael Schulman’s Her Again

You also see how much it took for her to be so good at what she does. The only thing that puzzled me was that she never saw herself as a movie star. She has this immense gift but always doubted herself. I always assumed that she had it all together because when you see her in public, she is just flawless. She gives 110% to everything she does, so you would hardly be able to tell. But after reading this, you see all of the pressure she goes through to make sure people see her as this confident woman.

“Neither a classic beauty in the mold of Elizabeth Taylor nor a girl-next-door type like Debbie Reynolds, she was everything and nothing-a chameleon. One thing she knew she was not: a movie star.”

— excerpt from Michael Schulman’s Her Again

In all, I would recommend this book to someone who is as obsessed with Streep as they are of her work. She is an amazing actress who deserves to be written about. I hope you all pick this one up because I know that most of you have seen at least a few of her movies in your life. There is no denying her talent, but by reading this novel you will see the inside scoop on what it was like to become the Iron Lady herself.

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Written by Jessica Duffield

I am a sophomore in college. Books are my passion and I hope to work in book publishing once I graduate.