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Kiss and tell
Publication Date : 12-09-2012
When it comes to talking about love and marriage, actors Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones bring plenty of life experience to the conversation.
With nearly 100 films between them, the Hollywood veterans have also fielded their share of media interviews, and it shows.
At a press conference to promote their latest movie, the comedy-drama Hope Springs, Streep is right at home answering questions about her role as a desperately lonely housewife.
In the film, which opens in Singapore tomorrow, she plays Kay, an empty nester whose marriage to Jones' character has quietly come apart at the seams.
Her husband Arnold is an everyman who goes to work in the morning, falls asleep in front of the TV in the evening and hates talking about his feelings.
Hoping to revive the spark in their relationship, Kay coerces him to go with her to see a marriage counsellor, played by Steve Carell.
While the film has its funny moments, it is not in the same comedic vein as Streep's recent marital romp, It's Complicated (2009), which is more light- hearted.
Rather, Hope Springs is a poignant look at what it takes to keep alive a long-time married couple's intimacy as the years go by and routine settles in.
"Love is uncomfortable - really, really loving someone and feeling stuck, inarticulate as to how to get out of the rut that you're in, it's hard," says Streep, dressed casually in a white sheer blouse and loose-fitting black pants at the Four Seasons Hotel.
"I think this was an opportunity to talk intimately about things that matter in a way that we don't get to see from people our age in the movies," adds the 63-year-old actress.
"What was that one with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams?" she asks suddenly, turning to Jones who shrugs helplessly.
"Blue Valentine," calls out a reporter.
"Yeah, this is Blue Valentine for us," Streep says, referring to the acclaimed 2010 film that similarly deals with the fraying of a marriage of a young couple.
While that earlier movie earned Williams her second Oscar nomination - and her first for Best Actress - Streep is at an altogether different stage of her career. Even if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does not honour her Hope Springs performance next year, she already holds the record with 17 nominations, winning three for Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979), Sophie's Choice (1982) and The Iron Lady (2011).
In her 30-year career, she has played such diverse characters as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Holocaust survivor and a fashion magazine editor, and mastered numerous accents.
Hope Springs, however, had a unique challenge in store for her. Asked about a scene that required her to fake masturbation, Streep peers over the top of her eyeglasses and surveys the 15 or so reporters packed into the conference room. She pauses for a dramatic moment, before nonchalantly replying: "What makes you think I was faking?"
Shrieks of laughter pierce the air. The acting goddess and media darling has the room in the palm of her hand.
While her answers are spirited and off-the-cuff, Jones', in contrast, are more gruff and deliberate.
He looks smart in a tan suit and frameless spectacles, his thinning hair neatly slicked back and thin lips seemingly set in a permanent scowl. Then comes a rare smile from him transforming his face and crinkling his leathery skin with contentment.
Filming the intimate scenes with Streep in the movie was "just another day at the office", he says.
One gets the sense that, to him, press days are no different. The 65-year-old is attentive and polite but gives off an air of impatience - perhaps the result of 40 years of putting up with media tours.
The Harvard alumnus got his start on Broadway in the late 1960s before landing bit parts in TV and film, eventually carving a career out of tough-guy roles such as his Oscar-winning turn as a United States Marshal in The Fugitive (1993) and as a sheriff in No Country For Old Men (2007).
The opportunity to finally work with him in their first screen collaboration got Streep on board for Hope Springs.
Despite minimal rehearsals, they clicked immediately, she says. "I felt so immediately married and so immediately aware of every shift. Every time I would say something to Steve (Carell), I could feel the reverberations coming over from the other side - we were miles apart on this couch, but I felt it," says Streep, who has been married since 1978 to sculptor Don Gummer, with whom she has four children.
Jones reciprocates, adding: "It was an absolute joy to go to work every day."
Commenting on his character, he says with a chuckle: "He watches golf, he reads golf magazines, he likes the clothes but I doubt that he plays golf or, if he does, that he's any good. He goes to work, he comes home, watches TV and he's perfectly happy, or he thinks he's perfectly happy in his routine.
"Everybody has blinders of some kind and some people just get covered up in them."
According to reports, he married his third wife in 2001 and has two grown children from his second marriage to the daughter of a former politician.
While Hope Springs deals with the trials of an older couple, Streep says the problem is not just a generational one. "The social model resides, I think, through many different generations, even into the hippest Gen Ys," she says. "Women make a religion of relationships and they study how to make them work, and men don't."
Then she adds: "Just as a generalisation."
Leaning his arm on his co-star's chair, Jones interjects: "I don't think it's because men care less. I think it's because of the role-playing of that social model, and more than that, people being on auto-pilot in some ways as they go through life.
"I hope my children will avoid some of the pitfalls that Arnold and Kay have fallen into. I expect they will but anybody can become complacent or co-dependent."
Streep has been applauded as much for her ability to maintain a stable family life throughout her career as she has for her acting chops.
Two of her four children with Gummer - Mamie, 29, and Grace, 26 - have followed in her footsteps and made acting their careers. It seems that they have both avoided the tabloid scandals that tend to plague the children of celebrities.
But if there is a secret to balancing a happy family and an astronomically successful career, she is not telling.
Neither she nor Jones has any relationship advice to dole out. "I don't know," he scoffs. "We're film-makers, we're not therapists."