It’s been the kind of winter to put a spring in the step of the Murmansk tourist board, so it was some relief when Meryl Streep and her Doubt co-star, Amy Adams, eschewed the dizzying glamour of a Leicester Square red carpet, and headed indoors for an altogether warmer, more low-key event in the tearoom of London’s Browns Hotel.
A taut, engrossing drama set in a Bronx Catholic school in 1964, Doubt tackles some weighty issues: religion, race and child abuse among them, and pits Streep’s fiercesome, disciplinarian Sister Aloysius against Philip Seymour Hoffman’s charismatic priest. Thankfully the actress was considerably less fierce in the flesh, although she admitted to sharing some traits with the fire-breathing nun. “I have a great part of me that’s very judgmental and I brought all of that to bear on this character. I sit at home and watch the TV and make my decisions the same way everyone does, and it’s not wonderful."
Looking suitably regal in a cream coat, Streep chatted happily across a variety of subjects, from her plans to attend the Baftas next month (“I’m going to scrounge something nice to wear”); to ageism in Hollywood ("I think the movies are becoming more open to stories that don’t just appeal to the heads of the studios, who are usually men"); the Obama inauguration (“My daughter’s going. I’ll be in Paris, but I have got a dress with stars and stripes to wear, so I’ll be there in spirit”), and the way she takes her tea (milk with one, if you’re making).
With awards season in full swing, Streep had some sage advice for her fellow nominees. “I think it’s important to remember people’s names, because if you don’t remember people’s names their feelings get hurt, even if you don’t mean it. When I won the Oscar for Sophie’s Choice I named everyone on the crew, even the caterer, but I forgot the producer. He said to me afterwards, ‘Thanks a lot!’ Ever since then I’ve thought that even if you don’t have a speech, you’ve got to get the names right."
Whatsit, er, Amy Adams, who plays the good-natured young nun Sister James in the movie, was next by to talk about the dramatic costume change for her next role, as Amelia Earhart in Night At The Museum 2. “It was wonderful, except the leggings made me a bit self-conscious. It went from one extreme to the other: from a habit where I could lose all vanity, to leggings where you can’t hide anything."
Writer/director John Patrick Shanley was full of praise for his three leads. “It was a hard working set. The material is very demanding on the actors and they’d sit in their corners very quietly, getting ready to do their scenes. Phil would sit staring out the window, smoking cigarette after cigarette, while Meryl was pacing up and down."
Shanley adapted his own Tony-winning stage play for the screen, and reflected on its genesis at the time of the invasion of Iraq. “I didn’t want to write anything that was an on-the-nose allegory, it just reminded me that at the moment when we were invading Iraq, there was an undervaluing of doubt. Doubt is a positive hallmark of wisdom."
Doubt represents the end of a Malick-esque 18 year break from filmmaking for Shanley after battling Warner Bros. post-Joe And The Volcano, but success means he’s hot property in Hollywood again. "The phone has rung a couple of times, yeah,” he said with a smile, before heading down the road to the Mayfair Hotel’s Edwardian cinema to introduce the film to assembled VIPs and fans.
Doubt opens on February 6