While in LA for the #IntotheWoodsEvent last week, I had the opportunity to do something that few dream is even possible: I met Meryl Streep, Tracey Ullman and Christine Baranski. Pardon me while I faint, okay? My group of fabulous bloggers atteneded a special screening the evening before, as well as sat in on a Q&A session with the cast, but the next morning...we met these incredible ladies and had a good old fashioned chat. Just these three legendary actresses, sitting at the table with us as we asked questions about their roles in Into the Woods, friendship, motherhood and life.
It was a dream come true - one of those dreams that you never even have the audacity to think is a possibility, let alone say out loud.
Sit back with a cup of coffee and find out what these old friends have to say about Into the Woods, their friendship spanning 20 years and what it's like to raise children in today's world!
It became immediately clear as the ladies entered the room that they were old friends. As you read through this interview, imagine that a laugh track is playing in the background, as all these ladies did was laugh and smile the entire time! As I began putting the transcript together, I laughed myself at all of the [LAUGHTER] interjections in the transcription notes!
We asked: So, it's completely obvious you guys are friends. I love the chemistry. Can you tell us how that friendship came to be? And any funny stories you want to share with us?
Christine Baranski: Where do we begin? Well, Tracy and Meryl are old friends, so you can start there. That's an old friendship.
Meryl Streep: Well, I'm a way older friend than Tracy.
Tracey Ullman: Yes
Meryl Streep: I met her when she was 21. We did a movie called Plenty. I was 31. And I thought I'd just met my new best friend, who was my age, because I had no idea she had -- I think you were 20, maybe, when we started it.
Tracey Ullman: I was a pop star!
Meryl Streep: She was a pop star in England. Totally, she really was, discovered by Paul McCartney.
Tracey Ullman: He was my mate, yes. And then we worked on Plenty. I was a one-hit wonder here and an MTV vee-jay. And yeah, we got on great. We ended up in Tunisia, and we --
Meryl Streep: Yeah, we lived through that.
Tracey Ullman: Yeah. We broke down in the desert, and, oh, we flew back together, and the engine went, and we thought we were going to die. So we went through these dramatic moments.
Christine Baranski: We were dynamos in Greece together, on Mama Mia. So we had to do research by being friends, so we just hung out all the time, doing "research," so we had a lot of fun with all of that research.
Meryl Streep: But we'd known each other a hundred years.
Christine Baraski: We have, because we're theater babes, and we're Connecticut moms, and our kids are roughly the same age, and all three of us had long marriages, and shared, y'know, parallel experiences.
And it's a trick, being an actress, and wife, and mother, and having that longevity. That's a real achievement, in my opinion. That's the greatest achievement, not just in career, but holding your life together.
We didn't spend nearly enough time together on this movie, because, you know, you have different scenes and plot lines, but we did have one wonderful, long dinner one night in London. And that was great to have.
Thoughts on Motherhood and Parenting
We asked: Your characters are all like exaggerated versions of parenting methods gone wrong. Did any of you feel -- or, even more interesting, did any of your kids feel or see some similarities, and you guys were like, "Oh my God, you're right"?
Meryl Streep: Yeah.
Christine Baranski: I hold the girls a little too closely. Yes, perhaps.
Tracey Ullman: (She literally begins singing) Stay with me...
And of course, then there was a ton of laughter - both from the ladies and from us!
Meryl Streep: No, we're beaten up by our children.
Advice, Fairy Tales and Laughter
We asked: You all mentioned motherhood. What advice do you guys have for us young mothers with little kids, eight and under, little kids. What do you do to survive the life? You know, what advice do you have for us mothers, I mean, because you ladies are moms.
Meryl Streep: Well, I really feel, just speaking for the group, I feel like so much has changed. Raising little kids now is so different from when our children were little kids. I think that's part of why this film and its warnings and its, you know, overweening care of the mothers - it speaks to this time when children are, it's harder and harder to keep the world out. The worst parts of them out. To keep them in the little tower's impossible. And all of the bad stuff comes in, and people worried about this film, that it maybe is too dark for kids. Kids know so much now. And they're aware of so much, and yet they're so resilient, and innately hopeful. So that's sort of what the film is.
Tracey Ullman: Would we have taken Mabel and Grace to see this? When they were like, six? They would have handled this.
Meryl Streep: Are you kidding? You'd let them watch Cops.
Tracey Ullman totally cracked up at this - I think we all assumed it was an old joke among the ladies.
Meryl Streep: When they were seven. And Gracie came home and she said, "Oh." And then she was imitating, you know, the people, and the crack addicts, getting pulled by their hair.
Tracey Ullman: They would have liked it.
Meryl Streep: They would've loved it. I would have taken the kids at, well, I would say, seven, eight -- wouldn't you?
Christine Baranski: Maybe seven, eight. Kids are really like, visuals can really affect, and you can explain it away, but be careful what you give them visually. I remember seeing a documentary on an African tribe. There was this leopard man with long fingernails, and a mask, and I mean, it just had such an impression on me, and it just happened to be on the television set, so you never know what image can really get to them.
Tracey Ullman: But it goes back to these Grimm's Fairy Tales, and we all portray them as they were written. You know. I do smack the kid 'round the head, and I was always loving him afterwards, but, you know, when you would cut your child's foot off to marry a prince. The tower. Fairy tales were so frightening when I was a kid. You know, that Peter with the, you know. "Don't play with matches. Your hair catches on fire." And all of those illustrations. They were terrifying.
Meryl Streep: Bluebeard. Remember Bluebeard? Ooh.
Tracey Ullman: Yeah. They were for children to be scared of. They did get sort of sanitized a bit, fairy tales, the last 20 years.
We asked: Which fairy tales did you love when you were children and wanted to share to your kids when they were little? Which ones stayed with you the most?
Meryl Streep: Well, for me, I don't know if what stayed with me the most is what I wanted to share with my children necessarily, but I remember being really marked by Bluebeard, by this idea of a man who would take serial wives, one after another, and kill them in the castle. And I was terrified by that. It's probably why I just stayed married to the same man. But, no.
You know, I remember being dropped off at the library when I was eight, and just having the run of the place, and opening a book and seeing the pictures of the Kindertransport, a picture of the children's bodies, because one of the trucks had been where they'd just suffocated. And I'd never forgotten that. It made me ask my parents questions about the Second World War and the Nazis. And what that was.
And kids want to get ready for trouble. It's why my son used to draw lots of monsters. Boys draw lots of scary things, because they want to get ready. You know, they want to get ready.
Christine Baranski: And they're intrigued by it. I mean, look at our fascination with violence in our culture. It's just a part of it. I was always telling my kids, as read to them, that -- that there was such a thing as the world of the imagination.
I said, "You're safe. If you're in the world of the imagination, you can go anywhere, and you all come back from that, so you're safe. We will read this book, and it'll take you places, but don't worry. You will come back. There is that world."
And movies are like that. You go there, but, remember that you can come back. You don't transfer. But it can be tricky when a child is too young. They don't know how to do that. So, you know, be careful, I would say. Just take care of them, their little psyches.
On Changing The World, One Role at a Time
We Asked: This is for all three of you. You've played a variety of drama and comedy. What is your favorite role to play?
Meryl Streep: I don't know if I think about it that way.
I think each particular person you play deserves their own voice, and deserves their own place in the world.
And they're all about 5'6" and a half, and they're all about, you know, my weight and age that I play. But that's the - that's the through-line, but I feel like there are so many different women. So many different stories. And they each deserve their voice, you know, and their particular neuroses and needs and passions. So, I don't make a distinction.
Christine Baranski: Yeah. No, they are fun, but I think more to the point is the project that you're in if you feel like it's contributing, especially being, actresses who have an opportunity in our work to maybe move the culture forward, and show women in a deeper, more complicated way. I love that I'm playing somebody on television who is well-educated, she runs a law firm, she actually has a y'know, a relationship. She's not the butt of a joke. She's not an old crone.
You know, there's never a mention of menopause or any of these clichéd things that we have put on things after a certain age. I love that these are just non-issues, and she's a woman who is in the world, dealing with a complicated moral topography in her personal and professional life. So being part of anything like that - and I think that this - this movie is transformative, and contributes good to the world, so I think that's what would we look for.
Meryl Streep: Increasingly, that's what I think about. I mean, I have, I guess, for a long time, thought, each thing, is this helping? Or this hurting? What's this doing? Because everything makes a mark on the culture.
Everything you do, everything you do, every actress has a choice, you know?
Even if you're supporting a lot of kids, by yourself, you still have a choice, what you're putting out into the world, and I think it matters.
Christine Baranski: Yeah. Are you reinforcing clichés, and - or are you breaking? Breaking boundaries with the work?
Meryl Streep: Yeah.
On Finding Your Character
We Asked: Last night you had mentioned that one of the things that kind of helped you find your character was coming up with designs. So, what else - for all three of you - what else helps you develop that character into your own, instead of being that exact character that was on Broadway or just to kind of create it as "you"?
Meryl Streep: Well, for me, I feel like the part I played was so indelibly done on Broadway by Bernadette Peters. But it's also been indelibly done by many, many kids, throughout the country, in their high schools, and in colleges.
And it's like any really good play, the part can morph to the shape of the person who is, you know, in there. And, so, I felt completely free, and also a failing memory helps me in this. I would've stolen from Bernadette more, if I could remember the thing. So I felt free, too, and he made us feel that way, Rob Marshall, and certainly Sondheim said "Do what you want."
He also wrote me a song for this that isn't in the film, because it sort of halted the action, but it'll be in the DVD extras.
NOTE TO SELF: BUY THE BLU-RAY ASAP
But when he sang this for me in a private session, I was so thrilled, and he gave me the sheet music at the end. I said, "Could...do you mind...could I keep the sheet music?" And he said, "Sure." I said, "Well, I hate to ask this, but would you sign it?" And he said, "Yeah. I'd be glad to," and he wrote: Don't screw it up.
But that was, ah, sobering.
We Asked: So, back to the costumes and the makeup and hair and everything. How long was the makeup and hair process, and what was your favorite design?
Christine Baranski: You know, I was just thinking about this in getting ready today, about the look of the step-family, and I will never forget, my first day on the set was a huge, huge scene at Dover Castle, with the arrival of Cinderella. And I had been going back and forth, doing Good Wife, so I didn't have a whole lot of time for hair and, um, makeup tests and all. And this marvelous man, Peter King, he put on my blonde wig, and it was really big, because we originally conceived of them as a truly over-the-top, larger-than-life, trying-too-hard kind of family.
And I showed up and Rob took one look at me, and went..."too big." And I had to go all of the way and then I thought as I look at the movie, and I see my various hairstyles in there, they're a little bit, and then a little off, I think, but that's exactly right. That's exactly right. These women, they are trying so hard. You know. You look in the mirror and go, "Mmm, no, that's not enough, I need more hairspray. More, more, more." And they don't get it exactly right. And so it's funny. Little accidents can be very helpful and very human, and exactly right for the character.
Tracey Ullman: I loved my approach. Peter King said to me on the first day, "I'm going to make you a gray wig." And most people would be like, "I don't want to go gray." I was like, "Great." Made me go gray, having this wig, and I put it up in this topknot, and I had this beautiful, simple, Colleen Atwood outfit, that reminded me of a sort of Dries van Noten peasant look, and I could roll around in the leaves, and there was just no vanity, and I just loved it.
I loved meeting these fabulous ladies and I really felt that I gained an entirely new appreciation of the film after hearing their insight into the characters. Big, huge thanks to Disney for inviting me to LA for the #IntotheWoodsEvent!
GO TO THE WOOD.
Seriously. Go. Stop what you're doing right this very second and buy your tickets for Christmas Day! Into the Woods is the must-see movie of the season!
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Thank you to Louise of MomStart.com for her photos, and a HUGE Thank You to Disney for bringing me out to LA for the Into the Woods event! I attended as part of an all expenses paid media trip, but all opinions are my own.