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Callas, Streep, and "Master Class"

Tyne Daly played the role on BroadwayYou've undoubtedly heard the news by now that Meryl Streep will be playing opera diva Maria Callas in the film adaptation of the play Master Class, about Callas teaching a voice class at Juilliard. Well, telefilm adaptation I guess... so ink Streep down for the Emmy whenever that arrives since Hollywood is all about over-rewarding the winners. On stage the role has been played by Fanny Ardant, Zoe Caldwell, Faye Dunaway and Tyne Daly. Master Class is, in a way, a distant cousin to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as each involve an imperious older woman teaching students while also basically monologuing about her own glory days.

Terence McNally's play has been around since 1995 and as recently as last Winter Faye Dunaway, who played the role in a Los Angeles production, was still being interviewed about her struggle to get it on film. If Dunaway was that invested in it I'm confused about the rights issues because wouldn't she have already acquired them? 

As much as I love Streep, her dominance continues to haunt me. I'm an actressexual but I am in no way monogamous about it. (I assure you, 1000% percent that if my beloved Pfeiffer returned to the movies and got every part for a 50something woman, I'd complain, too.) And while I despair for the other supremes Streep's age who can't get around her to get their shot at golden roles (both because Hollywood always wants Streep and because Streep is more prolific now than she has been since her late twenties!), this could be truly great. Mike Nichols is Streep's best collaborator and truly gifted at guiding her. Streep has rarely been better than she was in Silkwood, Postcards from the Edge, and Angels in America. I'd list only two of her other performances as equal to that realm of pure transcendence.

Maria Callas

That said it'd be more tantalizing, at least from afar, to have a lesser lauded less ubiquitous performer and it'd definitely be fascinating to have a "has been" goddess  in the role. Consider that on Broadway one of the raves for Daly's performance said:

one of the most haunting portraits I’ve seen of life after stardom

Not that Streep doesn't have prodigious gifts of imagination but "life after stardom" is not something the three time Oscar winner has or ever will experience, despite it being a universal journey for 98% of movie actresses. 

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Reader Comments (68)

I'm excited for this as Nichols is a director that Streep can't intimidate with her status, which sounds sinister but I don't mean it that way. I'm pretty sure that the directors she has worked for have been too intimidated to give her direction or notes other than "you're Meryl so off you go!" Now hopefully Nichols and Meryl will be on the same page and go for more restraint instead of a certain hamminess that's touched on Streep's work as of late.

I can't blame Streep for picking all of these roles though -- I'm sure it's still fresh for her when she was declared over years ago when she was still giving great performances. That said, who would be interesting here? My vote would go to Kristin Scott-Thomas.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterF

Nat, Meryl simply dominates because everyone writes about her.
Any other actress with her polarizing filmography would already be a "has-been".
But Meryl is not any other actress, so...
And aren't people crying all over the world she should finally work with a decent director again?
But even then it's wrong. *sigh*
Just from that Playbill picture though, I understand the casting. Wow!

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Kristin Scott Thomas is a great choice. I immediately thought of Barbra as an imperious still talented but not really "in demand" actress. Barbra might not be able to pull off the "otherness" that Callas might demand though.

I'd rather it were Cher or Jessica Lange or maybe a powerhouse who never quite "made it" like Stockard Channing, but hey at least it isn't Shirley MacLaine in the role (who I love, but come on).

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

"meryl, stop working with shitty directors!" - a movie fan
"meryl, stop getting all the [4 available per year, apparently] roles!" - another one
"meryl, just STOP!" - 3rtful

and let's play RECAST!

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

"Meryl Streep proving once again that there are still great parts in Hollywood for Meryl Streeps over 60!"

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertherealmike

The missed opportunity here is not casting Anjelica Huston. This is a television adaptation. So her commercial viability is an irrelevance.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I likewise am a fan of Meryl but enough already! I'm perilously close to Streep fatigue. It's not her age, which is way off the mark since Callas would have been about 45 when the story is set, but let someone else have a chance to dazzle us. Faye Dunaway is even farther off the mark age wise but I was hoping that this would showcase her well and get her back into the sort of projects her talent deserves. It's a shame that the time has passed when Tyne Daly, a wonderful and unique actress who received great reviews when she did the play, wouldn't be considered for the film.

In lieu of that and they went with an age appropriate choice, it seems odd to be saying that for someone who's older since its almost always a younger performer playing older, Marisa Tomei would have been ideal.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Bring on the showboating and faux-humble acceptance speeches!

I'm sorry, but Meryl ain't right.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike M.

I have to say, Anjelica Huston sounds fabulous for this.

That said, what I find quite interesting about this casting is that Streep has been quite vocal (no pun intended) about how her first ambition was to be an opera singer, though she would quickly abandon in for theater and film. Playing a "has been" great opera singer would be interesting for her when in fact she's a "never was" great opera singer. It's one of the few things she herself has said she could not do (too much math in music theory, plus her voice wasn't strong enough).

How this would inform her portrayal remains to be seen, but she brings an interesting perspective to the role. And the Mike Nichols collaboration makes it promising. I'm curious to see how it turns out.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Keller

God forbid Meryl accept parts that come to her. I never understand people who blame her for having this great career and all these excellent roles in her 60s. If you're going to get mad about it, blame the studios/directors, not her.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

Was Sigourney not available,Faye has had to much surgery to take seriously in any role..

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

Saw Zoe Caldwell do it on stage. I was so in awe at the end I screamed and yelled BRAVA while leaning over the balcony railing like some deranged theatre queen. Never did that before nor after. Hers was a truly legendary performance. Not really too upset about Streep doing the part even after her horrible performance in August: Osage County. She does better with a foreign accent anyways. My understanding was that Dunaway bought the rights awhile back and there was talk of Pacino playing Onasis. That pairing still sounds a bit more interesting but I think in this case Streep should excel. I'm more concerned on her take on the Witch in Into the Woods.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commentersissyinhwd


I'm confused, the IMDB.com page lists Faye Dunaway as directing and starring in this? Is this is a different project? Or did Meryl take over?

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

I saw Tyne Daly in "Master Class' on Broadway and she was brillant. While I know she would be great in the HBO movie but let's keep it real. A "starah' is required these days to get any project moving and this has been on the pipeline for years. Let's not forget how long it took "The Normal Heart" to finally be made.(Thanks again, HBO).

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony

Fantastic news. Streep is the greatest and will be magnificent in this. It's quite hilarious the people on here complaining about her. When she has done basically one movie a year y'all act like she has taken every part. Lol. Hopefully people where you work are sick of you doing your job.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Meryl continues to slay these lessers, and you gurls are still pressed about it. If you all had the chance to be the baddest bitch in Hollywood, you wouldn't take it when it's been handed to you on a sliver platter over and over again? Come on, now. Streep's career run is unprecedented in film history! Let her have it while she can before it's too late.

Slay on, Meryl!

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDorian

Every other option that I've read proffered here seems more fascinating than Meryl (I say give Donna Murphy a chance considering that it's TV and the stakes are lower), but we all knew that when this film was eventually made the role would go to her, so there's no use being annoyed over the decision. I'm actually more interested to see who's cast in the Sharon role, which Audra McDonald originated.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Callas turned 48 when she gave those master classes at Juilliard, so Streep is a little old for the part, but she is still an excellent choice. Now, an inspired choice would be someone like Laura Dern, Lili Taylor, Emmanuelle Seigner, or, yes, Kristin Scott Thomas or Nicole Kidman.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Having read Master Class I'd have to disagree with the Jean Brodie comparison.

Jean Brodie really is in her prime in both the movie and the book - she is doing what she was designed to do -> talk about herself.

In Master Class - Maria Callas has already stopped doing what she was designed to do - sing!

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

I am beyond excited for Meryl Streep. She will knock this out of the park as she does with every part she does. You jealous people commenting crack me up. If this was you I bet you would take the great parts offered to you. Hate on haters. Meryl is THE BEST ever.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Nate - what are the 2 other performances that you consider to be on a
level with her Nichols collaborations?

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Nichols + Streep is always good news. I'd like to see Tilda Swinton in one of these mainstream plum roles, though.

I'm more worried about losing prestige projects to Tv (this one, The Normal Heart), no matter if it's HBO or Showtime, in the end, they're just the old fashioned TV movies. I want movies in the movie theaters.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

I just wish this was hitting the big screen and not just on HBO...as for Meryl- I am happy that she is working with Nichols again.... And I am sorry but her participation in a movie is a better bet for studios then some "actress" that you feel needs her time to shine...

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

Mary, it's not really about us being jealous. It's about us being dismayed that many terrific actresses are not getting offered parts because Meryl is constantly being cast by accountants who can't see past their profit margins. Because let's face it, she's not being hired just for her talent but for her bankability by sharks who want a proven commodity with no risk involved. Meryl Streep is the cinematic equivalent of a spotless credit report.

Not to say Streep's not insanely talented. But there's a huge possibility that other actresses could surpass her in some of these roles. And they should be given the chance, especially considering how sparse roles are for mature performers.

Nobody wants to see Meryl Streep in every movie, no matter how good she is.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

When I read this, my heart sank. I like Meryl, but this is a boring choice, and she's not right for the role.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRobMiles

This just in:

Judi Dench replaces Meryl Streep in movie adaptation of Master Class. lol

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKramerica

You people act like she gets every role out there. Let's see...look up the enormous amount of movies released just last year alone. Streep was in how many? One. Yep she is taking ALL the roles. Man looks like she is taking ALL the roles again this year. she has been in so many movies already this year. And I thought Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were the ones being cast in a lot. And Scarlett Johannson. Stupid me. How did i moss seeing Streep in all 28 movies i have seen in theater in 2014. Adams, lawrence and scarlet are the ones in a lot of movies. You people are jealous and if streep had one line in a movie you would cry. Lol. Why don't you all become the person who casts people in movies so you can pick mediocre actresses for great parts. Let's see how that works for you!!!!

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKay

the same, idk, 20 actresses keep getting cast in all the 'important' parts in hollywood... as if meryl invented this. the hot-list with 20 names remains the same for a few years, adds new starlets now and then, and drops actresses getting older or 'irrelevant'.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

Next question: Who gets Audra's role? Any takers?

My pick: Lauren Worsham

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIan

This is hilarious reading the hate. Yes meryl gets ALL the great parts. She was phenomenal last year in Gravity, Saving Mr. Banks, Philomena, Blue Jasmine, American Hustle, 20 Feet From Stardom, Enough Said, The Hunger Games, Before Midnight, 12 Years A Slave just to name a few of the great parts Streep landed last year. It's too bad no one else gets a great part because those movies I listed were great roles.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric

She's managed to make her renewed moment last and at this point, I don't think Meryl will ever slip back into being seen as "over." So... I don't blame her for taking advantage.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBia

If Meryl said no, the production wouldn't be made. Not in all instances, but for something such as this, if Meryl turned it down there'd no way they'd offer to it to Glenn Close for example. Look how hard Close had to work and how long she had to wait before her passion project Albert Nobbs was made.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKeegan

I'm not blaming Meryl. Still, there will be dissention over this situation.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Can anybody tell me if there's singing involved? Maybe it doesn't apply here, but one of my biggest pet peeves about Streep's dominance is that she keeps getting roles in musicals despite the fact that she can't sing! (Sure, relative to the average Joe, she's fine, but compared to the myriad of brilliant actresses with amazing voices, she's a regular underperformer.)

Yes, I'm still angry that she was gifted the part of the Witch in Into the Woods.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I also think it's shameful to point the finger at Meryl, as well as at any other actor out there who keeps getting the juice.

Only an actor knows how hard it is to stay alive in the business, therefore, once you keep on getting the great roles why reject them? It's what you've been dreaming for all along - great roles in films that are seen by the public!

Reportedly, she did decline the mother role in Black Swan!

For the record, 2014 will be the first year since 2009 when she has more than 1 motion picture released! Also, no movie featuring her in 2010.

The finger should not be pointed at Meryl Streep for being great and for snatching one of the 2 or 3 big roles (for women her age) per year, it should be pointed at writers, directors and most of all producers for allowing for such a limited number of good roles for women her age to kiss the big screen.

Also, last time I checked Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Vanessa Redgrave are doing quite OK, too. Sigourney Weaver is hyperactive.

Jessica Lange is in a big TV Show. Glenn Close had Damages for 5 years.

Sissy Spacek is one to worry about, she's too talented to be ignored so completely.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Meryl's contemporaries are NOT starving at night, nor are they cursing the day that she was born for taking all of their roles. Everyone's doing just fine. Can't wait to see this on screen finally.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJalen

I really had to laugh at all the deriding comments on "hog" Meryl... the fact is, she is a great actress and has really opened the field for actresses of age ( Nat, I don't care that you do not believe this!!!!)... she does approximately 1 movie a year... OK?

This year she is in The Giver ( minor part), The Horseman ( a cameo for a friend and her daughter )

Then in a main part in Into the Woods ... give the woman a break ... she can act, sing , and just about everything you can ask a human to do... the other ladies mentioned are quite talented , but limited in many ways IMO!

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Hollywood is responsible for our online tribalism. But that is the nature of the film business. It is against women of age and color. Whenever one criticizes Streep it is not about hate but resentment of the same fucking female in front. Also foreign actresses do not factor in the why are they not working more rants. They have the luxury of not relying on Hollywood for work.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Fantastic. No one is better than Meryl Streep. She will do an amazing job. And to all you knocking her...get over it. Streep does not get every great part every year. She didn't get any of the best leads last year. Those went to Dench, Thompson, Bullock and Blanchett. So it only shows your hate and jealousy to criticize her and say she hogs all the good stuff. If she did you would not have seen one of those four I listed in that movie. Get over it and look at the entire picture. She does one major movie a year. That is not taking every big role. Goodness people.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Rather than blaming Streep for taking all the roles, shouldn't we concentrate our blame on the directors, producers, and screenwriters who aren't making MORE roles for women her age?!?! You can't reasonably blame Streep for taking advantage of the limited time she has left (as sad as that is to think about) to tackle as many great roles as she can! I, for one, hope she continues to fill her resume with many more roles I can cherish when she's no longer with us.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

Streep is excellent casting and we should all be grateful we get to see her perform again. We'll miss her when she's gone (I don't even want to think about that). Nichols as director is an added bonus. I expect this to be great and I look forward to it. HBO has had a great run over the years, as much as I'd rather see this in theaters.

Just to address some of the snarky comments above...
Tyne Daly is 3 years older than Streep. Anjelica Huston is 3 years younger than Streep but looks way, way older. And Streep looks way younger than her soon-to-be 65yo.
How often does Streep sing in movies or do musicals? Like hardly ever. 3-4 that I can think of over a 40 year movie career. I don't think singing will be a part of this project anyways.
Streep does NOT get every role in Hollywood. To think she does is laughable.

Meryl Streep will be wonderful in this. I think it's perfect casting. She's pretty much great in everything she does.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

comments are so predictable every time Meryl comes up and i have to say. It's depressing to me that people love Meryl more than they love acting or movies as artforms. FACT: there are other people who are talented and to dismiss them all as "they're just not as good as her" is just shortsighted and really ungenerous to some of our most gifted actresses.. Different actors bring different things to the table. I love Streep but there is no way in hell that she is THE BEST person for every role that's out there. No one would be!

and i'm confused by people saying that Meryl only makes 1 movie a year. That is patently false. Let's look at every year since the comeback.

2002 -2 movies
2003 - 1 movie
2004 - 2 movies
2005 - 1 movie
2006 - 2 movies / 3 if you count voicework
2007 -4 movies
2008 - 2 movies
2009 -2 movies / 3 if you count voicework
2010 - nothing
2011 - 1 movie
2012 - 1 movie
2013 - 1 movie
2014 - 4 movies
2015 - 1 movie (plus 1 telefilm if Callas comes out then)

In the Aughts she made 16 movies
In this new decade she has already made 8 movies.
For comparison sake

She made 11 movies in the 1990s
She made 11 movies in the 1980s
She made 5 movies in the 1970s

So yes she's taking more parts than she ever has in her entire life. Fans need to get some perspecitve about the history. I'm not sure why she is working this much and tempting the "meryl fatigue" thing that was a problem in the late 80s (people turned on her briefly from 89 through 93... ) when even in her oscar speech she seemed very aware that her dominance was starting to grate on people. Many of the greatest movie stars of all time have been very careful about the "1 film per year" rule so as not to oversaturate the market.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

She is too old for This. And cant they even think of someone who looks a tiny bit mediterranean????

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

In response to all those voices, Meryl will get another job. The numerous posts here just valiate why HBO wants Meryl. Get on with it!

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlexi

Nat, her kids got older. The youngest one turned 18 in 2009, so I think we can continue to expect a lot of work from Streep until the roles dry up, if they ever do,

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Mariah Carey should replace her, tbh.

Nat- but most of the films you list each year are either voice work or really glorified, small cameo like performances.... Most of them which not too many have seen... There are far more other celebrities that are guilty of over saturation the market. She is in her 60s- I am glad she is over saturating herself. I think she is keenly aware there are fewer days ahead than are behind. More Meryl is the least of my issues with Hollywood

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

I love the play. I've seen it twice. The last time was last winter played by a sublime Norma Aleandro.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Jamie - come on. that's not true! there's 2 voice performances among 27 films. My point stands ;)

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

She's 65 (soon). SIXTY-FIVE.
Anyone in her position would take everything that is offered to them.
Is she perfect for every role? No. But imo she comes quite close often.
Everyone has their flaws. So what?
The fact that she still is where she is, despite critical and commercial flops (eh she already had them in the 80's and 90's), despite not being a typical Hollywood beauty (she's beautiful in her own way of course), despite her age.... is just impressive. Legend.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

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