Meryl Streep’s daughter also risesBy Ruben V. Nepales
Philippine Daily Inquirer
LOS ANGELES—It’s understandably extra tough for Mamie Gummer to be an actress and have Meryl Streep as her mother. The eldest daughter of the greatest living film actress is the first to admit it.
“Not to turn this into a therapy session, but it’s weird and sometimes a struggle,” confessed Mamie in an interview at the penthouse floor of the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. “But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve dealt with it and can handle it with some dexterity.”
With solid credits in theater and film, Mamie might have a breakout hit in “Emily Owens, M.D.,” her drama series which premieres in the US on the CW network in October. Based on the screener that I saw, Mamie is absolutely fun and engaging as Emily, a surgical intern at Denver Memorial Hospital who thought she has put her geeky high school days behind her. Well, it turns out that her high school nemesis (Aja Naomi King) is also an intern at the hospital and, pretty soon, they are competing again—this time, to impress their mentor, a famous surgeon.
On her earliest memory of being impressed by her mom’s acting prowess, Mamie recalled, “The first time that I had a great appreciation for her work and how devastatingly good she was was when I saw ‘Sophie’s Choice.’”
Mamie offered a snapshot of what it was like growing up in rural Salisbury, Connecticut, in the household of Meryl and sculptor Donald Gummer: “We weren’t allowed to watch television until our homework was done. Growing up in the country was pretty profound in how it shaped us and our not being here (LA), not being completely consumed and surrounded by all this. That was the smartest thing my parents did for us.”
“It was obviously a creative household,” stressed Mamie, who made her acting debut when she was 3 years old, opposite no less than Meryl and Jack Nicholson in “Heartburn.” “We were always drawing, painting, performing, putting on shows endlessly and dressing up.”
Otherwise, it was very unshow-biz in the Gummer home. “It wasn’t like Warren Beatty was at the house every Thursday,” Mamie quipped. “It was more like our neighbors down the road would come over for dinner. It was a regular kind of an upbringing.”
When Meryl was away on location, Mamie enjoyed acting as the little mom. She said, “Being the older sister and with my mom having traveled so much when we were younger, I did fall into a surrogate parent position, taking care of my younger sisters, and I’m comfortable with that. I love taking care of people.”
After high school, Mamie, determined to truly prepare herself for an acting career and not ride on her mom’s coattails, studied theater at Northwestern University in Illinois and at the British Academy of Dramatic Arts. “I didn’t follow some kind of yellow brick road to this glittering career,” she declared. “I took pains to do it properly. I feel emboldened and strong that I studied acting. I feel like I know what I’m doing, going from school and straight to theater. Cutting my teeth in New York also helped a lot.”
Asked what acting advice Meryl has given her, Mamie shared, “In theater, there’s an overwhelming urge to ingratiate yourself to the audience. She would steer me away from that and remind me to focus on the character and the story, and not on trying to get that applause or that laugh.”
“Well, you’ve met him,” she quipped with a radiant smile when the topic turned to her husband, Benjamin Walker, whom I interviewed recently for his movie, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” “He’s pretty great. He wasn’t what I imagined I’d end up with. I thought it would be a messy artist type who really struggled. He’s a very solid man. It was more about just like letting someone take care of me in a way that’s been meaningful and the most valuable part of my life now.”
Benjamin is apparently adjusting well to the Streep household, where men are outnumbered by women. Mamie remarked, “My husband can tell you that there’s a pretty strong group of women in my family—having this very powerful matriarch, and there are three of us sisters. My dad, brother and, now, my husband have been wonderful in weathering all of our neuroses and just the sheer volume of what we can rise to.”
Speaking of women, Mamie is an ambassador for the Women’s Refugee Commission, which aims to improve the lives of women, children and adolescent refugees and asylum seekers.
As the interview wound down, Mamie laughed when told that Meryl said in my recent interview that she wants to have grandchildren. “I know, I know,” Mamie quipped. “Don’t tell anyone at the CW!”
E-mail email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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