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Video: Meryl Streep: ‘Dancing Queen’

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TODAY contributor
updated 7/20/2008 1:36:00 PM ET 2008-07-20T17:36:00

Meryl Streep’s status as America’s greatest living actress is assured. Fourteen Oscar nominations and two wins are proof enough of that. So what is this 59-year-old screen legend doing singing and dancing — and doing flying splits — in a musical?

“I have a lot of energy. I have to put it somewhere. Otherwise I’d probably warp my kids,” Streep laughingly told TODAY’s Ann Curry Tuesday in New York.

And what, after all, does age have to do with it? “There’s no sell-by date on my forehead,” Streep said cheerfully after sitting through a clip of her soulful rendition of “The Winner Takes It All,” sung to co-star Pierce Brosnan in the movie version of “Mamma Mia!”, the smash Broadway musical featuring the songs of 1970s pop superstars ABBA. “And I felt there was so much to give, certainly in that song. It’s one of the great all-time songs of ABBA music. To get a chance to sing it was a real thrill for me.”

Besides, she added, “Nobody asks this of women my age. Nobody asks as much as this movie did. You have to have a big capacity for joy and music and physicality.”

Brosnan, in an appearance on TODAY last week, said many of the same things about his decision to risk his reputation by taking on a musical. Both actors have been in the business a long time, and if someone wanted to offer them a chance to do a musical, they were jumping at it, especially when all of the music is by ABBA.

“It was such an opportunity to just sing and dance and be happy, and I was happy every single day of this shoot,” Streep said. “It was just completely enjoyable. The whole cast was fantastic.”

My three (possible) dads
Streep plays Donna, a former singer and the owner of a fading resort in Greece whose daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried ) is preparing for her wedding. The daughter discovers that there are three men who may be her father, and invites them all down, where they reunite with their former lover and the comedic chaos begins. The former lovers and possible fathers are Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard.

“Streep is sensationally good in rendering the whole yarn credible and in making dramatically moving songs such as ‘Slipping Through My Fingers,’ sung to her departing daughter, and ‘The Winner Takes It All’ to a lost love,” Reuters wrote in a review. “It's no stretch to think of her performance in Oscar terms, ranking with previous musical winners such as Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand and Catherine Zeta-Jones.”

In real life, Streep has three daughters among her four children by her husband of 30 years, sculptor Don Gummer. After the Sept. 11 attacks, she took her then-10-year-old, Louisa, to see “Mamma Mia!” on stage, along with a group of the girl’s friends. It was a birthday party, and the girls weren’t that excited about seeing a play. But, Streep said, by the time the cast got to the song “Dancing Queen,” “they were dancing on the seats … so were the old ladies in front of us.”

At the time, Streep wrote a letter to the cast thanking them for putting on such a great show, never imagining she would get to take on the role of Donna herself. The director held onto the letter, and when the casting process started for the movie, Streep was at the top of the list.

“They called me and said, ‘You probably won't be interested, but ...’ ” Streep has said. “I said, ‘Are you crazy?! I would love to do this!’ It was a done deal.”

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A stellar career
Streep has sung in films before, including in “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Postcards from the Edge,” but she had never done a full-blown musical. She sings nine of the 17 songs in the movie, including the hits “Money, Money, Money,”  “Mamma Mia!” and “Slipping Through My Fingers.”

Streep was born in Summit, N.J., and earned degrees from Vassar and Harvard before beginning her career in films with a small role in “Julia” in 1977. By 1982, she had won her first Academy Award for her portrayal of the title character in “Sophie’s Choice.” Her second, for best supporting actress, was for “Kramer vs. Kramer.” She’s also won three Emmys and six Golden Globes, an award she has been nominated for 21 times.

But all the accolades have failed to turn her into a diva. For example: Streep almost didn’t make her appointment with TODAY when her car couldn’t get to 30 Rock because streets were closed to prepare for baseball’s All-Star Parade Tuesday.

Undeterred, the actress jogged to the studio. “I’m a star,” she quipped, “but not an all-star.”

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