LOS ANGELES -- It's one thing for the fictional incarnation of a relatively new screenwriter to beat himself up with self-loathing and doubt his own talent. \nIt's another thing for Meryl Streep to do the same when she's approached about co-starring in a film about said screenwriter. \nSeems as though 12 Academy Award nominations and two wins should be validation enough. Yet Streep says she was struck by the same sense of inadequacy she often feels when asked to appear in "Adaptation,'' a wildly inventive yarn in which "Being John Malkovich'' writer Charlie Kaufman inserts a neurotic manifestation of himself into the story of his failed attempt to adapt a non-fiction book for the screen. \n"There was no denying that Charlie's script was so vivid, and I just read it over and over and over,'' Streep said in an interview. "And I went, 'Why do they want me?' I was so thrilled that they did, but I kept wondering why. I thought, this could be somebody so young and sexy and interesting and blah blah. They just finally convinced me they wanted me, so I was just beside myself.'' \nStreep, 53, plays a far-out variation of Susan Orlean, author of "The Orchid Thief,'' a book about obsessive guerrilla horticulturist John Laroche (played in an equally fictionalized version by Chris Cooper). Nicolas Cage stars as Kaufman and his fictional twin brother, who in "Adaptation'' wind up interacting with Orlean and Laroche in a darkly absurd tall tale. \nAlso this month, Streep co-stars in another book adaptation, "The Hours,'' based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Streep plays a modern rendition of the heroine of Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway,'' her story interwoven with that of Woolf herself (Nicole Kidman) as she begins writing the book and that of an anguished '50s housewife (Julianne Moore) who's reading the novel. \nLike Kaufman, who found "The Orchid Thief'' impossible to adapt for the screen, Streep initially felt "The Hours'' would prove a tricky translation to film. \n"I'd read it and loved it, then they said they were going to make a movie of it, and I went, 'You're kidding.' Because it's such a completely interior world,'' Streep said. "But (screenwriter) David Hare did an amazing adaptation. It's really quite, quite beautiful.'' \nStreep plays multiple roles in another Pulitzer-winning work, Mike Nichols' HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner's two-part play "Angels in America,'' tentatively scheduled to air late in 2003. The cast includes Al Pacino and Emma Thompson. \nMost recently nominated for an Oscar for 1999's "Music of the Heart,'' Streep won the supporting-actress prize for "Kramer vs. Kramer'' and the best-actress honor for "Sophie's Choice.'' A nomination for either "Adaptation'' or "The Hours'' would be a record-breaker for Streep, who now is tied with Katharine Hepburn for most acting nominations. \nShe tries to avoid musing about her Oscar prospects. \n"It enters my brain mostly because every reporter brings it up when I do these things. It just gets me nervous, that's all it does,'' Streep said. "But when people mention it, I'm thrilled, because it means they like the movie, and that's what I'm hoping for. If they like it, then it's something other people may want to go see.'' \nStreep grew up in New Jersey, performed in high school musicals and settled on an acting career while studying at Vassar College. She continued her education at the Yale drama school, acted on stage in New York City and moved into film with 1977's "Julia.'' \nIn the ensuing 25 years, Streep has earned a reputation as the most heavyweight actress of her generation with such films as "The Deer Hunter,'' "The French Lieutenant's Woman,'' "Silkwood'' and "Out of Africa.'' \nShe attributes her long list of prime roles to "probably dumb luck, a good agent. I don't know. Maybe I've liked material that other people haven't. I've done some characters that are sort of unattractive people. I've been drawn to difficult people, so maybe that's part of it.'' \nWith mixed success, Streep has lightened up in a range of comedies, including "Death Becomes Her,'' "Defending Your Life'' and "Postcards From the Edge.'' \n"Adaptation'' director Spike Jonze, who also collaborated with Kaufman on "Being John Malkovich,'' said Streep's comic sensibilities and her ability to express deeply internalized emotion made her ideal for the movie's take on Orlean, a character who goes from subtle introspection to outrageous action by film's end. \n"I didn't know if it was realistic to get her, but Meryl was our first choice to play it, because Charlie and I loved her in so many movies,'' Jonze said. "For our movie specifically, her part is very quiet in a lot of scenes. She's a journalist, therefore she's asking a lot of questions, listening to what other people say. We needed somebody like Meryl who could bring a character to life even though she's not a particularly active character in the first half of the movie.'' \nStreep found herself identifying not only with her own character but with Kaufman's insecurities about his self-worth, which she figures is a universal pitfall among artists. \n"You realize that everyone is just eaten up by that feeling,'' she said. "Maybe it's a good thing. I hope it's some sort of breaking down of whatever is familiar to you. Whatever is complacent, whatever is easy. Whatever you've done before. \n"You're starting over. You're starting with nothing. How do you know how to do anything? Who do you think you are? That's sort of where you have to start in order to start true," she said.
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