Los Angeles • In the end, it was Meryl Streep’s turn as a world leader that finally earned her a lead actress statuette after 12 years of losing to her competitors.
Streep’s third career Oscar win provided one of the evening’s few surprises when the 62-year-old actress bested “The Help” star Viola Davis for her role as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”
“I really understand that I’ll never be up here again,” said Streep with a laugh during her acceptance speech.
The acclaimed actress has been nominated a record-setting 17 times — 14 times in the lead actress category — though she hasn’t won since she took the statue in 1983 for her lead role in “Sophie’s Choice.” First nominated in 1979 for her work in “The Deer Hunter,” she nabbed her first Oscar in 1980 for her supporting role in “Kramer vs. Kramer.”
Streep and Davis, co-stars in 2008’s Oscar-nominated “Doubt,” competed head-to-head for the majority of this year’s awards season, with Streep taking home the prize on Golden Globe night and at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts last week, while Davis won the best actress trophy from the Screen Actors Guild — a strong signal that she would take home Sunday’s Oscar.
Streep was surprised by how excited she felt to win the Oscar again. “I thought I was so old and jaded, but they call your name and you just go into a sort of white light,” she said backstage after winning. “It was like (I was) a kid again. I was a kid when I won this, like, 30 years ago. Two of the nominees were not even conceived,” she added, referring to Rooney Mara, 26, and Michelle Williams, 30.
Sweetening Streep’s evening was the win for her longtime makeup artist, J. Roy Helland, who was tasked with transforming Streep into Thatcher in her prime and into an aging prime minister suffering from dementia. The two have worked together for the 37 years, since meeting on a stage play in New York City.
Streep called Helland her “other partner” for their four-decade film collaboration, which began on “Sophie’s Choice” and has continued on every one of Streep’s films.
“It’s a great joy, and we have a really good time, which is why we like to do it, still,” said Helland, who called working on Streep’s face as she ages “fascinating.” “For us — Meryl and I — it’s all about not having it be her, but having it be whoever the character is.”