Meryl Streep has won a roomful of awards. But Tuesday night, she established a couple of her own. The woman widely regarded as the greatest living actress came to the University of Massachusetts Lowell to announce the creation of two scholarships at the school: one for English majors, the other for math. The three-time Academy Award winner celebrated by entertaining a swooning audience as part of the Chancellor’s Speaker Series.
“Acting is a very mysterious craft. The people who I admire, who do it the best — I have no idea how they do it,” said Streep, 64.
Dressed all in black with a single strand of beads, she watched clips of some of her most famous roles (“Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Doubt”) and shared her wisdom, from finding the commonality between herself and a character to the give and take between actors.
“When you’re working with them, the people who are truly great, it’s a seamless exchange of thought, emotion, physicality,” she said. “One of them is here: Chris Cooper.”
Cooper, a Kingston resident who appeared most recently opposite Streep in “August: Osage County,” said before Streep’s appearance that he was thrilled to have his “delightful” friend on his hometown turf, and likened her to Serena Williams.
“If you want to improve your tennis game, you’ve got to play with someone better than you,” said Cooper, who is set to appear as the evil Norman Osborn in “Spider-Man 2” this spring.
The jetlagged Streep, who had just flown in from England where she is filming “Suffragette,” had a playful banter with best-selling author and UMass Lowell professor Andre Dubus III. When Dubus got too chatty, Streep held up a hand.
“Did she just quiet me down?” he asked the audience.
“It’s very difficult to do,” she retorted to the roar of the crowd.
Some of the liveliest questions came from students and young fans: How did she like working with Robert Redford in “Out of Africa?” (“Way too much,” she said.) What is her advice for young women entering the film industry? (“Don’t let the bastards get you down.”) What is her advice for handling rejection? (“Whatever is weird about you, maybe it’s your strength.”)
The evening capped off a busy day as Streep visited with English and theater arts students on campus. UMass Lowell chancellor Marty Meehan said the actress’s appearance had already raised $230,000 toward the scholarships.