Meryl Streep, fresh from her Oscar win, and Tommy Lee Jones pair up in an exploration of sex and intimacy in the film Hope Springs, released on Friday, September 14. The legendary actors discuss love, relationships and keeping the spark alive.
By Susan Griffin
Meryl Streep, the proclaimed queen of Hollywood, is talking sex.
"Sex, sex, sex, it's everywhere, in commercials and reality television and in books," says the three-time Oscar winner.
But that's not what her latest movie Hope Springs focuses on - despite what you may have heard.
The theme, Streep insists, is intimacy. "How it can connect you and what it can mean on a profound level," says the 63-year-old, in a whisper of a voice.
"It's not necessarily sex. It's what sex pulls from you and brings you to. It's connection, intimacy. It's being known, it's being seen, being felt."
In Hope Springs, Streep plays Kay, a devoted wife whose 30-year marriage to Arnold, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is in need of rejuvenation.
"Kay wants to shake things up, she wants to reconnect with Arnold in a way that they had been connected in their earlier years," says the New Jersey actress looking regal in a lilac dress.
She's a thoughtful presence, taking her time to answer questions and, true to form (she's been nominated for 17 Oscars in total), is clearly passionate about the project.
"I believe their marriage has a strong foundation but it's been allowed to relax into nothingness and she wants more engagement and to feel intimately involved with Arnold and to feel he's intimately interested in her," she continues.
When Kay hears of renowned couples' specialist Dr Feld, played by Steve Carell, she attempts to persuade her sceptical and cranky husband to board a plane for a week of marriage therapy.
"I think she's just thinking of the Peggy Lee song 'Is That All There Is?'" explains Streep.
"There's a moment in your life where the years you have behind you are more than what you have ahead and you want to make it as good as it can be.
"And Kay feels lonely inside of a marriage. It's a habitual pattern sort of marriage and she wants to break the pattern."
"I play a character who likes the pattern..." chuckles a suited Jones, the gruff Texan actor who's remained quiet until now. "He's the engineer of the pattern"
A man (famously) of few words, the 65-year-old who won an Oscar in 1994 for The Fugitive, has so far seemed content to nod along with Streep's statements.
"Arnold's a pretty complacent fellow. He's sort of accepted his fate in life.
"His life's in a rut, his emotions are pretty much deadened and he's abjectly dependant on his wife.
"But he doesn't know any of these things. He thinks everything is perfectly ok," Jones explains.
It's only when Arnold realises there's a chance the relationship will perish that he reluctantly agrees to attend the therapy sessions.
"I believe he wakes up to that when he understands it could all be over," says Jones.
Written by Vanessa Taylor, who recently worked on TV's medieval fantasy Game Of Thrones, the script instantly appealed to both actors.
"This one seemed to have some originality to it," continues Jones in his native southern twang.
"It seemed to be about real people with real problems and seemed to be an opportunity to delve into and explore how preposterous our everyday problems can be.
Streep agrees: "It was unique in that it talked about intimacy, and longing for intimacy and connection, especially in a relationship that's gotten to stalemate," she says.
While Jones is married to his third wife and has two children Austin, 29 and Victoria, 21, from his second marriage, Streep celebrates her 34th wedding anniversary later this month.
Her husband Don has seen the movie and "roared all the way through it".
"He really liked, he got it," Streep says, laughing.
But despite their lengthy union, she says she doesn't have the secret to a successful marriage.
"I don't have any prescription. I wish I did. I'd write that book," she adds, smiling.
It comes as little surprise to Streep that it's Kay who questions the state of the marriage, as it merely reflects the disparity between the genders.
"I think girls are obsessed with relationships early on and ostensibly, men, boys, are less interested," she says, adding that she's speaking as a mother of three girls: Mary, 29, Grace, 26 and Louisa, 21 (she also has a son Henry, 32).
"When I was in high school I used to be obsessed with this column in The Ladies Home Journal called 'Can This Marriage Be Saved?'" recalls Streep.
"And I think generally women are more interested in finding out how a relationship works and how to make it better.
"It's all about taking the temperature of the relationship. Am I happy? Is he happy? What's he thinking? What does he want? What shall we see at the movies?
"They always say women decide what movies we see. Women decide, yes, but they decide based on what they think he'll like. I know that's true with many of my friends and myself."
Hope Springs reunites the actress with The Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel and she's thankful he was on board to steer her through the movie's intimate and personal material.
"What the very good directors do, what David does, is to make you feel like anything is possible and there are no wrong moves," says the actress.
"You can go out on a limb for him, you can create a person that's real, but may be different that you've done before. He gives you complete freedom."
In a more succinct manner, Jones adds: "It's very pleasant to work with David. He doesn't waste any time or words."
While the film may lack special effects or superhero costumes, it's heartfelt and will undoubtedly resonate with audiences of all ages.
That's why Streep reasons it's done well in America, where it opened in second place behind The Dark Knight Rises.
"We're very pulled in modern life and I think that's why there's been such a good response to this," she says.
"As our attention becomes atomised and spread out, it intensifies the longing we have to connect with each other and these questions of intimacy, yearning, longing to be seen and to be understood and loved is central to our culture."
"And let's not forget it's funny in a way that real life is laughable," adds Jones.
"Normal people with normal problems.
"It's a relief to laugh at real life."
Extra time - behind the scenes
:: Hope Springs was shot in Connecticut with the first three weeks spent in a former factory-turned-sound-stage that acted as Dr Feld's office.
:: The sound stage has now been made into an ice rink.
:: The inn where Kay and Arnold dine was a composite of three locations including an actual inn, a mansion and a sound stage.
:: It was Streep who suggested the film was released during blockbuster summer season. "At Christmas women are busy," she explains.
:: There was very little rehearsal and in some instances no rehearsal to keep the scenes fresh, which Steve Carell admitted was intimidating.
:: Hope Springs is released in cinemas on Friday, September 14