Intimacy at heart of film
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.
Released in cinemas this Friday, September 14, the theme, Meryl insists, is intimacy.
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"It's not necessarily sex," says the 63-year-old, in a whisper of a voice.
"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, Meryl 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," continues Meryl.
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 Meryl.
"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."
Playing the role of her husband is Tommy Lee Jones, 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 Meryl's statements.
"Arnold's a pretty complacent fellow," explains Tommy. "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."
It's only when Arnold realises there's a chance the relationship will perish that he reluctantly agrees to attend the therapy sessions.
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 Tommy 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.
Meryl agrees saying: "It was unique in that it talked about intimacy, and longing for intimacy and connection, especially in a relationship that's gotten to stalemate.
While Tommy is married to his third wife and has two children Austin, 29 and Victoria, 21, from his second marriage, Meryl celebrates her 34th wedding anniversary later this month.
Her husband Don has seen the movie and, "roared all the way through it".
But despite their lengthy union, she says she doesn't have the secret to a successful marriage.
"I don't have any prescription," admits Meryl. "I wish I did. I'd write that book."
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 Meryl 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."
Tommy adds: "And let's not forget it's funny in a way that real life is laughable.
"Normal people with normal problems. It's a relief to laugh at real life."