Streep on Kerry: Too Stiff

Streep on Kerry | Buffet, Cruise

Meryl Streep's Advice to John Kerry

John Kerry, listen up. Our greatest actress, Meryl Streep, has some acting advice for you.

A multiple Oscar and Tony winner, Streep does not dispense acting tips to just anyone. But she's been listening to Kerry's speeches and she's a little nervous about his performance next week in Boston.

"He's got to talk to the microphone like he's talking to Teresa, his wife," she said last night at the premiere of her hot new film, "The Manchurian Candidate."

"Everything he says sounds like it's a proclamation. It's just people out there. He's got to pretend he's talking to the person he loves most in the world," Meryl said, demonstrating for a select few, and speaking almost sotto voce. "This is how it is," she said, pretending to be a newly relaxed Kerry.

Kerry's running mate John Edwards does not have a similar adjustment to make, she said. "He gets it."

Streep will not be offering Kerry this advice unsolicited, however.

"I don't think he's gotten over my speech at his Radio City fund-raiser," she said with a laugh.

Kerry might do well to listen to Meryl. After all, she mixes politics and acting pretty neatly in "The Manchurian Candidate."

In the Jonathan Demme remake of John Frankenheimer's classic 1962 thriller, Meryl hits a grand-slam home-run and earns herself what will likely be her umpteenth Oscar nomination.

With all due respect to Angela Lansbury, the actress who originated the role of the conniving political mother, Streep unexpectedly reinvents Eleanor Shaw so thoroughly that you almost root for her as she careens along her destructive path.

It's hard to make a remake, and nearly every one of them falls short of the original for one reason or another. But Demme (Oscar winner for "The Silence of the Lambs," with credits for "Something Wild," "Beloved," and "Philadelphia" as well) has accomplished the impossible.

With screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris, he's constructed a brilliant update with enough topicality to scare just about anyone in either political party watching this movie in an election year.

Even though the screenplay carefully avoids the issue of naming the political party involved, there will be a lot of people who will want to cross out the word "Manchurian" and replace it with "Halliburton" on the film's posters.

If you don't know the story, the updated version has Eleanor Shaw as a senator herself instead of merely the wife of one. Liev Schreiber, in his best movie role yet, is Raymond, her son who enlists in the Army and is fighting in the 1991 Gulf War. Denzel Washington is his commanding officer, Ben Marco (in the part originally played by Frank Sinatra).

A skirmish involving the men's unit earns Raymond, a reluctant soldier derided by his pals, the Congressional Medal of Honor and sends him on his way to political glory. Marco, the real hero, is haunted by nightmares of possibly being brainwashed into believing Raymond's version of the battle.

In fact, Manchurian Global, the corporation that has supported Eleanor's political ambitions, is responsible for brainwashing Raymond and the other survivors.

When Raymond runs for the vice presidency, Eleanor and Manchurian Global are on the verge of having it all — their man in the White House. When one character comments on having "a vice president bought and paid for," I can tell you the audience erupted in nervous laughter.

"The Manchurian Candidate" was controversial when it was released in 1962, and became even more so a year later when President John Kennedy was assassinated.

Sinatra, who bought the rights from United Artists, took it out of circulation for almost 20 years in deference to the Kennedy family because of certain similarities between real life and the movie.

Those similarities remain in the new film, and they are still just as uncomfortable. But Tina Sinatra, Frank's daughter, worked painstakingly to get the remake right, down to marrying a new soundtrack by Rachel Portman and Wyclef Jean (who put on a mini-show at the after-party) with the old, famous one by David Amram. (The music from both films, I am told, will be available in a special CD package.) The two musicians met, spoke French to each other, and hugged.

There are lots of cool cameos in the new movie, with standout performances by Bruno Ganz ("Wings of Desire"), Kimberly Elise ("Beloved"), Jeffrey Wright and the immortal Jon Voight.

Most of the cast came last night to the movie's big premiere party at the Metropolitan Club with the exception of Denzel (previous commitment) and Schreiber (currently filming "Everything Is Illuminated" in Prague). Like Streep, they will all be in awards competition this winter.

Bob Balaban and his wife Lynn Grossman came to praise Demme, as did young hip-hop star Usher (the men's room at the Beekman Theater had to be completely cleared by security so he could urinate in privacy), plus the ubiquitous Al Franken, the lovely "O: The Oprah Magazine" editor Gayle King, Paramount's Sherry Lansing, actress Julianna Margulies (looked stunning, natch, and said to put in a good word for new series "The Grid"), and Anthony Mackie, who's got a small part in "Manchurian" but is the star of Spike Lee's new "She Hate Me."

Meryl also had her whole family with her, including sculptor husband Don Gummer, brother Harry (a New York City high school vice principal) and Emmy-winning sister-in-law, "Guiding Light" actress Maeve Kinkead. (Someone at Procter & Gamble please wake up and get her back on that show!)

Said Maeve of Meryl, who usually plays heroines: "I'm glad she got to be mean."

Said Meryl: "I based Eleanor a little on [Bush adviser] Karen Hughes, who's below the radar. But I really got her by watching men. Men get to do all those things women can't. And I based her on all the women you're afraid of — Hillary, Barbara Bush, Margaret Thatcher and even your mother!" (That is, generally, not specifically.)

So off to the races for Paramount, which has had a long drought at the box office and in the Oscar races. "The Manchurian Candidate" will be its comeback, and, for Sherry Lansing, confirmation that the Queen still reigns supreme!

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