What do a group of bloggers and three of the leading ladies from the highly-anticipated film Into the Woods talk about? Meryl Streep (The Witch), Tracey Ullman (Jack’s mum), Christine Baranski (Cinderella’s Stepmother) all play mothers with extreme parenting styles but in real life they are working moms who have the same concerns and cares that we do for our children. We chatted about real stuff: friendships, the challenges of raising children in the technology era and leaving a positive mark on the movie culture.
Girl time: Value your friendships
During this event I learned that outside the movie business these three women are good friends. Meryl Streep shared a story on how she first met Tracey Ullman- “I met Tracey on the set of “Plenty” when she was in her early twenties and I was in my early early thirties. Tracey was a pop singer who was discovered by Paul McCartney (Tracey described herself as a one-hit wonder) and an MTV VJ.” The pair shared memories of filming in Tunisia, Africa when the cast broke down in the desert. They also had another crazy moment when they flew back together, Tracey explained “The engine went, and we thought we were going to die!” She continues, “So we went through these dramatic moments over the Mediterranean.”
Christina and Meryl “were dynamos in Greece together, on Mama Mia” explains Christina. “We had to do research by being friends, so we just hung out all the time, doing ‘research’, we had a lot of fun with all of that research!” She continues to talk fondly of their friendship, “We are theater babes, and we are Connecticut moms, and our kids are roughly the same age, and all three of us had long marriages, and shared parallel experiences, it’s a trick, being an actress, and wife, and mother, and having that longevity. That’s a real achievement, in my opinion. That’s the greatest achievement, not just in career, but holding your life together and having great girl friends.”
Christina thinks about how she met Tracey and admits that, “We didn’t spend nearly enough time together on this movie, because you have different scenes and plot lines, but we did have one wonderful, long dinner one night in London.” Tracey adds, “We did have one elongated scene where we were all in it, where I got to shout at the giant, which took three days to shoot. We all got really silly, talked a lot and watched Christina fall over in her big platform shoes.”
Mom talk: How young is too young
Both Meryl and Christina mention that they would have taken their kids to see Into The Woods when they were maybe seven or eight. “Raising little kids now is so different from when our children were little.” Meryl brings up Into The Woods, “I think that’s part of why this film and its warnings with overweening care of the mothers. And speaking to this generation, it’s harder and harder to keep the worst parts of the world from our children. To keep children in the little tower’s impossible! All of the bad stuff comes through. People are worried about this film, that maybe it is too dark for kids. But, kids know so much now. And they’re aware of so much, and yet they’re so resilient, and innately hopeful. That hope is what the film is.”
Christina adds her thoughts, “But visuals can really affect kids and you can explain it away. But be careful of what you give them visually. I remember seeing a documentary on an African tribe. There was this leopard man with long fingernails, and a mask, it just had such an impression on me, and it just happened to be on the television set, so you never know what image will really get to them.” She adds, “I was always telling my kids, as I read to them, that there was such a thing as the world of the imagination. I said, ‘You’re safe. If you’re in the world of the imagination, you can go anywhere, and you all come back from that, so you’re safe.’ Movies are like that. Movies take you there, but, remember that you can come back. You don’t transfer to that world. But it can be tricky when a child is too young. They don’t know how to do that. I think you have to be careful, just take care of them, and their little psyche.
Tracey reminds us that the Grimm’s Fairy Tales were for children to be scared of. We are portraying the tales as they were written. “The stories did get sort of sanitized over the last 20 years. But fairy tales were so frightening when I was a kid. And all of those illustrations were terrifying.”
Disconnecting Kids: Experience real time
Seeing a kid connected (as well as their parent) to some sort of device is common these days. Christina offered this advice for parents, “I would really recommend encouraging quiet time when you just talk to your kids. We’re just going to get rid of all of this stuff. Let’s just be together and experience real time and quiet.”
Tracey was extremely honest about how she felt about young kids being distracted with gadgets, “I’m very disturbed when I see kids now, because it’s such a different generation with me, when they’re out at dinner with their parents. Everyone’s sitting around a table and there’s a child in a high-chair, with a headset on, with an iPad going, being fed, then the headphones come off, and [MAKES CRYING NOISES] the headphones go back on. I know, I was exhausted when I was a young mom, and I would put on The Little Mermaid sometimes, and go, ‘Girls, please. I’ve just got to try to go to sleep on the sofa.’ But I don’t like that thing at the dinner table.”
Actresses: Making their mark
“Each particular person you play deserves their own voice, and deserves their own place in the world.” Meryl considers the roles that she plays, “I feel that there are so many different women with so many different stories to tell. And they each deserve their voice, and their particular neuroses and needs and passions.” She continues to talk about her role as Margaret Thatcher and how she likes to play “old ladies.” Christina adds to the conversation, “Actresses have an opportunity to maybe move the culture forward, and show women in a deeper, more complicated way. I love that I’m playing somebody on television who is well-educated. She runs a law firm. She actually has a relationship. She’s not the brunt of a joke. She’s not an old crone. There’s never a mention of menopause or any of these clichéd things that we have put on after a certain age. I love that these are just non-issues, and she’s a woman who is in the world, dealing with a complicated moral topography in her personal and professional life. Into the Woods is transformative, and contributes good to the world. So I think that’s what would we look for.”
Listening to these women talk about their mark on culture is incredible. Meryl continues, “Increasingly, that’s what I think about. For a long time, I’ve thought with each thing, is this helping? Or this hurting? What’s this doing? Because everything makes a mark on the culture. Everything you do, every actress has a choice, you know? Even if you’re supporting a lot of kids, by yourself, you still have a choice, what you’re putting out into the world, and I think it matters.” Christine wraps up this conversation with this thought, “Are you reinforcing clichés, or are you breaking boundaries with the work?” This idea stands true for all professions and has inspired me to rethink how I approach different areas of my life.
My once-in-a-lifetime chat with these amazingly inspiring women was remarkable. The conversation was sincere, comfortable as we did what women do best, talk candidly about issues, look for resolutions and do the best for our children. The Witch, The Evil Stepmother and Jack’s Mom’s characters reinforced, in a warped way, that I’m not perfect and I will make mistakes while making the best decisions in my child’s interest. Smothering my child with my own agendas and fears doesn’t work in a fairytale or in real life.