Meryl Streep Overheard a Producer Call Her "Ugly" in Italian During an Audition
He had no idea the actor could understand him.
With auditioning comes rejection, even for someone as talented as Meryl Streep. On a 2015 episode of The Graham Norton Show, the actor who set the record for Academy Award nominations recounted an early audition that resulted in her being insulted by the film's producer before she could even read for the role. Streep said that she overheard a Hollywood power player call her "ugly" in Italian, without realizing that she could understand what he was saying. Read on to find out who made the faux pas and on what film, as well as how Streep responded in the moment.
Streep was invited to audition for a remake of King Kong.
In 1975, legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis Sr. set out to make a new version of King Kong. His son had recently seen Streep in a play. Impressed by the 26-year-old actor, the younger De Laurentiis invited her to audition for his father for the damsel-in-distress role originated by Fay Wray. At the time of the audition, Streep, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama, was acting on and off-Broadway, but was eager to transition to film after seeing Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.
"I walked in and his son was sitting there very excited that he'd brought in this new actress," she recalled on The Graham Norton Show. But the older De Laurentiis was apparently not impressed, turning to his son and saying in Italian, "Che brutta"—or "how ugly." He was asking him, Streep paraphrased, "Why do you bring me this ugly thing?"
He had no idea Streep understood Italian.
As it happened, Streep had studied Italian while an undergraduate at Vassar, according to a 2014 interview with NPR's Fresh Air in which she also discussed the horrid audition. Not content to step away quietly, the actor used her education to retort in DeLaurentiis' native tongue that she had understood every word. She then offered an apology with a side of eye roll. "I'm very sorry that I'm not beautiful enough… to be in King Kong," she said on The Graham Norton Show.
She said he thought that women actors were "stupid."
Streep told Fresh Air that De Laurentiis made those remarks because he thought that "actresses are stupidm" and moreover assumed that she wouldn't understand him because he thought "Americans are stupid, too." As for whether she worried that she would develop a reputation for being hard to work with, the star said, "I am a pain in the [expletive]. How can I hide it? I mean, yeah, that is the package, you know."
The role ultimately went to Jessica Lange.
In Streep's stead, the female lead in King Kong went to a model who had never acted named Jessica Lange. Unsurprisingly, critics were hard on both the film and the newcomer's performance. Still, it made more than $90 million (a hit in 1976) and launched Lange into the spotlight.
Lest Streep feel singled out by the producer, De Laurentiis later badmouthed another acclaimed actor and Yale grad when he declared that Jodie Foster was "not sexy" during the casting process for 2001's The Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal. The role of Clarice Starling was ultimately inherited by Julianne Moore. "Do I want to go to bed with Julianne Moore when I see her in the movie?" he was quoted as saying in The Evening Standard. "The answer is yes. Do I want to go to bed with Jodie Foster? The answer's no."