Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Recasting 1990: "The Grifters"

On to a new decade! Coming off what would've been 1989's Dangerous Liaisons, let's imagine that director Stephen Frears had been so impressed with Streep's work as the devious Marquise de Merteuil, that he wanted to cast her again in his upcoming neo-noir pic, The Grifters. It's not difficult to believe in that possibility. Directors often have favorites. Frears himself cast Judi Dench in three lead roles in the last fifteen years. All Meryl need do is say "yes" to another great role.

Martin Scorsese was originally planning on directing this film, but ultimately suggested Frears, as he was looking for something to follow up Liaisons. I can totally see this movie in the hands of Scorsese. This type of mob-related crime drama is very much in his wheelhouse. We'll just have to be patient if we want to see Meryl inserted into a reimagined Scorsese role, however, much less cast in a real-life one. 

The role of Lilly Dillon was originated by the great Anjelica Huston. A long-time con artist, Lilly visits her son Roy (John Cusack) after several years apart, only to find him badly injured from a scam gone wrong. She tries to get him to give up "the grift," saying he's not cut out for it. Roy eventually gets into a fight with his girlfriend (Annette Bening) when he declines to join her in a long con. Myra (Bening) gets pissed after Roy hits her and decides to take her revenge by ratting out Lilly for stealing from her boss--a man who beats the shit out of her for being late to the dog track after she takes her son to the hospital. 


A role like Lilly sort of reminds me of how rarely Meryl does stuff as risky as this. When I watched the movie for the first time this summer, I didn't think it was all that out there. But watching clips again, I can think of very few scenes of her where it's actually disturbing to watch what the character's going through. She does enjoy topics that are "difficult," but there aren't many films where it the concepts could've been received as to be in poor taste. Not that she was never involved in a poor film, but not in roles that necessarily put at risk her particular brand of star. For heaven's sake, Lilly essentially seduces her own son at the end to try to persuade him to let her go after he catches her stealing his money (as an aside, I happen to think Cusack looks more like Streep than Huston). While not exactly the stuff made of fairy tales, it's the kind of "difficult" we don't really see Meryl do. 

But it's exactly why I'd be so interested to see her get lost in something so treacherous! I know she's said she hates noir, but like American Gigolo a decade prior, if it's actually a good movie with a great script, I wonder if she'd have had a different take on the genre. And she would've been able to say in the Los Angeles area to film this. She's of course been on record as having made a point of accepting only roles for which she could film in L.A. during the early 90s, so as to not have to cart her family all over the world. 

Huston, in a role that was originally intended for Cher, did an amazing job and won several critics awards. She came up short at the Oscars, however, losing out to Kathy Bates for her incredible performance in the screen adaptation of Stephen King's Misery (one of my personal favorites). I also sort of wonder if the Academy felt bad for their sinful omission of Stephen Frears a couple years prior for directing Dangerous Liaisons, as they made up for it with this film. Bening also received a supporting nod, as did the film's adapted screenplay. 

I highly recommend having a look. 


  1. Yes! Really glad we thought the same about the daring and challenging nature of the role, it's partially why I chose it too. I must rewatch this soon too.

    For 1991 I have to pick "Thelma and Louise". Iconic movie and a great chance to see Meryl "buddy" with another actress. I know Goldie Hawn was supposed to be her co-star in this but I also read that she wasn't necessarily deemed "right" for it. Either way it's a shame it didn't happen and maybe one of the few times this reimagined filmography can pick up a "dropped" role?

    Reading now, I see a lot of filming took place outside Bakersfield and then in Utah. Although not ideal in terms of commute, I don't think it would have been a deal-breaker at this time? Plus the shoot was only 12 weeks as oppose to the 6 months (!) for Death Becomes Her.

    I always assumed Meryl dropped out because she was pregnant but this filmed from June to maybe early September 1990, yet her daughter wasn't born til the following June. Does anyone know why Meryl decided against filming?

    Recasting Meryl in this gives the opportunity to work with the revered Ridley Scott as well as a chance to be funny and sexy in an interesting role. And she could easily have played either character at this point. Plus it was a big hit!

    1. It's no secret that Thelma & Louise is my ultimate replacement for Meryl's filmography. As I said in my post on Dangerous Liaisons, any of the films during the period of 1989-1994 that I have in my "Reimagined Filmography" from 2014 will not be options for this new recasting project. So many of Meryl's "wilderness years" films were those that she actually was up for, but did not do for one reason or another. Thelma & Louise will therefore not be my choice for 1991. Which makes it even more fun!

      My best guess on Meryl not doing the film was due to Ridley Scott not thinking Goldie Hawn was suitable. Meryl wasn't pregnant during shooting. She's said in the past that she and Goldie were ultimately "too expensive," which may be true, but I have suspicions that the two kind of approached the project as a two-person deal, and while Ridley really liked Meryl, if she wouldn't do it without Goldie, it wasn't going to happen.

      I strongly recommend the book "Off the Cliff: How The Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood off the Cliff" by Becky Aikmen. Doesn't have every detail about Meryl and Goldie, but a fantastic history on the film.

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    3. Thanks Jeff, I will look for that book. It's incredible that Meryl backed off because of loyalty to Goldie. I never knew this but doesn't surprise me.

      I knew you couldn't go for this due to your stipulations but I couldn't not mention "Thelma and Louise" . If I'm guessing what you might go for "Howard's End" moved forward a few months or maybe a TV film? Or Mercedes' supporting role in "The Fisher King"? I'm at a loss.

      That's what's so exciting, I can't tell where you're going with this!

      And also, I can't believe it's been 6 years since your terrific reimagined filmography! Good Times.

  2. Hey Jeff. My name is Zach. I co-host a podcast called Meryl Streep and the Movies. If you'd ever be up for doing an interview with us, let me know. I think it'd be great fun--I think it'd be fun to focus an episode on this series you're doing, actually. It's super cool. Either way, great job here and keep it up. If you're interested, email me at

    All the best!

    1. Would love to hear your podcasts Zach, and there's no finer aficionado on Meryl than Jeff!

  3. Another great pick... great guess, CJames! I have not seen 'The Grifters' since it came to cinemas that year, so will have to find it for another look.

    Damn, the competition must have been fierce at this point in time, with so many great roles on offer for so many great performers in their thirties and forties vying for the same opportunities. I look at this period of time with a great deal of nostalgia and pathos, because it was filled with so many near misses for Meryl Streep.

    I cannot help but think things must have started to tank when she (or her agent) triggered that 'pay-or-play' clause for 'Evita' in 1988, and then reneged on the decision, to no avail. Streep was also shocked and vocal about the lack of distributor interest in 'A Cry in the Dark' in late 1988 and early 1989, despite her Oscar nomination and snagging the Best Actress Award at Cannes in May (she was at Cannes that year but had left before the announcement of the awards). Some of her gloss must have come off at that point, right on her 40th birthday.

    But the fallout must also have given her a deeper drive to maintain her career into a third decade, and we know all too well that 'Madison County' was a near miss for many other actors, yet it came to Streep.

    For 1991 I am guessing Morticia in 'The Addams Family' because it would have been fun to see Streep and Raul Julia eat up the scenery again as they did in 'The Taming of the Shrew' onstage in the 1970s. It would have been another LA-based shoot for this period. If I didn't have that restriction, I'd put her in 'Truly, Madly, Deeply' playing against Alan Rickman.

    1. This period is also very nostalgic for me. And agreed, SO many wonderful parts for women late 30s to early 40s.

      Very unfortunate about Evita and the negotiations falling through. I think when filming was supposed to happen there was political upheaval on the locations they were to go.

      I joke with my husband sometimes that I want to learn how to lucid dream so I can watch movies from this era and see Meryl's version. Aren't there books for that? ha