Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Recasting 2016: "Julieta"

Meryl Streep first met Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar on the awards circuit in 2003. Streep was getting regularly recognized for her work in The Hours and Adaptation, and Almodóvar for his film, Talk to Her. After Alice Munro's book of short stories, Runaway, was released in 2004, Almodóvar reached out to Streep about teaming up to make a film adaptation. In its original form, what we today know as Julieta was to be entitled Silence, with Streep playing the same character at ages 20, 40, and 60. Meryl would've been in her mid to late fifties by the time filming was to take place. Almodóvar recognized the creative license he would be taking by having one actor portray such a broad spectrum of ages, but he's been quoted as saying, "She deserves to be playing the three characters. With her, I wanted to make something Ingmar Bergman-like being Meryl. We know she can do every accent, and I think she can act every age too." That's quite the compliment from such an accomplished filmmaker. 

Alas, Almodóvar reportedly never quite felt confident enough in his English, nor American culture, to do the script justice. He put off making the film until 2015, and when he did, he set it in Madrid and cast Spanish-speaking actors. He later claimed he felt bad for not telling Meryl beforehand. Almodóvar has since made his English language debut with 2020's short film, The Human Voice, starring Tilda Swinton. 

But what if Almodóvar had, by 2015, felt ready to direct in English? And what if he'd still wanted Streep in the film, despite the script being different from what the two had intended ten years prior? All this sounds more akin to how I mull over my "Reimagined" filmography choices for Meryl, but I'm making an exception for this project, as I don't ever picture her being a reasonable replacement for the current version of Julieta. Were the script to be similar in regard the characters' life events, just set in the United States, for example, there might've been a window of opportunity for these two greats to have finally joined forces. 

So...on to the movie. Almodóvar adapted three of Munro's short stories to form the screenplay. Julieta (in English it would've been Juliet) is about to move to Portugal with her boyfriend. But after she runs into a friend of her estranged daughter's (Antía, with whom we later learn shared a romantic relationship with the friend Julieta runs into), Julieta decides to stay in Madrid, renting an apartment in the same building she raised Antía. Julieta writes a journal detailing how she met Antía's father, Xoan, their relationship, his infidelity and death, and her experience of her daughter cutting her out of her life and attempts at reconnecting. 

Now to the casting. Not unlike my thoughts on my recent recasting choice of The Debt, having some resemblance in actors for roles that are supposed to be the same person is a big deal to me. Jennifer Ehle is a spitting image of Meryl at a younger age, and has the chops to handle the younger version of Juliet. 

Ehle and Streep are obviously older than Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suárez (the junior and senior versions of Julieta, respectively). At the same time, I don't think it's wildly unreasonable to have Juliet be, say 30, instead of 25 at the start of the flashback. She ages some fifteen years over the course of her arc, and Ehle would in that respect be totally passable for the character, as would Meryl--the two are almost exactly twenty years apart in age.

Again, as it pertains to a lead character, Meryl's role size would be similar to aforementioned films like One True ThingThe Devil Wears Prada, Julie & Julia, and August: Osage County (not to mention recasting selections like Fried Green Tomatoes and The Debt). They're borderline, or for other actresses, perhaps easily supporting roles. But for a performer of Streep's pedigree, it garners top billing and a lead push for awards. 

Julieta made many top ten lists in the United States for Best Foreign Language film. It was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and holds an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 73 on Metacritic, both markers of strong critical support. Suárez had quite the year at the Goya Awards (Spain's national annual film awards), winning Best Actress for Julieta AND Best Supporting Actress for La Propera Pell (The Next Skin). I guess the idea of Meryl going lead for this role wouldn't have been that big of a stretch after all. 


  1. Another well reasoned post Jeff. I will admit I only really knew about this movie through your post on it previously. Having Meryl play the character at three different ages would have been quite a sight to behold, another great pity this didn't happen.

    I will agree with the compliment the director gave her, people sometimes overlook how Meryl can convincingly play characters very different from her age. In many ways this helped her play such a huge variety of women.

    I remember getting really excited when it was announced she would play Juliet in a charity performance of Shakespeare. I was disappointed it was only a reading!

    People tend to overlook this nowadays but she really did an amazing job play Margaret Thatcher from her 40s to her 80s. To a lesser extent Julia Child who was significantly younger than Meryl, as portrayed.

    2017 I was a little stuck. I think Frances did an amazing job in Three Billboards, but not sure how I will see Meryl in this role. My choice will be the great mini series "Feud" with Meryl starring as the iconic, misunderstood, and ever-determined Joan Crawford. Whilst Lange was superb I can't help but feel Meryl would have brought more of Joan's (often parodied) mannerisms more vividly to life!

    1. I completely agree about The Iron Lady. It takes a lot of careful observation to capture how someone outside your age range really truly behaves and moves. Meryl was superb.

  2. This is such a great idea on all fronts, well picked!!!