The many faces of Meryl Streep

The two-time Oscar-winner sits down with Morley Safer to discuss acting, her career and her latest leading role as the "Iron Lady," former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Meryl Streep, the two-time Oscar-winner and grande dame of American film and stage, sits down with Morley Safer for a rare interview. Streep describes why she got into acting, how her career has evolved, and what she learned from her new leading role - as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady."

The following is a script of "The Many Meryls" which aired on Dec. 18, 2011. Morley Safer is the correspondent. David Browning, producer.

In Britain, they honor their distinguished actors with royal titles - Lord Olivier, Dame Helen Mirren. The best we can do is nominate them for Oscars - an annual hyped-up competition for a glossy little statue. If we did have a royal list the name of Meryl Streep would surely be at the very top. She's won two Oscars, been nominated a record 16 times, and doubtless will be again for a new film about one of the most controversial political figures of the 20th century, Margaret Thatcher, in life and on film, the "Iron Lady."

[Meryl Streep, portraying Thatcher: This is a day to put differences aside. To hold one's head high. And take pride in being British!]

Ms. Streep has a unique gift for not just portraying a character, but literally becoming her. On the stage of the Delacorte Theater in New York's Central Park, where she first starred 35 years ago, I asked how real it seems to her while she's performing.

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Meryl Streep: I mean, I'm not insane. I do know that I'm acting. But you forget about it. Yeah. You kind know when you're doing it right, there's a thrilling suspension of the day-to-day and you're in someone else's head.

On this day, in a London film studio, that someone else is Margaret Thatcher, dancing with a make-believe Ronald Reagan, Thatcher's fellow Cold War warrior.

[Streep, as Thatcher: There you go again. Why not?]

It's the latest tour de force from Streep, a woman of many faces: Sophie in "Sophie's Choice." As Julia Child. As the French lieutenant's woman. As the devil wearing Prada.

[Streep, as Thatcher: Worried about our careers, are we?]

And now, the Iron Lady.

[Streep, as Thatcher: We can restore the health of the British economy and we will do just that!]

Morley Safer: What particularly attracted you to the Margaret Thatcher role?

Streep: Everything. Just the opportunity to deal with the deep, buried discomfort that people still have, men and women, with women in leadership positions.

As British prime minister, Thatcher strode the world stage for more than a decade. Leaving heel prints on the backs of her own Conservative Party's old boys club.

Safer: Did you like her?

Streep: I am in awe of what she did. The policies you can argue with. But to sit in the hot seat, I can't even imagine having that steadfastness.

[Streep, as Thatcher: I'll just have a small one because I'm watching my figure.]

Their stories are both about transformation. The actress transforming herself into the politician who transformed herself to outthink, outwork and outwit the men around her.

Streep: One of the things she did was get a drama teacher to tell her how to support her voice.

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