Streep gets coveted role in 'House of the Spirits' To play Clara opposite Irons

October 22, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

What was that strange grinding noise reverberating through Hollywood recently? The collective teeth-gnashing of a number of A-list actresses.

Meryl Streep, the casting coup queen, strikes again. First "Sophie's Choice," then "Plenty," then "Death Becomes Her" and now "The House of the Spirits."

The lead in director Bille August's next movie, which begins shooting Jan. 18 and is penciled in for Christmas 1993 release, was, it seems, the most coveted female part since Cat- woman. Ms. Streep will play the role of Clara opposite Jeremy Irons, a role she quickly agreed to do after reading Mr. August's adaptation of Isabel Allende's 1985 best-seller.

"Almost every actress in town wanted this role, and with good reason," says one source. "The movie's a multigenerational epic set in Chile, and Clara ages from 18 to 60 . . . parts like this don't come down the pike too often."

Ms. Streep was not the first choice. That honor went to Annette Bening, who eventually declined due to the responsibilities of new motherhood. Michelle Pfeiffer got a crack at it, but declined for reasons that no one close to the production can understand.

Mr. August also met with Glenn Close, who loved the material and wanted to be involved. Mr. August, it is said, toyed with the idea of casting Ms. Close as Clara, but thought he wanted someone younger. Would Ms. Close be interested in the equally juicy part of Ferula, Mr. Irons' older spinster sister, who Clara awakens from a lifetime of dourness and doom? She was.

But for the part of Clara, Mr. August considered practically every A-list actress. Among them: Laura Dern, Dana Delany, Geena Davis, Elizabeth Perkins, Robin Wright, Isabelle Adjani, Andie MacDowell, Juliet Stevenson, Winona Ryder, Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts.

Madeleine Stowe, Nicole Kidman and Kim Basinger also were screen-tested for the role, but Mr. August wanted to keep looking. And then, Ms. Streep's name was mentioned.

The decision to cast Ms. Streep, 43, in the role of Clara over Ms. Close, 45, when the director was reportedly "looking for someone younger" is, of course, a mysterious one. Apparently, the final factor in the decision was that Mr. August was looking for someone with "a great ephemeral quality."

Before casting Ms. Streep, however, the filmmakers consulted Ms. Close and told her how they were leaning. Despite their fears she would be offended, Ms. Close was excited. "She said she was very happy with that idea because it would be a good thing for the movie," says a source. "She was incredibly gracious and wonderful."

Although not involved in the casting decision of the year, Mr. Irons is said to be quite pleased with the result. "He's worked with Meryl ["The French Lieutenant's Woman"] and Glenn [on Broadway in "The Real Thing" and in the film "Reversal of Fortune"] and adores them both, and they adore him."

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