Meryl Streep has been called many things during a Hollywood career that has seen her win 17 Oscar nominations and three Academy Awards: living legend, national treasure, American icon.
But Streep -- who has played everything from a Nazi concentration camp survivor to an ABBA-singing
rejuvenated mother in Mamma Mia -- prefers to see herself as something else: an actress.
The 62-year-old picked up her third Oscar Sunday for her role as former British premier Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady -- by the same director as Mamma Mia -- underscoring her status as the pre-eminent actress of her generation.
The latest Oscar triumph came more than three decades after her first, for the 1979 Kramer vs Kramer, which was followed by a second for her portrayal of a Jewish death camp ex-prisoner Sophie's Choice in 1982.
Streep, though, has never been one to get carried away by the trappings of fame, preferring to live as anonymously as possible at her home, where she has raised her four children.
"Being famous gets in the way of a lot of things," Streep has said. "My family really does come first. It always did and always will."
Yet the reluctance to play the celebrity game has not interfered with the stellar trajectory of a career that has seen her acquire iconic status through the near mythical attention to detail she puts into her work.
For Sophie's Choice she learnt to speak Polish so well that many locals believed she was a Pole; for Music of the Heart, she learned to play the violin, practicing six hours each day for eight weeks; for A Cry in the Dark, she perfected an Australian twang.
"I am being paid to do a job every time I sign on that contract line," Streep said. "If I am not confident that I can portray the character perfectly on screen, I won't even try."
The technical mastery of her craft has sometimes divided Hollywood. Bette Davis wrote Streep a letter before her death praising her as America's finest actress; Katharine Hepburn once described Streep as her least favorite.
Born Mary Louise Streep in June 1949 to a New Jersey pharmaceutical executive and a commercial artist mother, Streep went to an exclusive school where she became a cheerleader and began acting in plays.
She continued acting at Vassar, where she studied English and drama, before winning a drama scholarship to Yale, where she graduated in 1975.
Her Broadway debut came in 1975 with Trelawny of the Wells, for which she won rave reviews, while her film career started in 1977 with Julia.
Her career was really launched with Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979), followed by a string of huge successes: The Deer Hunter (1978), for which she won her first Oscar nomination, Kramer vs Kramer, The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981) and Sophie's Choice (1982).
She made a string of other hits including the 1984 Silkwood, Out of Africa (1986), A Cry in the Dark in 1988, Postcards from the Edge in 1990, The Bridges of Madison County (1995) and Music of the Heart (1999).
The new millennium saw no let-up in Streep's output. She received Oscar nominations for 2003's Adaptation, 006's The Devil Wears Prada, 2008's Doubt and 2009's Julie & Julia, before her Thatcher turn.
The Iron Lady reunited Streep with British director Phyllida Lloyd, with whom she made Mamma Mia, the story of a mother emotionally revived when three former lovers turn up for her daughter's wedding.
Her constant rejuvenation, and reinvention, continues.
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