Meryl Streep attended a star-studded “Celebration of Film” event Saturday at the University of Austin to support the preservation and access to historical film materials. Her speech at the Harry Ransom Center notably declared one actor as her guiding “beacon.”
While the annual gala has been held since 2005, Saturday highlighted the preservation efforts and personal archive of Robert De Niro. Streep’s speech seemed to center on 1973’s “Bang The Drum Slowly,” which her friend Michael Moriarty starred in, before her true idol came into focus.
“Michael was great, but we all agreed that the kid they found in the South, non-actor, clearly non-actor, incredible performance,” Streep told the audience, according to the AV Club. “We thought they must have scoured Appalachia to find this guy.”
It just so happened that Streep would spot that seemingly Appalachian fellow again within months, as the Southern wunderkind had a star-making turn in Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets.” It was then that Streep realized she wasn’t dealing with an amateur — but a true chameleon.
“And there’s the guy, there’s the same kid,” recalled Streep. “And only he’s not slow. He’s not Southern. He’s a New York punk. He’s absolutely mean, this fast-talking street smart guy, and we were blown away. We scoured the credits and saw his name.”
“I said, ‘Oh my God,’” Streep admitted. “He’s Italian. He’s Robert De Niro. He’s an actor. And it really blew me away.”
Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep co-starred in "The Deer Hunter," "Falling in Love" and "Marvin's Room." (Photo: Rick Kern via Getty Images)
Streep, who has a record 21 Academy Award nominations and three wins under her belt, also praised De Niro as a “true blue patriot” who “lives by his loyalty to his ideals, to his country and to the people that he loves.” The 79-year-old New Yorker certainly has the credentials.
De Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002 to revitalize New York City in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, donates to countless charities, works with preservation organizations like FilmAid International and regularly vocalizes his disdain for morally dubious politicians.
For Streep, however, De Niro was an actor first and foremost. While the two contemporaries became individual acting icons during the 1970s and starred together in films like “The Deer Hunter,” Streep will never forget realizing De Niro’s true talents for the first time.
“The second time I saw Robert De Niro, I said to myself, that’s the kind of actor I wanna be,” Streep said in Austin. “That’s what I wanna do. And I wanna do it with the commitment and the passion and the skill and the beauty with which he applies to it. And he’s been my beacon for 50 years.”
“He’s a man whose presence in my life for 40 years has been a consoling constant,” added Streep. “But I don’t see him very often. We don’t chat. But I know he is, without question, always there for me, and he always will be.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.