The majority of Steven Soderbergh’s delicious new comedy “Let Them All Talk” occurs on a cruise ship crossing from New York to London. Amidst the mass of passengers onboard, we’re focused on four women: Alice Hughes (Meryl Streep), a fictional Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist, her two oldest friends, Roberta (Candice Bergen) and Susan (Dianne Wiest), and Alice’s zealous new literary agent (Gemma Chan). Simmering among these four women are countless secrets, resentments, and regrets — and somewhere across the Atlantic, all of them are bound to come to a boil.
In directing the film, Soderbergh took a guerrilla approach. He eschewed the usual trove of lights and equipment, favoring natural lighting and a wheelchair for dolly shots. Much of the dialogue was unscripted, too — Streep has said that Soderbergh provided the actors with outlines of each scene and directed them to improvise their lines. The result is an organic, off-the-cuff feel, and much of the magic of “Let Them All Talk” lies in watching Streep, Wiest, Bergen, and Chan act naturally and follow their own guide as they navigate the story. As a primer for the film, we’ve broken down how each of the four women became the Hollywood luminaries they are today.
Everyone knows Meryl Streep. The actress has been a fixture onscreen for decades, over which she has appeared in more than 50 movies and been nominated for an Academy Award 21 times, the record for any actor. But before lighting up the screen, the actress got her start in theater, where she starred in Broadway and off-Broadway plays in the mid-1970s. Her first feature film role came in Fred Zinnemann’s 1977 movie “Julia,” which paved the way for a meatier role the following year in Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter.” Streep earned her first Oscar nomination for that role, officially establishing herself in the annals of Hollywood success.
But it was the 1980s that catapulted Streep to stardom. Her first leading role came in 1981’s “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” which was followed the next year by her seminal performance as an Auschwitz survivor in “Sophie’s Choice.” By the ‘90s and ‘00s, Streep was a household name. Those decades wrought more of Streep’s most memorable performances, including her role as a mischievous Susan Orlean in “Adaptation” and a prickly Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada.”
By now, Streep has worked in nearly every genre, under the direction of many of the best filmmakers in history, transforming herself for each role with chameleonic ease. Her ability to alter her vocal style for various roles is particularly noteworthy — just take a moment to admire her English-Polish accent in “Sophie’s Choice,” her musical turns in “Mamma Mia!” and “Ricki and the Flash,” and her reproduction of Margaret Thatcher’s distinctive speaking style in “The Iron Lady.” Those performances alone speak volumes about Streep’s immense talent and range.
The daughter of comic actor and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, Candice Bergen grew up in Beverly Hills surrounded by showbiz. She started modeling as a young woman, and was frequently featured in fashion magazines. Her big screen debut came in 1966, when she played one of the central women in Sidney Lumet’s adaptation of the Mary McCarthy novel, “The Group.” As she took on several bigger roles in the early ‘70s, Bergen also began to work as a photojournalist on the side, publishing in magazines like “Life” and “Esquire.”
But it wasn’t until 1975, when she made history as the first female guest host of “Saturday Night Live,” that people started really paying attention. Bergen made a splash on the show, and followed up the performance with several comedic roles, including the 1979 film “Starting Over” opposite Burt Reynolds — which earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination — and George Cukor’s 1981 “Rich and Famous.”
In 1988 Bergen turned to the small screen, accepting the title role on “Murphy Brown” as a recovering alcoholic who becomes an anchor of a news show. The sitcom ran for 10 seasons, earning Bergen five Emmys and two Golden Globes. In the aughts, Bergen appeared in rom-coms like “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Miss Congeniality,” and “Bride Wars,” where she often played characters with bite — not unlike Roberta in “Let Them All Talk.”
In contrast to Bergen, Dianne Wiest grew up in Missouri in a non-acting family. After studying theater in college, she began making the rounds with a troupe. Her acting eventually led her to Broadway, where she made her debut in 1971. She continued working on the stage until the ‘80s, when several supporting roles finally gave way to “Footloose” in 1984, in which she starred as the mother of Ariel.
Several years later, Wiest won her first Oscar for Woody Allen’s 1986 film “Hannah and Her Sisters,” in which she makes a memorable turn as the aimless Holly, a former cocaine addict and struggling actress. Wiest continued to work with Allen in the ensuing years, appearing in “Radio Days,” “September,” and later, “Bullets over Broadway.” Her roles in Allen’s films, as well as the Oscar success, made Wiest a familiar face and Hollywood star.
In 1990, Wiest charmed audiences anew in Tim Burton’s beloved film “Edward Scissorhands” as the good-natured Peg Boggs, who takes Edward in and cares for him after she finds him living in an abandoned mansion. The role is an apt showcase for the warming glow that Wiest casts in all her roles, which also makes her an ideal choice to embody the earnest, caring Susan in “Let Them All Talk.”
The newcomer of the “Let Them All Talk” female crew, the British actress Gemma Chan got her start on TV, where she competed in a reality series, appeared in “Doctor Who,” and then became a series regular on “Secret Diary of a Call Girl.” Her big break came when she scored the part of Mia in the TV show “Humans,” which she soon followed up with a star turn in “Crazy Rich Asians” as the glamorous Astrid. Since then, Chan has been a name to look out for — and it’s a treat to watch her act so naturally opposite the Hollywood icons Streep, Bergen, and Wiest.