– By a friend of the CT admins –
Ellen clip: Meryl Streep on Ellen (Unfortunately this video has been taken down and we have been unable to find another version on YouTube. It was an appearance that took place prior to October 25, 2007 (which is the date the article was written) and according to the article it was an appearance where Streep and Ellen wore similar-looking outfits.)
AFI speech: Meryl Streep AFI speech
Questionnaire clip: Meryl Streep – Questionnaire (Unfortunately this video has been taken down and cannot be found on YouTube anymore, but the segment can be found by looking up Streep’s interview with James Lipton on “Inside the Actors Studio”. Specifically, the segment was the part of the interview toward the end where Lipton asks the guest to answer a standard questionnaire.)
Keirsey calls ESTPs “The Promoter.” Some people sum up the essence of ESTPs by thinking of them as the ultimate “con men.” They are alpha men and women, competitive, working the crowd, always with a couple irons in the fire, and usually coming out on top and winning at everything they do.
At their most negative, ESTPs are con men selling snake oil and then hitting the road one step ahead of a crowd of angry, ripped-off customers. But in their more respectable incarnations, ESTPs can assume a lot of different personas and be successful at almost anything. They can be the entrepreneur who creates a small business and turns it into a billion-dollar empire; they can be administrators, negotiators, etc. And they don’t need to be loud and bossy. They can be languid and soft-spoken, exerting influence with a delicate touch (like a good negotiator). They can even be the ultimate urban and cultural sophisticates. The only common denominator it that you’ll find them “working the crowd” in some manner or other (even if “the crowd” is only one individual).
Here is an ESTP portrait from Keirsey‘s “Please Understand Me II” that could reconcile the “con man” image of ESTPs with the sophisticated image of Meryl Streep [MS]:
…And they are extremely attentive to others and smooth in social circles, knowing many, many people by name, and knowing how to say just the right thing to most everyone they meet. None are as socially sophisticated as they, none as suave and polished – and none such master manipulators of the people around them.
So just to sum up: ESTPs are numerous in the world around us and are often the leading figures in their field. They can be chameleon-like in assuming many different “looks” and many different ways of “working the crowd,” depending on their field of endeavor. IOW, there’s no inherent problem with a world-renowned, soft-spoken, languid, ethereal actress turning out to be an ESTP.
One of the notable things about S artists is that they are much better at “making” art than at describing the “meaning” or “philosophy” of their art.
In the video clips, MS attempts to describe the meaning of art once or twice, but quickly changes the subject. Here is a quote, however, where MS took a stab at what art means to her in a magazine interview:
“Every time I think it’s a silly way to spend my life, I see a performance by another actor and think, ‘I couldn’t live if I didn’t have this in my life.’ I really think that. Or a piece of music. We need art. We really need art. Maybe we need to feel we count, like our existence matters. Acting can do that; it can make you feel more alive and proud to be a human being. Even seeing the worst of humanity.”
If you look at it closely, it really doesn’t say much. MS just stacks in a bunch of high-sounding phrases (“our existence matters,” “makes you feel alive,” “proud to be a human being,” “the worst of humanity”) without connecting them up very effectively. The thought is clear enough–that art expands our horizons. But the thoughts aren’t woven together or connected with each other to create a pattern or progression. MS doesn’t build a case. She just says that “art is good” a couple different ways.
Not very good for one of the world’s leading artists. :)
Similarly, MS stumbles at the AFI presentation when she tries to describe why it’s important to honor women in the arts. She gets tongue-tied almost instantly and gives up and just says enthusiastically, “It’s a great thing!”
By contrast, it’s worth examining the things that she is good at as a Sensor. This is from Keirsey‘s description of ESTPs:
[ESTPs] are so engaging with people that they might seem to possess an unusual amount of empathy, when in fact this is not the case. Rather, they are uncanny at reading people’s faces and observing their body language, hypersensitive to the tiniest nonverbal cues that give away the other’s attitudes…
This is Se at work (the dominant function of ESTPs), of course. Keirsey goes on to show how ESTPs can use this kind of hypersensitivity in negotiations to “read” the opposition. But the same skills can also be used by a great actress to study characteristics of individuals and then portray them in her art.
For example, in the video clip from “The View” MS is asked how she prepared her role for “The Devil Wears Prada.” MS responds that for her “Prada” role she needed to study and incorporate a presence that commands automatic respect without even needing to raise one’s voice. Of her immediate acquaintances, Clint Eastwood most embodied that quality. So she studied Clint Eastwood and used his body language and physical mannerisms to create her character for the movie.
The ability to learn and incorporate other people’s mannerisms is what sets MS apart from most other actresses. It allows her to disappear chameleon-like into the most exotic and far-fetched roles. For example, she is famous for picking up accents and mannerisms in order to play the role of foreigners. (For contrast, try to imagine an actress like Julia Roberts playing the role of a Polish immigrant and Holocaust survivor living in America as effectively as a youthful MS did in the movie “Sophie’s Choice.”)
And when asked why or how she incorporated this or that characteristic in a role, MS is very specific in her answers about where and how and why. She is very detail oriented and very deliberate about choosing each characteristic of her roles.
To me, this is evidence of Se at work. MS has trouble describing “why art is important,” but her Se is so finely tuned that she has become a millionaire from studying the physical characteristics of other people and recreating them on the stage or the screen.
Again, it’s the old, familiar contrast between N and S. On one side is the N theorist who can describe in hypothetical terms why art is important; on the other side is the world-renowned Sensor actress who can physically perform the art and can even break down her roles for you and tell you how she researched and prepared each feature of her role so that you can try to recreate the same process yourself if you wish. :)
Working the crowd
One of the main defining features shared by all ESTPs (high style, low style, con man, cultural sophisticate) is the ability to “work the crowd.” From Keirsey’s description:
In a sense, [ESTPs] are able to operate people with much the same skill as ISTPs operate instruments, machines, vehicles, and other tools. It might be said that people are instruments in the hands of these Promoters, and that they play them artistically.
So it’s worth running through a quick comparison of the various video clips and get an overview of the tools and methods that MS uses when she is “working the crowd.”
In her appearance on the Letterman show, MS plays the languid, wilting Southern belle. She wears a long, elegant dress, bats her eyes, spends a lot of time looking at the floor and ceiling (floor = demure, and ceiling = glamorous like an old Hollywood still of Mae West or Hepburn); she is ditzy and confused and hesitant and has trouble coming up with simple facts, she is little-girly and shy at many times; her laughter is little-girl giggle (at one point in the second clip her giggles turn into helpless hilarity and she rolls around in her seat); and her seating is demure and poised to show off her long lines.
In her appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show, MS mirrors Ellen. MS wears nearly the same outfit as Ellen (so much so that they are almost doubles looking at each other), MS demonstrates youthful energy like Ellen and even tries to give Ellen a high-five at one point, MS wears nerd glasses, sits with her legs apart, and sits on her hands much of the time; most of the time she is business-like and laughs raucously. A couple times she lapses into ditziness when she wants to act self-deprecating, and Ellen scolds her about denying her accomplishments.
In her speech to accept the AFI awards, MS is mostly the over-the-top, old-style Hollywood grand dame. She is dressed in an enormous hoop dress with a Hepburn chest; she exhibits broad arm gestures, a deep curtsey to the floor, wails and groans of delight, and works the crowd from the dais to point out friends. But she is also broadly comic, such as when she parodies sleep-walking on the way up to the stage and later gasps and collapses on the dais; and she even has a little-girly moment when she thanks her dead parents.
In her appearance on “The View,” MS is pure “Alpha female.” (CT admins: Alas, these clips are no longer available on YouTube.) When she comes out onto the stage together with her co-star Anne Hathaway, MS walks a couple paces in front of Hathaway in a dominant position. Her clothing is severe (jeans and long jacket). When she sits down, she leans over for a second to look at everyone else’s legs and then she crosses her own legs to mirror them. She is all business; she comes up with facts quickly, responds to questions with energy, talks about problems with the film and fashion industries, and talks about how her role in “Prada” was miserable for her. She sits straight with her hands in her lap, and her occasional hand motions are often sharp and choppy. She mirrors Hathaway’s emotions when Hathaway is talking and even plays mother-figure to Hathaway to some extent (at one point kissing her on the head I think). The overall effect is to establish herself as the chief alpha female in the group. On the other hand when Stanley Tucci comes out in the second clip, MS doesn’t do much mirroring and tends to go relatively immobile when Tucci talks.
Summing up: While each venue seems to bring out a somewhat different “persona,” I think a comparison of the Letterman clip and the clip from her appearance on “The View” will provide the greatest contrast. The contrast between the languishing, ditzy, giggly southern belle (Letterman) and the no-nonsense, all-business alpha female (The View) shows her ability to work different venues in different ways.
I think it also demonstrates her extravert tendencies, in that her audience determines her persona for the event. She is often mirroring her environment, watching the people around her, and adjusting to them (such as in The View, when she crosses her legs to match the other women). And of course the AFI clip shows her at her extravert best, alternately acting the grand dame and then clowning and poking fun at her own “grand dame” stereotype from one second to the next.
I think one more ESTP quality deserves comment. One of the ways ESTPs take charge of any event is by quipping and one-upping and generally showing a lively ability to take the situation and play with it amusingly:
From Keirsey’s description:
Charming, confident, popular, these tough, outgoing [ESTPs] carry on amusing repartee with friends and colleagues, the laughter surrounding them as they recount from their endless supply of quips, anecdotes, and jokes…
So for example, right at start of the Letterman clip, MS walks out on stage in her elegant long dress and Letterman kisses her on the hand; MS then turns the table on him and kisses his hand in return. It’s funny partly because it’s a turn-around. It also involves some one-upmanship in that MS sets up an elegant moment with the grand entry, Letterman’s kiss adds to the elegance, but MS’s kiss parodies Letterman’s kiss and is merely comic.
The same thing happens when Letterman’s staff bring out a large bouquet of roses. The roses are meant to heighten the elegance of the moment, but MS turns the moment on its head when she says “I feel like a horse” (the reference is to large bouquets brought out for winning racehorses).
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of this. It’s a comedy show, Streep is a comedian, and her quips merely come off as charming self-deprecation. Still it shows one of her chief tools for seizing the moment and making it her own.
MS does this repeatedly to some extent or another throughout all the clips. She uses quips, word play, turn-about, self-deprecation, and even pauses and physical poses to seize control of the pacing of the conversations and put herself in charge of it. And throughout it all, she manages to keep looking elegant and fun-loving.
This same thing happens in the AFI clip. MS constantly alternates between elegance and slapstick, showing one moment that she can do the grand Hollywood gestures and then in the very next moment parodying herself. On her walk to the stage, she is sometimes greeting friends and kissing cheeks, but then partway along she mimics sleepwalking. Once on stage, she plays the grand dame with curtseys and broad gestures, but then she also collapses on the dais with a groan and then whips out some notes and slaps them on the dais and ruffles through them as though to make no pretense of hiding the fact that she has prepared some comments, and she grabs her dress front as though to adjust her cleavage.
Anything is fodder for a laugh, like her pause to play with the “two small words” pun. It doesn’t matter if the joke interrupts the pacing of the moment; in fact jokes like that are attractive to her precisely because they keep changing up the pacing and turning things on their head.
Even her homage to her dead parents in the AFI clip turns into slapstick. She says that she wants to thank 4 people in her life who are in heaven; she recalls her mother and father somberly at first, but then makes a joke about the drama in the house when she was growing up. Then she makes a joke about her dressmaker, “who isn’t dead!” she happily notes. Then she says, “Thank you,” and says “I’ll get off” as though responding to a sign. Then she goes on for another couple lines about being proud and grateful (having forgotten the other 2 people in heaven). Then, even as the music wells up, she starts yelling “I forgot Roy! Roy!” and jumps up and down and points out into the audience. All in all, the entire effect is a whirlwind of elegance and low slapstick hilarity at the same time.
Also, she appears a bit miffed if anyone ruins one of her jokes. In the clip about “The Questionnaire,” MS is looking professional, nicely coiffed, in a business suit of sorts; she plays a number of roles, alternately being kittenish, girly, seductive; she uses long pauses to elicit laughs, and she acts thoughtful and then parodies her own thoughtfulness by holding the pose too long.
At one point the interviewer asks MS for her favorite obscenity. MS answers demurely with “Oh my God” as her choice, but then she goes for the big laugh by saying it would be nice if “cocksucker” were her favorite. The audience laughs, but the interviewer is unruffled and says that that particular obscenity was chosen by two other actresses. MS turns away looking a little peeved, as though the interviewer has one-upped her and ruined her moment.
The last two sections about working the audience and quips would seem to be proof of an extravert orientation. But some people have pointed to MS’s well-known need to stay close to home as proof that she requires extensive downtime.
But I think that only indicates a commitment. That is, ESTPs need to win at whatever they do. So a male ESTP will commit himself to a small start-up business and turn it into a billion-dollar empire, and a female ESTP will commit herself to raising the perfect family and showcase it as another big “win.”
That may sound cynical to say. But I already mentioned earlier that I have an ESTP female relative, and she tended to view her own family as one more place to excel. So, like MS, my relative would make a big show of placing her family first. She would go home and devote much energy to creating the perfect childhood for her children: parties, social events, encouraging the kids to take on big splashy projects and then sharing their fun, etc.
Similarly, MS notes that one of her adult sons is in a rock band and she attends his concerts; that sounds like a very ESTP way of parenting.
IOW, it may be that for MS the family is one more social scene, one more crowd to work, one more place to excel. That doesn’t take anything away from her devotion to her home and her family. But it would indicate that home is not a place for downtime for her. If anything, many people find a big family to be very demanding. If you want downtime, you get away from the family. Many men leave the home and go to work in order to get their downtime. :)
Also, on the clip from The View, MS specifically indicates that she doesn’t like downtime or alone time. She says that one of her favorite times when shooting movies is being on the set between scenes when the actors can get together off-camera and clown around. She says that she was unable to do that during the shooting of “Prada” (she needed to keep “distance” from the other actors in order to maintain her role), and as a result she found the shooting of that movie to be miserable for her.
So it sounds like she doesn’t enjoy downtime. Like a true ESTP, she probably needs to be “working the crowd” pretty much all the time to feel alive.