Meryl Streep would like to set the record straight.
During an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Monday, the Oscar-winning actor clarified a certain moment that former President Barack Obama got “a little bit wrong” in his new presidential memoir, A Promised Land.
Colbert was telling Streep about her mention in the former president’s book (page 542, for anyone who has it handy).
“He’s talking about artists and entertainers and the cultural hub they wanted the White House to be,” Colbert explained, before reading aloud Streep’s acknowledgement, which is in the book as: “ ... Meryl Streep leaning over to softly recite in Mandarin the lyrics to a song about clouds that she had learned for a part years ago.”
“I do remember that moment,” Streep said. “But he got the story a little bit wrong. He’s a very good writer but his memory is ... ”
“Let’s fact-check the president here,” Colbert cut in, as Streep laughed.
Streep gently corrected the president’s story by saying that she actually recited a poem ― not a song ― that she’d learned for an event in Beijing, alongside acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. HuffPost also reached out to the former president for further clarification.
“It was a cultural kind of exchange thing,” Streep told the late night host. “I went with Yo-Yo Ma and a bunch of performers and we were to be in the great, big nest stadium with 7,000 people.”
At the concert, the actor was tasked with reading a “famous fourth-century Chinese poem that everyone knows” in both English and Chinese. All was going as planned, until Streep heard that a special guest ― the cultural minister ― would be in attendance and suddenly became “terrified.”
“This was such an important person with her 40-person entourage,” she said. “And I learned the poem in Mandarin and Yo-Yo Ma would weave in his music in-between. We had practiced this, but in Chinese the same word can be translated as a completely different thing.”
So when it came time to say the poem in Mandarin, Streep simply ... didn’t.
“I said the poem in English, and then I meant to start up in Mandarin and I just looked up at [Ma] and smiled,” Streep said, shrugging her shoulders as she reenacted the moment, and both she and Colbert let out belly laughs.
“And he went cross-eyed and kind of finished up and then we both bowed,” she said. “Because of his artistry, it was a wonderful moment. People loved it.”
What a recovery!
Streep said that she remembered the poem and said it to the president, which is likely what Obama is referencing in the book, though she didn’t elaborate further.
The actor then recited the poem ― in both English and Mandarin ― for Colbert and the host loved it.
“We rarely get Mandarin poetry in late-night these days,” he quipped.
“Yes, but ― since one in five people on the face of the Earth is Chinese, they will know now that I have just said something horrible probably. It’s an international incident!” Streep joked back.