"He got the story a little bit wrong."


Oscar-winner Meryl Streep makes a little cameo in Barack Obama's book, A Promised Land, but during an appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, she said that the former president "got the story a little bit wrong." Colbert explained that in his book, Obama wrote that during a dinner party at the White House, Streep "lean[ed] over to softly recite in Mandarin the lyrics to a song about clouds that she'd learned for a part years ago." 

Streep told Colbert that while some of the details were inaccurate, the story itself is a little more complicated than a Mandarin poem. In reality, in involved Yo-Yo Ma, a trip to Beijing, and a fourth-century Chinese poem.

"I do remember that moment, but he got the story a little bit wrong. He's a very good writer but his memory is ... " she said before Colbert interrupted.

"Let's fact-check the president here. What was the reality — it wasn't for a part?" he asked.

President Obama Meryl Streep
Credit: ImageCatcher News Service / Contributor

"It was a poem. I had just gotten back, actually, from this trip to Beijing ... 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 and were going to do a concert, and Yo-Yo and I were going to do a very famous fourth-century Chinese poem that everyone knows," Streep said. 

She noted that it didn't work out as planned, which was to recite the poem "first in English and then in Chinese."

"We heard that the cultural minister was coming, who was an extremely important person ... we were all terrified," she continued. "I had learned the poem in Mandarin and, obviously, in English, and Yo-Yo would weave in his music in between; we practiced this. But in Chinese, the same word can be translated as a completely different thing."

"It was a wonderful moment — people loved it. But yes, I remembered the poem [and] said it to the president," Streep finished, saying that she "chickened out" on the original programming.

Streep did recite the poem for Colbert — in both English and Mandarin: "Alone on a misty mountain / I come to a clearing / Sunlight on green moss/ I am not alone."

"Since one in five people on the face of the earth are Chinese, they will know now that I have just said something horrible, probably," she joked of her recitation. "It's an international incident."