You couldn’t blame Meryl Streep if she wanted to rest on her laurels. She just turned 69, and she’s earned a record 21 acting Oscar nominations. "I could retire and start collecting a pension," she jokes of balancing fame and family. "But the kids are out of the house, and the scripts keep coming."

Do they ever! She’ll appear in the musicals Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and Mary Poppins Returns and take her first TV series role in Season 2 of HBO’s Big Little Lies. "I pretty much pick whatever I fall in love with, whatever speaks to me," she exclusively told Closer.

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Such self-confidence has been hard-earned for Meryl. Watching scenes from her early films at a tribute, "All I could see was this beautiful young woman who was anxious about whether she was too heavy or her nose was too big," she reveals. "I felt like saying to her, 'Just relax, and it will all be OK.'"

Growing up in Summit, NJ, Meryl received plenty of emotional support from her artist mom, Mary, and pharmaceutical-executive dad, Harry Streep. "My parents were very encouraging," she recalls. "My mother took me to see every single show [on Broadway]."

By the time she was in her mid-20s, Meryl made a name for herself on the New York stage. It was there she met and fell for co-star John Cazale, who tragically died of lung cancer at 42 in 1978. Heartbroken, she stayed at the apartment of sculptor Don Gummer (a friend of one of her brothers) while he was away. Once he returned, he remembers, "Pretty quickly I realized I was falling in love with her." They wed within a few months. Gushes Meryl, "I found a great husband many years ago — I’m lucky in that way."

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In September, they’ll celebrate their 40th anniversary, no doubt with their children: musician Henry, 38, actresses Mamie, 34, and Grace, 32, and, model Louisa, 27. "Her kids are talented and thriving," an insider says. "She’s thrilled about that." Meryl and Don raised them "as far away as possible from Hollywood," she says, in rural Connecticut. Most of the time, "I live a pretty normal life. I spend lots of time in my garden with my veggies and roses."

She hasn’t always been so mellow. "I thought I was washed up at 40 — there were not a lot of interesting scripts," she admits. "Now I think that’s changing a little bit. The good thing about getting older is that when they actually do cast you, it’s often something interesting."

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In fact, she’s earned Oscar nods the last two years for Florence Foster Jenkins and The Post. "She’s absolutely emotionally present in every scene," Florence co-star Hugh Grant told Closer at a recent SAGAFTRA Foundation Q&A in NYC. "If it’s a happy scene, you get a very happy Meryl. And if it’s an angry scene, she’s terrifying! She comes into the room with hatred for you in her eyes."

But offscreen, Meryl has learned to smile and enjoy the ride. "When I was younger, I always thought about where the journey would take me," she says. "Now I don’t mind drifting along and finding myself in new situations. I like it, actually." The Oscar winner continued to say, "You have to embrace getting older. Life is precious." We can't agree more!

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