True story — Meryl Streep almost didn’t become an actress.

“She was thinking about studying environmental law until well into her 20s,” Michael Shulman, author of the new biography Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep, tells Closer. “It wasn’t until she got to NYC and started having success in the theater right away that acting became a serious career for her.”

That’s only one of many surprises in Schulman’s book, which covers Meryl’s life from her quiet childhood in suburban New Jersey through her breakout role in 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer. The part came to Meryl during an especially dramatic period of time. “Imagine losing the love of your life, then finding your husband and starring in your first big movie role all at the same time,” says Schulman. “It’s just crazy.”

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Meryl with her Kramer vs. Kramer costars Dustin Hoffman and Justin Henry.

Meryl had fallen for John Cazale, best known for his role as The Godfather’s weak-willed Fredo, when they costarred in a Central Park production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in the summer of 1976. “It was a crazy, passionate, artistic sort of love,” says Schulman.

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Within two years, he had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. After she took a role opposite him in 1978’s The Deer Hunter, “Meryl stopped working for five months to take care of John and was with him to the end,” says Schulman. “She was very devoted to him.”

To read the full story on Meryl, pick up the new issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now!