Meryl Streep opened up about two harrowing experiences she’s had with physical violence during a surprise speech at the annual awards for the Committee to Protect Journalists on Wednesday.
The Oscar winner appeared at the event to thank journalists for putting themselves in harm’s way to be the country’s “first line of defense against tyranny and state-sanctioned news,” according to The Daily Beast. While honoring female journalists in particular for their bravery, Streep revealed her own experience with violence.
“I do know something about real terror — the two times in my life when I was threatened and dealt with real physical violence, I learned something about life that I wouldn’t have known otherwise and I was lucky because my instincts served me well,” she said.
“In one instance, I played dead and waited until the blows stopped — watching like people say you do from about 50 feet above from where I was beaten,” she continued. “And in the second instance, someone else was being abused and I just went completely nuts and went after this man. Ask Cher — she was there. And the thug ran away, it was a miracle.”
Streep and Cher worked together in 1983’s workplace drama Silkwood, for which they both received Oscar nominations. Representatives for both have not yet responded to PEOPLE’s request for comment on Streep’s speech.
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The Devil Wears Prada star, 68, added that she was “changed by these events on a cellular level because women do know something particular about coming to the danger place.” She explained, “We come to it disadvantaged through the many millennia preceding our present moment and because of our vulnerability we anticipate danger we expect it, we’re hyper alert to it. This comes in very handy in investigative journalism but also in acting.”
The actress, who has been outspoken in the wake of the Hollywood sexual assault and harassment scandal, is teaming back up with Cher, 71, for the upcoming sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. The singer, who hasn’t appeared on the big screen in seven years, made the announcement on Twitter in October.
Streep next stars in Steven Spielberg’s drama The Post as Katherine Graham, the Washington Post‘s longtime publisher. The film, co-starring Tom Hanks, opens Dec. 22.