Actress Meryl Streep almost missed out on the chance to receive the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom after initially trying to convince White House officials she was not worthy of the top civilian honour.

The Oscar winner had to stop work on the set of her upcoming film Ricki and the Flash to take the surprise call about becoming an honouree, and she admits she was so stunned, she tried to back out of the accolade.

She recalls, "We were shooting a film in the fall, a rock and roll movie, that had to come to a screeching halt because this call was coming in from Air Force One and they wanted to talk to me. I was really scared that I had done something wrong!

"Anyway, it was Valerie Jarrett, who's an advisor to the President, and she told me about this. I was flabbergasted and also chagrin because I tried to talk them out of it, because I just felt I didn't deserve it. I felt that it's such a high honour. But then they told me that all sorts of wonderful artists get it, golfers and ball players, and I felt better."

Streep joined fellow honourees Stevie Wonder, actress Marlo Thomas and newsman Tom Brokaw, among others, in Washington, D.C. last month (Nov14) when she was feted with the prize by U.S. President Barack Obama, who gushed about his love for The Devil Wears Prada star.

She tells U.S. talk show host David Letterman, "It's supposedly for the contribution of your lifetime and then it makes me feel really old and think, 'Well, what have I done?'."

She adds, "I am trying to live up to the honour and stay on the straight and narrow from here on out."