Meryl Streep was once beaten so badly she had to "play dead until the blows stopped".
The 68-year-old actress recalled two instances in which she was the victim of violence while honouring female journalists for their bravery, and admitted she was "lucky" that she acted on her instincts.
In a speech at the annual awards for the Committee to Protect Journalists, she said: "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.
"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."
The 'Devil Wears Prada' actress also once chased after a "thug" who was "abusing" someone else in an incident which she says was witnessed by Cher.
She added: "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."
Cher has previously mentioned the incident, saying the pair saved a girl from a "large mugger".
She wrote: "Meryl Streep and I saved a girl from a large mugger in New York City."
Meryl believes women are "hyper alert" to danger because they "expect it" to happen.
She added: "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."