Some of the best Big Bang Theory episodes feature the real-life piano-playing skills of Simon Helberg (Howard Wolowitz). So when director Stephen Frears needed an actor to play Cosmé McMoon, the long-suffering accompanist to the vastly wealthy and equally hugely untalented Florence Foster Jenkins, Helberg was the perfect choice.
Meryl Streep plays Jenkins, and Hugh Grant plays her devoted husband in the marvelously funny, touching, and romantic Florence Foster Jenkins. The film is based on the true story of a woman whose dedication to performing was not inhibited by her complete lack of ability to get the notes right. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Helberg talked about how being daunted by Streep helped his performance and how accompanists cherish the singers they support.
Piano and Music
The most obvious question to start with is to ask Simon when he started playing the piano. Helberg said that he was 10 years old. In his opinion, he was a late bloomer.
“It seems so little now but all the ten years olds are like – ‘Dude you’re washed up man, I’ve been playing for five years.’ I had to catch up.”
The interviewer’s questions turn to topics a bit deeper. Are music and acting related? What about judgments about rhythm and tone? Helberg thinks so. He also says that it would be interesting to do a survey. Maybe he could conduct it.
“I certainly think obviously rhythm is a huge part of being an actor. It just is unconscious to a degree but particularly in comedy rhythm is pretty essential and there’s probably something more physiological going on. I have a good ear for music, voices, and dialects. I’m sure that in some way it plays into everything that I do, but I’m sure there’s a couple of tone-deaf, rhythm-free great actors out there.”
In Florence Foster Jenkins, Meryl Streep plays a singer, who is unaware of her lack of talent. In reality, Meryl Streep can sing, as she did in Postcards from the Edge and Mamma Mia. The interviewer asks Helberg about Streep’s prowess.
“Meryl is pretty phenomenal at everything, even singing. She plays music, and she has learned to play violin and guitar for roles. Things that you are not supposed to just quickly learn how to do she has done for movies. It’s sort of strange and somewhat upsetting sometimes with her; there’s nothing that seems to stop her.”
Meryl Streep is a massive star, so it was probably daunting to meet her. However, Helberg’s character was supposed to be intimidated by her, and this probably worked well for the relationship that your character had with her character.
“Yes, it was it kind of a blessing for me that he was supposed to be gobsmacked and somewhat paralyzed with fear and then in other moments in total awe or sweating or vomiting. Things that I probably did all before I met her.”
“I occasionally get kind of lost just looking at her and watching her, even when we are working. But mainly it feels very much like you are two people doing a scene, working, listening to each other. It’s remarkable but I think it’s also essential to why she is able to do what she does.”
This interview is very long. The other half will be in part 2.