In TriStar Pictures’ Ricki And The Flash, set for release on August 7th, Meryl Streep takes on the mantle of an almost-was rock star in Ricki Rendazzo. Although Streep is no stranger to musical roles, singing in films like Mamma Mia and Into The Woods, this is her first turn stepping into the shoes of a guitar hero. As with all of her characters, Streep fully commits: Striding confidently through the film in leather pants and heavy makeup, she struts her way through classic rock covers and even versions of contemporary pop like “Bad Romance” and “Get The Party Started”.
But she is not merely going through the motions of being a rocker; in order to film Ricki, Streep actually became one, spending months learning to play guitar specifically for the role. In order to give the film authenticity, The Flash became a real band: Streep and costar Rick Springfield (Who plays Greg, Ricki’s guitarist-turned-love interest in the film) joined with musical veterans including Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Bernie Worrell on keyboard, drummer Joe Vitale, the original touring drummer for Crosby, Stills & Nash, and bassist Rick Rosas, who has played with everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Etta James. The band began closed rehearsals prior to filming that even the director, Academy Award winner Jonathan Demme, was not allowed to sit in on.
Remarkably, all of the music for the film was recorded live; everything on screen was actually happening in that take with no lip syncing or pre-recorded instruments. This is unusual for a number of reasons, and saw Streep stepping up to the experienced musicians in order to truly become the character of Ricki and create a believable on-screen experience.
This past week, I attended the Ricki and The Flash press conference at The Ritz-Carlton in New York City, where I had the opportunity to interview cast members Streep, Springfield, and Mamie Gummer, who is both Streep’s real-life and on-screen daughter. I asked the cast what the experience was like performing all of the music live, and what kind of energy that brought to the set.
“It was fun,” said Streep. “I mean, fun is like a little bitty three letter word for something more fun than anything I’ve ever done. And it’s also a privilege to step into something that people do really, really, really well, and pretend that you can sort of hold your own. I mean, that was amazing. When we started, we were in a set that was meant to look like a club. And it was down in Brooklyn. Tragic place on the end of a dock. When you went in there, the place just throbbed. We were playing and the extra said, ‘MAN! I wish this was a real club! I would come here every night!’ Because we really set it off, didn’t we?”
“It was really fun for me watching it, ” agreed Gummer.
“Yeah, It was a blast,” Springfield added. “From the very beginning, we’d know the take was cut when Jonathan would come spinning and dancing out on the dancefloor. It was great. And we’d jam in between takes -”
“He knows every song ever written,” Streep chimed in. “I mean, he can play anything. And the boys would pick it up and it was really fun.”
Ricki showcases the talent of its performers in both creating believable rock music and depicting nuanced characters with equal measures of drama and humor. Streep is in her wheelhouse as usual, tackling the challenge of playing guitar live and embodying the stage presence of a seasoned musician. The film is also a breakout role for Gummer, who is a true talent in her own right and is set to impress with her performance. Springfield shines in his acting depth and musical skill, using the same 1969 Gibson in the movie that he bought at 21 years old and wrote “Jessie’s Girl” on. During the press conference, he took time to snap some photos with the press in attendance and also treated us to an impromptu performance while he spoke more about playing in the film.
Ricki And The Flash hits theaters this Friday.