It's official: Meryl Streep can do anything, including becoming a bona fide rock star for her new film Ricki and the Flash. In the film, Streep plays Ricki Rendazzo, a rock singer who struggles to reconnect with her adult daughter after a life spent chasing musical stardom. To play the role, Streep had to learn how to play guitar and front a band as if she'd been doing it her entire life — no easy feat, even for the woman who transformed herself into a devil in Prada. So does Meryl Streep really sing in Ricki and the Flash?
Yes, that's really her. It's no secret that Streep is one of the best actors in the history of time. (Seriously, I challenge you to find me someone more worthy of that praise. Go ahead. I'll wait.) And her legacy in film history as a dramatic actress is untouchable, which is in part why her turn as a new musical star has been so surprising. Ricki and the Flash marks Streep's fourth musical role in 10 years, following A Prairie Home Companion (2006), Mamma Mia! (2008), and last year's Into the Woods. With just a handful of musical credits to her name, Streep has already proven she can carry a tune. But Ricki and the Flash provided Streep with an entirely new challenge: to sing, act, and play guitar all at the same time. Because, not only is Streep really singing in Ricki and the Flash, she's also playing rhythm guitar — live.
Talking to Parade, Ricki and the Flash director Jonathan Demme insisted that all the musical performances were recorded live, without playback or dubbing. The Streep you hear in the film is the same Streep who was singing on set. Added Streep, "We did everything live. It always had to be the whole song, run all the way through ... what you see and hear is what we did.
So, how did Demme turn the Oscar-nominated actress into a rock goddess? Well, first things first, he backed her up with a sweet professional band. Streep may front Ricki and the Flash in the film, but she certainly doesn't perform by herself. Most notably, she shares the stage with her lead guitarist, Greg, played by the one and only Rick Springfield. Together they were joined by drummer Joe Vitale, keyboardist Bernie Worrell and bassist Rick Rosas — all accomplished musicians. The band spent a lot of time rehearsing together, something Streep said she was grateful for, especially as it pertained to her guitar playing.
"Rick was endlessly kind and patient with me, and it must have been a colossal nightmare for him to ear me make the same mistake on the same chord for like a week. It was almost as if Jonathan cast the band as much for their compassion as for their rock cred," she told The New York Times.
Streep only had a handful of months to learn how to play the guitar convincingly enough to act as though she'd been playing for decades, but Demme revealed to Yahoo that Streep literally gave her blood and soul to the role. The director recalled one particular day on set, when Ricki and the Flash were performing Bruce Springsteen's "My Love Will Not Let You Down," that got a bit messy:
"We did two takes of the song, and it's performed in front of a pretty big crowd. And by that point, Meryl wasn't even looking at the strings, she was just playing. There's an intense instrumental break in the middle of it, and the cameras just caught it so beautifully. It's Meryl, Rick Springfield and the late great Rick Rosas all leaning into each other and tearing it up and shredding the hell out of it.
"We cut, and I go running up to Meryl and everybody and am like, God that's amazing! And she shows me her hand, and she's torn the skin off the second digit, there was no skin between the nail and the digit and there's blood on her blue dress."
Streep may have earned her rock star cred, but according to her daughter and co-star Mamie Gummer, she was more excited to sing than play guitar. "She loves, loves, loves to sing. Loves it more than almost anything. She in part did this so she'd have permission to sing — and I couldn't tell her to shut up!" Gummer said in an interview with Vanity Fair.
Gummer may have been onto something. As she promotes Ricki and the Flash, which opens on Friday, Aug. 7, Streep has already moved on to her next musical role: playing an aspiring opera singer in Florence Foster Jenkins. Broadway? Rock? Opera? Is there no musical frontier Streep hasn't conquered on the screen? I think we can all agree there's only one thing left for her to do: Meryl Streep has to star in a movie opposite Beyoncé.
Images: Sony Pictures (2)