Let’s Go to the Movies: Streep Reunites with Kline, Co-stars with Springfield in Ricki and the Flash
By: Ellis Nassour
Oscar and Golden Globe winner and Tony and Drama Desk nominee Meryl Streep, unquestionably one of the greatest actress of her generation is no stranger to taking chances. But as guitar-shredding, hard-rocking mama Ricki Rendazzo in Ricki and the Flash [TriStar Pictures] she takes on a whole new gig. We knew she could sing – and have been waiting for years [save for a brief moment in Central Park in August nine years ago — the Public Theatre’s Mother Courage by Brecht as adapted by Tony Kushner] in vain for her to return to her musical stage roots.
In the film, directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme [Silence of the Lambs] and scripted by Oscar-winner Diablo Cody [Juno], she plays a jaded and battered rock singer who almost had a career, and pretty well holds her own playing guitar – a task she took seriously, studying and training for months "learning all the little tricks rock ‘n’ rollers use — bar chords, quick changes, riffs, and stuff like that."
The film also stars Tony, DD, and Oscar winner and GG and Emmy nominee Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer [Streep’s daughter], and Tony and DD winner Audra McDonald. Tony and DD winner Bill Irwin has a blink-of-the-eye cameo.
Leaving her first marriage to a seemingly mega millionaire (Kline) "to be free to follow my dream," she deserts three children – adults now. When she discovers her daughter has suffered a nervous breakdown after a very brief marriage, she attempts to make good on her past bad choices and seek reconciliation. With little contact with Mom over the years, the siblings are less than excited to see her.
"We have to live with our mistakes," says Streep. "Ricki wishes her kids liked her more, understood her. She’s been living in the moment – acting on impulse. It’s not tied up in a bow. These are real people in complicated, bumpy, messy dilemmas. It’s a relief to play someone who doesn’t act how everybody thinks she should be."
Streep and Kline reunite for the first time since Mother Courage, their 2006 roles in A Prairie Home Companion, acclaimed roles in 1982’s Sophie’s Choice, and their work in Shakespeare at the Public Theatre.
Demme says Streep’s Ricki Rendazzo "is a Meryl Streep we’ve never seen before. She’s made incredible acting chances – bringing to life a lot of extreme characters. Ricki has her extremes, but Meryl plays her as down-to-earth real 21st Century woman."
Cody says that the inspiration for Ricki "came from real life, my mother-in-law, Terry, lead singer in the Jersey Shore rock band Silk and Steel. She’s a grandmother of six and still up there rocking out every weekend, walking on the bar, electrifying audiences. There’ve been those in her life who’ve thought it was kind of a silly thing for a mom or grandmother to have such a career, but she doesn’t give a damn."
At Ricki’s side, on lead guitar, is Aussie rock musician, TV star, and best-selling author Rick Springfield, best known for his 80s-era hits including his #1 hit "Jessie’s Girl," which won him a 1981 Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal. He’s sold 25 million records and had 17 top-40 hits after a handful of hits Down Under. Soon after settling in L.A., he landed the role of Dr. Noah Drake on the daytime drama General Hospital. Most recently, he guested on the second season of HBO’s True Detective.
Streep bravely often appears in intense close-ups wearing no make-up. Daughter Mamie goes even further in early scenes not only sans make-up but also looking as if she just had electric-shock treatments. Their scenes give the film added potency. Their estrangement on film is as palpable as their amazing resemblance. It’s a case of where true genetics add a level of reality.
Co-producer Marc Platt is a GG-winning TV producers and former production head of Universal and TriStar Pictures, and one of the lead producers of Tony and DD-winning blockbuster Wicked and a producer of If/Then starring Idina Menzel. In addition, he co-produced the Broadway debut of Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper in Three Days of Rain, which also starred Paul Rudd; and won a DD as a producer of Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands ballet. He was a co-producer of the screen adaptation of Sondheim’s Into the Woods.
"After getting Diablo’s script," he says, "I was determined to bring Meryl aboard. Iknew her love of music. I felt Ricki was a character she’d want to play. During Into the Woods, I told her ‘I have something really special I’d like you to read.’ Given the uncompromising truthfulness Diablo created with Ricki, I wasn’t surprised when Meryl came back a few weeks later and said, ‘Remember that script you gave me? I loved it.’"
Klein and Streep have history and they’re off-screen friends. He was the first actor Platt suggested to Meryl. "It was incredible working together again," she says. "Kevin’s a wonderful actor, comfortable onstage and onscreen. He’s also a very talented musician. When he came up to me after hearing me play and said, ‘You don’t sound bad.’ That was the highest compliment."
Streep and Springfield wanted The Flash to be a real band. "Everything you see and hear is the real deal," states Demme. "Meryl’s singing and playing guitar. They’re a band. All their songs were shot live."
They went into an intense rehearsal period. "It was exciting to see how much, how dedicated Meryl was," observes Springfield. "It’s really difficult learning to play an instrument you’ve never played and singing. She was incredibly dedicated."
Joining Springfield and Streep are three legendary sidemen: Rick Rosas, who played with such greats as Neil Young, Joe Walsh, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Etta James on bass [he died in late 2014]; Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bernie Worrell, a founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic who worked with Talking Heads, on keyboards; and Joe Vitale, longtime collaborator of Joe Walsh and the original touring drummer for Crosby, Stills & Nash, on drums.
"We had two weeks to become a band," Streep points out. "Impossible! The guys were gentle and forgiving in the beginning, because I couldn’t keep up. But around the sixth day, we hit a groove and then we couldn’t stop playing. I really got why Ricki never wanted to give that up."
Springfield said his "greatest challenge was not constantly going, ‘Oh, my God, it’s Meryl Streep!’"
The rock legend and his character share a love for the legendary Gibson ‘68 SG electric guitar. "I have a ‘69 SG. I bought it new in 1970. It’s been with me ever since. It was important to me to play it in the film."
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