Streep: 'It's hard to sing BADLY '
Actress Meryl Streep plays a 1940s socialite who was 'world's worst singer'
Florence Foster Jenkins, a real-life socialite in 1940s New York, was the world's worst singer who somehow believed she had the talent to sing opera.
The voice she heard in her head was flawless even though everyone else thought it was terrible. The charming story of her joyous determination to perform at Carnegie Hall is chronicled in the new Stephen Frears-directed movie Florence Foster Jenkins. Meryl Streep plays the clueless yet heroic woman in pursuit of her dream and Hugh Grant her devoted, tender and much-younger husband-manager.
It opens here tomorrow.
At the Conrad New York hotel, the bespectacled Streep with her numerous awards and accolades, is always a pro and great to interview.
The 67-year-old US actress says she was aware of the titular heiress since the former's days at the Yale School of Drama.
"Everybody had this cassette and people would play it at parties and we all knew about her. It's something that students laugh about. I think to artists, who understand how hard it is, striving for something wonderful and failing occasionally is particularly hilarious and touching."
Streep took the role because of the humanity of the woman who was more than a bad singer.
"The reason that Florence Foster Jenkins was so popular in her day and caused such a sensation was not that she just sang badly, but she sang badly with so much hope and joy. People loved the aspiration and the hope in her voice. And then when it inevitably went off the tracks, they loved the mistakes too."
The bad singing aspect of the role was taken seriously by Streep.
Using the voice coach who worked with her on last year's Ricki And The Flash, where she played a rock singer, she learnt and practised the arias and sung them as well as she could.
"And then it was up to me in the moment of filming, to move it off the way I wanted to. So that I knew what it was supposed to be, and then I could just aim sort of a quarter tone under or over or around."
That wasn't as easy as you would imagine. She says with a laugh: "It's kind of hard to go off the note that you know it's supposed to be. But it became so much a part of who she is. To me, her singing was just another manifestation of her excess and the way she dressed. Every time I would put a necklace on, I would decide, let's put on three more. So it was just more, more, more with her. And when you sing, you can't try too hard, because when you try hard, you will go off. And that was sort of what happens with her. She goes off because she wants it so much."
The movie was filmed in England and shooting days were tiring, partly because of the padded bodysuit Streep had to wear to reflect the character's girth.
She laughs about having a liquid dinner at the end of those days.
"There's a great place in England that has wonderful pre-packaged food but it's gourmet, great curries and things like that. And we were around the corner from a great fish and chips shop.
"So once a week we would do that, but only once a week because you will just die if you do that too much. So mostly I would make vegetable things."
Would she ever tell someone not to pursue their passion if they were bad at it then?
"I think life hands you your destiny. (US actor) Jack Nicholson said to me, 'Never spit on another man's happiness'. And I thought that is really good because there is enough coming at you that says no in the world. I think it's better to say sure, try that, do that, go ahead, forward. Forward is always better. You are going to hit the wall, but that's okay. Better to do that then wake up at 50 and realise you haven't tried the thing."