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SAG Foundation Conversations: Florence Foster Jenkins

August 08, 2016 | New York, USA

Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg participated in the SAG-Aftra Foundation Conversation series to talk about “Florence Foster Jenkins” in time for its theatrical release. The conversation panel was moderated by Jessica Shaw of EW Morning Live. Streep answered the first question what the moment was to accept the character. “I said yes without reading the script. Stephen Frears I always wanted to work with. He’s such a great director. We circled that possibility before over the years, but it never worked out, so it was great that he called me and said, ‘I have something for you’ and I said ‘Great. Yes. I’ll do it’. He said, ‘it’s about Florence Foster Jenkins’, and I knew about her, so I didn’t know if I could do it. But I loved the idea. And the script was great”.

Grant described Frears as “half mad”. He said he was drawn to the script because it was both funny and said. “It means when the funny bits don’t work you can pretend it was meant to be a sad bit”. He also talked about the scene when St. Bayfield and Florence meet alone in Carnegie Hall after his character has visited his mistress, played by Rebecca Ferguson:

There was a fight that morning, a bit of a fight, between Meryl and Stephen Frears about whether we should sit in two seats next to each other or have a seat between us. And you said, in ‘Meryl voice’: ‘I don’t want him sitting next to me He smells of her.’ And that’s when I didn’t know if that was Meryl or Florence. I used to call you Floryl.

For Helberg, his piano talents came in handy. He recalled the scene when Cosme McMoon and Florence play piano side by side. “That was a big scene. We shot it in one day. As we got into it it was kind of a monster scene. It’s got kind of every element from music to emotions. And it’s kind of an anomaly, too, in the movie, that these two people are out of their element. It was early in the shot. It was a bit taxing to do, because it meant a lot to me.” Streep continued, “it’s a nine page scene. It’s the longest scene in the script. And it goes all different places. It starts with the weight-lifting, not that that was funny… but it could be a whole movie. They found this picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger holding Cosme McMoon over his head. It exists. He did go into bodybuilding. (The scene) starts in one way and then there’s a lot of storytelling and backstories in it. They’re trying to put a lot of things into it. And then it’s so heartbreaking in the end”.

The conversation also included discussion on the Carnegie Hall scene. “I said, ‘Why don’t we just spring it on them? Why don’t Simon and I come out like it’s a real concert and do all the music for them and put five cameras on them. Because their reactions are gold. To me they make the whole thing happen. And that was captured on the day,” Streep rememeberd.