OnlyOnAOL: Hugh Grant & Simon Helberg sound off
By: Donna Freydkin
Sometimes, an audio clip blows up online, usually featuring a very famous pop star's vocal stylings without the magical massaging of autotune.
Without naming names, the results are ear-shattering, highly entertaining and weirdly intoxicating.
In "Florence Foster Jenkins," opening Friday, Meryl Streep plays the 1940s real-life version of a musical laughingstock, a well-heeled socialite who dreamed of being an opera singer. Her talent, or utter lack thereof, was no hindrance to her aspirations.
And she ultimately performed in Carnegie Hall, accompanied by her dismayed, bemused and loyal pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg) and protected from (nearly) all critics by her devoted life partner (Hugh Grant).
Grant got involved through his activism with Hacked Off, which pushes for a free and accountable press in the United Kingdom. "Florence" director Stephen Frears also worked with the organization.
"Stephen supports Hacked Off. He came to me saying, 'Enough politics, let's do a film.' I never thought he meant it. And to my surprise he produced a script. It was really good and had a good part for me. Show business was very far from my mind at the time. I said yes," says Grant.
The actor, who is famously open about his mixed feelings regarding filmmaking, says this time, it was different. "I almost enjoyed this, actually. There was a moment in the third week where I quite liked the film industry, but it didn't last long," says Grant, the master of the deadpan quip.
A favorite moment: playing golf, his real-life passion, with his movie mistress. "That wasn't too challenging. That was the week I thought I quite liked it. We were in the open air. The sun was shining. I thought, 'This is going rather well.' I soon went back into despair and anxiety," says Grant.
Helberg, meanwhile, calls the film "a dream project. I didn't have to be courted to do it."
Knowing his way around a set of keys certainly made things easier when it came time to shoot the concert scenes, with Florence warbling and screeching her way through Mozart. The "Big Bang Theory" star happens to be an accomplished pianist in real life.
"I do know how to play the piano but I don't know how to play quite like this. I had a half-dozen lessons. I was able to play jazz and I can read music slowly. I never played this kind of opera or classical. I had a crash course in how to approach classical music and technique," says Helberg, who filmed his portions live.