Simon Helberg was admittedly star struck when he was cast to play a pianist alongside virtuosos Hugh Grant and Meryl Streep in “Florence Foster Jenkins.”
But nothing compared to recording opera tracks at Abbey Road, which he describes as a “collision of dreams.”
“Me and Meryl went into the same studio that The Beatles recorded all of their albums in,” says Helberg, who was born to an actor father and casting director mother. “We kind of desecrated the place because, she plays this atrocious singer and we are kind of butchering all of these great pieces in music.”
That’s pretty much the norm for the film that opened Aug. 12. In the biopic, Streep plays a tone-deaf opera singer; Helberg is her fledgling pianist, Cosmé McMoon.
Although Helberg is best known for portraying a bowl cut-sporting Poindexter on TV series “The Big Bang Theory,” he has been playing piano since he was 10, and tickles the ivories throughout the film. Helberg had longtime ambitions of pursuing a career as a jazz or rock musician.
“Around 16 or so, I just sort of switched and decided that I had to be an actor,” he says. “But I had never done anything in the classical or opera field.”
Helberg says the director, Stephen Frears, felt it imperative to find an actor who could actually play piano. Helberg admits he lied and called himself a classically trained pianist.
“I kind of had to learn it all in a few months,” he says. “It was intense.”
Helberg’s credits are lengthy, but he describes “Florence Foster Jenkins” as a “very prestigious kind of film.”
“It has this royalty in it, between Meryl and Stephen and Hugh,” he says. “I have never really been such an integral part of a movie.”
Helberg says working with industry juggernauts, though initially intimidating, was “as heavenly as you may hope.”
“I was immediately welcomed very warmly and felt, all of a sudden like we are all trying to make this the best we can,” he says.
The actor says playing music with Streep felt like “jumping into the unknown together” and fostered a sense of vulnerability.
Working with Frears was satisfying and seamless.
“He manages to fulfill his vision of the movie without ever compromising anybody else’s,” he says.
“I don’t know how he does it. He has made some of the most amazing, eclectic movies of any director, and I would try to emulate him if I understood the magic trick.”