At Ricki’s (Meryl Streep) side, on lead guitar in Columbia Pictures’ new dramedy “Ricki and the Flash,” director Jonathan Demme cast rock legend Rick Springfield. Best known for his 80s-era hits, including “Jessie’s Girl,” Springfield’s career has taken on new dimensions with multifaceted and complex acting roles.
“The part of Greg is definitely dual-purpose,” says Demme. “We needed a terrific actor capable of going toe-to-toe with Meryl Streep, but also an authentic shredder. I was worried about finding a great Greg. The assignment to our great casting directors was to find any actor who can play guitar and might have the capacity to step up. Find anyone in that age range – I’ll see anybody. And then Rick Springfield came in, we meet him, he’s very nice – and then he plugs in and he’s amazing.”
Later, Springfield had a second meeting with Streep – a meeting to ensure that the two actors would have chemistry together. “All of this authentic warmth comes out of him – he got Meryl to open up to stuff that she hadn’t known was there yet. He came in knowing that he would be fantastic in this part – it was an exciting opportunity to play opposite Meryl Streep, to be a band member but also play a very complicated character beyond that,” says Demme. “When he left, we thought, ‘Oh my God, we have just found the greatest Greg of all.’”
“Rick is very alive and in the moment, as a person, a performer and an actor,” says Streep. “That’s a beautiful quality and a necessary one for Greg, because he’s a tender character. He’s the lead guitar in The Flash, but he also aspires to be the man in Ricki’s life. Greg just wants her to jump in with both feet, but Ricki has a lot of problems committing, and she’s really not sure she can make it not be a lie.”
“Greg is a good guitar player who never really made it,” says Springfield. “He had a brush with success that never went anywhere. But he loves to play and has been in love with Ricki for quite a while. He’s frustrated by her noncommittal, casual attitude to their relationship, but he loves playing music with her – that’s where they unite. They share that passion for music.”
Springfield’s greatest challenge in playing the role? “Not constantly going, ‘Oh, my God, it’s Meryl Streep!’” he jokes. Kidding aside, Springfield is used to owning the stage as a rock performer, but the part of Greg required him to defer to Ricki – the leader of The Flash. “I’m a bit of a show-boater,” he admits, “so to play the support role, I modelled it off a friend of mine, who actually has that relationship with his wife on stage. It was very fortuitous that I saw them – I kind of modelled it on that relationship. It’s an emotional thing that you hook into like you do with any acting role – you hook into that person through whatever process, and that guides a lot of how you react and how you work.”
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Interestingly enough, Springfield and his character share a love for a very specific instrument. “In the script, Greg had a ‘68 SG. I actually have a ‘69 SG – I bought it new in 1970 and it’s been with me ever since. It was my main guitar on my first albums, and I played it and wrote a lot of my early songs on it, including ‘Jessie’s Girl.’ So it’s a very important guitar to me. I mentioned that to Jonathan, and he said, ‘Oh, we’ve got to use it.’ It was an instant connection for me to that guitar.”
To be shown exclusively at Ayala Malls Cinemas nationwide starting Sept. 9, “Ricki and the Flash” is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.