How Hugh Grant Struggled to Keep a Straight Face When Meryl Streep Sang in Florence Foster Jenkins
She’s one of the greatest movie actresses in Hollywood history — and not a bad singer, either. So when Meryl Streep would abandon all self-consciousness and belt out an aria in every wrong way possible, it was all anybody could do on the set of “Florence Foster Jenkins” to keep a straight face.
“There are some shots in the movie where we’re teetering on a fit,” says Simon Helberg, who plays Cosme McMoon, a pianist called upon to coach Streep’s tone-deaf 1940s socialite in music to prevent her from becoming a worldwide laughingstock.
Based upon the real life of a Pennsylvania heiress, “Florence Foster Jenkins” tells the story of how Jenkins and her common law husband, a failed actor played by Hugh Grant, try to make her unlikely dream of a Carnegie Hall performance a reality in the face of almost certain crushing ridicule.
“It’s endearing because of her passion and enthusiasm,” Grant tells Made in Hollywood reporter Julie Harkness Arnold. “I also loved the fact that in a way that it’s a celebration of the oddity of human beings and a little group of eccentrics, really. What an insane trio they ended up being. She can’t sing, but she sings. I can’t act, but I act. … We all ended up loving each other.”
Hugh Grant Says Meryl Streep Finds the Genuine Passion in the Real Florence Foster Jenkins
The role called upon Streep to mimic Florence’s real singing voice, captured on old 78s, that combines an unbridled power with a complete lack of rhythm, pitch, and sustained — or even correct — notes.
“Our Florence, who may not be completely identical to the true historical one, is just someone who has a passion,” explains Grant. “She loves music and loves singing, and that’s where she comes from. Of course she was a little bit of a egomaniac. It’s all offset and made more rich and more amusing by the fact that there’s a real genuine passion there. I think people’s enthusiasms are always attractive, and that’s why she’s an attractive character.”
But like Helberg, there would come times during shooting that Florence/Meryl’s enthusiasms would get the best of Grant. “I’ve always had a laughing problem,” he says, “and it was very difficult, when she was in full-throat, not to laugh.”