EXCLUSIVE: Inside Meryl Streep's Golden Globe-Nominated Performance in 'Florence Foster Jenkins'
By Stacy Lambe
It takes a lot of skill to sound as bad as Florence Foster
Jenkins, a New York socialite who dreamed of becoming a great opera singer. The
only catch: she couldn’t carry a tune. But that didn’t stop Jenkins from
believing that she was much, much better than she was, producing a record and
eventually performing live at Carnegie Hall. That is, all thanks to her
husband, St. Clair Bayfield, who kept her dream alive and Jenkins far from the
Jenkins’ true story is the basis for Meryl Streep’s Golden
Globe-nominated performance -- her 30th nomination -- in the delightful biopic, Florence Foster Jenkins, which earned a
total of four Golden Globe nominations and is now available on Blu-Ray and digital
“This movie is about aiming for the F above high C regardless
of what note you may land on,” Simon Helberg said in a statement to ET, in
reaction to his Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a
Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture, adding: “Meryl is a God.”
While Streep has no shortage of talent, Florence’s off-key
vocals did require the actress to train with a vocal coach in order to match
the wannabe opera singer’s unique sound. Recommended by Broadway star Audra
McDonald, who co-starred with Streep in Ricki
and the Flash, Streep turned to renowned vocal teacher Arthur J. Levy, who
has worked with the likes of McDonald, Stockard Channing, Lauren Graham and Lea
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While some actors rely on vocal tricks to achieve a desired
effect, Levy tells ET that when it came to Streep, it was all natural talent
combined with hard work. To be able to sing for the film, Levy didn’t strip
anything away, instead he focused on “getting her voice to its perfect state”
so they could expand Streep’s vocal range. “The only deconstructionism was
taking a beautiful high C for Meryl and making it unbeautiful, but in a
specific way,” he says.
When it came to songs like “The Bell Song” and “Queen of the
Night’s Aria,” Streep was offered lower keys to be able to sing in her range.
Instead, she opted for the highest key, which added credibility to her voice. “The
lower keys might have been a little too easy and possibly a little too lovely,”
Levy says. “We’re dealing with a ratio of bad.”
The key to making Streep sound authentic was not imitating
Jenkins. “I prepared by learning the arias, to sing them as well as I possibly
could,” Streep told IndieWire and then studying the way Jenkins sang the music.
“She was very specific about where Florence didn’t make the note or made the
wrong note,” Levy says. “I don’t think the exact sound quality was reproduced
because that would have been, maybe objectionable parodying.”
“When you are unique, you move to the head of the class,”
Levy adds. “And I think Florence did it, in her weirdo way.”