Rick Springfield on Acting Opposite Meryl Streep in 'Ricki and the Flash' and Why He's a 'Late Bloomer'

Rick Springfield
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Rick Springfield speaks during AOL BUILD Speaker Series: "Ricki And The Flash" at AOL Studios In New York on Aug. 5, 2015 in New York City.

Rick Springfield has had a lot of “pinch me” moments in his five-decade career, from topping the Billboard Hot 100 with his iconic 1981 hit "Jessie's Girl" to winning a Grammy and selling out venues across the world. The latest big moment came when he landed the part of Meryl Streep’s bandmate and lover in director Jonathan Demme’s new film, Ricki and the Flash, which opens Friday (Aug. 7).

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And it almost didn’t happen. Springfield initially turned down trying out for the role because, in part,  “I’m not a great auditioner,” he says but now calls making the movie “a great experience.”  (The film’s soundtrack is also out Friday on Republic and features songs from Lucinda Williams, Emmylous Harris and Streep's son, Henry Wolfe).

Courtesy of UMusic

Director Demme loaded the band, The Flash, with lifelong musicians, who performed their songs in the movie live and with no overdubs. “Jonathan was looking for an actor who could really play guitar,” Springfield says. Demme was so obsessed with authenticity that Springfield’s audition was simply to play with Streep and the band instead of reading. “It was kind of a thoroughly painless process,” he explains.

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Springfield, who is on tour with Loverboy, talked to Billboard about the movie, the experience of acting opposite Oscar winner Streep, his other major role this summer on True Detective, and how he felt like a has-been at 23.

Why were you initially hesitant about taking on the part?

I had a hesitation about auditioning for it because I was on the road on the east coast, and got this call saying they wanted to see me the following day. I figured that I was probably on the bottom of the list and they were seeing a ton of name people and if they wanted to see me tomorrow, I wouldn’t have time to prepare anything, so I said no (laughs). My publicist, Kim, called me up about five minutes later and said, “Get your ass on that plane and you do that reading.”

Was there ever a moment Jonathan had to say to the band, Dont play quite so well. You cant be the guys you actually are.

(Laughs) No, he never said that to us because we all played the best we could. Just because you didn’t make it doesn’t mean you’re not an amazing player. I know tons of players that could kill me on the guitar. They aren’t known. My big strength is perseverance. I always tell my kids the three most important things are never give up, never give up, never give up.

Did you give Meryl Streep any performing advice?

Only when she asked. She asked a lot because she wanted to get it right. She was amazing doing what she did from not being a guitar player and singer. She would ask certain things about how to hold [the guitar], which moves looked better to end a song, stuff like that. She asked the whole band, hearing from the guys who had done it all their lives…It was an incredibly brave thing she did to play live in the movie -- something that people work years and years to get down.

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Whats your best advice for going toe-to-toe with Meryl Streep when it comes to acting?

You gotta get rid of the “Oh my God, it’s Meryl Streep” thing in your head.

Theres an interesting dynamic between your character, Greg, and Streeps character, Ricki, in that you took on the more stereotypical feminine caring side and she played the more typical male role.

Yeah, the whole movie is actually a flip on the male thing: It’s OK for the guy [to leave to pursue a dream] but when a woman does it…and the added heartbreak is that she didn’t make it. Greg is definitely a good guy [but] he’s got his garbage too. That’s what I liked about it -- even at the end of the movie, people have still got all their shit. It’s not going to be happily ever after.

Courtesy Photo
Greg (Rick Springfield), Ricki (Meryl Streep) and Julie (Mamie Gummer) in TriStar Pictures' Ricki and the Flash.

In a recent interview, you said that you felt like you still werent taken seriously as a musician. Really?

I don’t know. It’s really hard for me to address that because to me I’ve always been [a musician]. The first time I picked up a guitar at 12 years old I was that musician and I think certainly stuff like the Dave Grohl documentary [2013's Sound City, which featured Springfield among other musicians] and if people hear that we’d play absolutely live in this, it will help. But all I can do is just keep doing what I do. At this point, I don’t really concern myself with people who think I’m still the one-dimensional soap-opera actor who got lucky with a song.

Is it more fun to play Greg or Dr. Pitlor on True Detective?

Greg was a great part and who I was working with was pretty frigging awesome. Pitlor was great because he’s such a mindf--k of a character. It’s so against type for me that I knew it was going to surprise people. I played a character named Rick Springfield on Californication. People thought I wasn’t acting, they thought I was just playing me.

Rick Springfield Joins Meryl Streep's Band in 'Ricki and the Flash'

But your character on Californication was a jerk.

I know, I know! I’m going, “They don’t hire doctors to play doctors. They play actors to play doctors.” You know, f--k, give me [credit for] some chops.

Youre touring and still recording. You recently wrote both an acclaimed autobiography and novel. Youre acting with Meryl Streep. Did you have any idea that at 65 youd be continuing to come into your own?

Yeah. I’m a big dreamer, very forward-looking. I probably would have thought, “Wow, it took till 65?!?!” (laughs). I didn’t have [my first hit record] until I was like 31 and I’d been trying since I was 15, and I thought, “Wow, it took me this long.”

What was that struggle like from 15 to 31?

I would be in tears sometimes in my apartment going, “I want this so much and it looks like I’m hitting a dead end.” I was sitting in a club one time in the ‘70s after I’d had “Speak to the Sky” in 1972 and had all this teen press and that had all died down and some guy recognized me. I was 23. He leaned over and said, “You’re Rick Springfield, aren’t you?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “You should have gone further, man.” And that really, really hurt, but it was also a wake-up call. Something in me said, “F**k, that’s not it. I’m going to show you that’s not it.”

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Did you bring any of those feelings to playing Greg?

Yeah, but he’s very happy to be playing. I don’t think Greg has a lot of bitterness about it.

Youre going to be hell on wheels when youre 75.

I’m a late bloomer.