“It was all happening too fast to enjoy it,” says Rick Springfield of the summer of ’81, when “Jessie’s Girl” shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 just as he debuted as the dreamy Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital.
This summer also is proving to be memorable, with the actor-singer, 65, taking a big-screen turn in Ricki and the Flash, out Aug. 7, opposite Meryl Streep. “My deer-in-the-headlights look wasn’t going to work,” he says of his jitters bedding the acting legend. “We had to change that.”
The two found their rhythm onstage, shooting the movie’s musical performances. Director Jonathan Demme insisted his actors play and sing live, so Streep, 66, spent months teaching herself to play electric guitar. “At this point in her career to do something like this is really brave,” remarks Springfield.
He also plays True Detective shrink Irving Pitlor, who gets beaten to a pulp by Colin Farrell in the July 19 episode. “Colin asked if I was OK after he choked me,” Springfield says. “He was fully professional.”
The role required Springfield to cut his trademark mane for auction on IfOnly.com, with proceeds going to ex-girlfriend Linda Blair’s dog rescue. To further achieve Pitlor’s unsettling look, they pulled Springfield’s eyes back with elastic tape “to mimic a facelift” and added dots to his hairline, “like a bad plug job.”
More stressful than the actual fighting was committing showrunner Nic Pizzolatto’s dense, stylized dialogue to memory: “There was a lot of story revelation while I was getting beat up. I was the one spilling the beans. Obviously, they wanted it word for word.”
Springfield knows the sinister character caught more than a few of his lifelong fans off-guard, but is proud of his work on the series. “I think [the producers] had confidence that I could be fairly truthful with a creep,” he says. “I think they enjoyed the idea of me playing against type, and so do I.”
He adds that the sudden career renaissance isn’t a matter of chance, but rather the result of having never stopped “continually working … I’m a big believe that luck is a matter of staying in the game and keeping up on your chops.”
As for the “teen idol” label that’s followed him since that summer of ’81? He’s OK with it: “What it meant was that people would look at me and think, ‘Oh, you’ve had some success, but you’re not really that talented.’ I felt that was unfair. Don’t just write me off because young girls liked me – Sinatra started like that, and they wrote him off at first, too.”
“It’s not a bad thing to start as a teen idol,” he says.
This article originally appeared in THR.com.