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Rick Springfield almost said no to Meryl Streep and Ricki and the Flash

(Just like he once turned down a role in ‘The Right Stuff’)

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Bob Vergara

Rick Springfield is used to being the center of attention when he takes the stage with guitar in hand, but the 1980s rock star and onetime General Hospital heartthrob yields the spotlight in Ricki and the Flash. The “Jessie’s Girl” singer isn’t Ricki; he’s part of the Flash, Meryl Streep’s bar-band in Jonathon Demme’s movie, in theaters Aug. 7.

Streep is the star, a singer who left her marriage and her children behind years ago in order to follow her dream. Springfield plays her collaborator and boyfriend, lending authenticity to the music scenes and holding his own with the legendary actress and her 19 Academy Award nominations.

Springfield spoke to EW about how he got the call to join the band.    

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did Ricki and the Flash come about?

RICK SPRINGFIELD: I was on the road and I got a call saying Meryl Streep and Jonathan Demme wanted me to fly the next day to audition. I thought, “Dude, if they’re calling me this late, then I’m probably at the bottom of the list,” so I just said, “I’m not going to do it. I’m so tired. I can’t fly in for one day for an audition.” But [the woman] called up about an hour later and said get your f—ing ass on that plane. So I went up to a house in the Hollywood Hills and there was Meryl, Jonathan, and a bunch of musicians. I plugged in and we did a bunch of songs. It was a lot of fun.

Did you geek out over meeting Meryl Streep?

Oh yeah. I said, “I just want everyone to know I’m about to jam with Meryl Streep.” And she said, “I’m about to jam with Rick Springfield.” She’s very relaxed. She relaxes you.

Who do you play in the movie?

I’m her boyfriend and in a band. It’s a movie about following your dreams. Right now she’s in a bar-band in Tarzana, Calif. She gets a chance to go back and correct things with her family. It’s a family story and she grabs hold of it so gigantically.

Do you sing together in the movie?

Yeah. Most of my scenes are with her and she’s great on stage. She was nervous. She learned to play the guitar and she totally brings it. She’d ask me questions about how to hold it and I’m thinking, “Jesus, Meryl Streep’s asking me how to do something!” It was pretty surreal.

Do you play a Rick Springfield-type?

No. The first thing Jonathan said was how he wanted me to grow a beard. He didn’t want me to be Rick Springfield in this part and I totally got that. I even changed the position of how I hold the guitar. As performer, I wear it low, but as a player, I wear it much higher. I grew a beard and let the grey in my hair grow out.

You played Dr. Noah Drake for a long time on General Hospital. Does the show have you on speed dial?

I left in ’83 and I went back for one year in the mid ‘90s and then I went back for the 50th anniversary. I’m very thankful for GH because there was a time when I really needed the boost and that was there. I’d always consider going back for special things.

I read that you were once offered a part in The Right Stuff, and you said, “I don’t need to be part of an ensemble. I’m going to star in my own movie.” Did you actually say that?

Mm-hmm. I was a real f–king idiot. They said it’s about a bunch of astronauts, and at this point, my ego took over. I said no, there’s another movie where I’m going to star. I’d actually read the script for Hard to Hold and thought it was so awful I threw it across the room. But then they offered me money and I went, “You know what? I can make this a gem because I’m Rick Springfield.” It turned out not to be the case, while The Right Stuff turned out to be a freaking great film.

Hollywood is full of stories like that!

Of course it is. I learned a big lesson about how your ego is not your friend when it’s the boss. It’s a good driver. Once it starts to dictate, you’re f—ed.  

Tell me about these annual trips you make to Club Med.

We do one a year. We rent out Club Med and people come down and just hang for five days. I sit by the pool and with my guitar or we have cocktail parties. We have band shows. It’s family. Sometimes some people bring their kids. Some people’s husbands come and sometimes it’s just women. They’re hardcore fans. It’s not about getting crazy.

Has it gotten to the point that you can anticipate what music they want you to play?

They don’t want to hear Jessie’s Girl.  They want to hear all the obscure stuff, all the different albums.

Are their questions relatively simple?

No, they’re really deep. They ask about my depression. They feel like friends. I’ll talk to them about anything. I’d much rather talk about that than, you know, what you do you prefer: music or acting? I’d much rather talk about something deep. They ask about my family, about me growing up, about how I became a musician and what are the struggles and all those kinds of thing rather than, you know, boxers or briefs.