Home / Entertainment / A Garbo-Like Meryl Streep Celebrates Her New Movie – New York Times
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A Garbo-Like Meryl Streep Celebrates Her New Movie – New York Times

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At the After-Party for the Premiere of ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

At the After-Party for the Premiere of ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

CreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times

And in a flash — well, several hundred flashes — she was gone.

Wearing a teal and white printed shift dress by Valentino and a vaguely surfer-girl blond hairdo, Meryl Streep strode into the press tent outside the Lincoln Square cineplex in Manhattan on Tuesday night for the premiere of her new film, “Florence Foster Jenkins.”

And as visibly giddy television reporters perspired on the red carpet on a muggy summer evening, awaiting the rare chance to interview American cinema’s reigning grande dame, Ms. Streep strode right out again, walled off from the press corps by a phalanx of hulking security guards in black suits who looked as if they had consumed the New York Jets’ offensive line for lunch.

“Did she just blow us off?” asked George Whipple, NY1’s omnipresent red-carpet reporter, raising his famous caterpillar eyebrows incredulously.

It may not have been a rhetorical question. Her cometlike passing could have been interpreted as a lapse in etiquette or an artistic statement in its own right. When an actor has won three Oscars, after all, and been nominated seemingly every year since “The Birth of a Nation,” she has earned the right to engage with the public how she sees fit. Miles Davis played with his back to the audience, and it only added to his legend.

Even so, it was a shame, because Ms. Streep’s Garbo act denied the press corps a chance to ask an obvious question: Have you ever flopped at anything? It was obvious given that the film, directed by Stephen Frears, is a comedic tear-jerker based on the real story of a irrepressible 1940s socialite who dreamed of opera glory but made some of the most timelessly dreadful recordings ever put to wax.

The other actors in the film had no trouble recalling the times that they felt exposed, artistically, just like poor Florence in her Carnegie Hall debut.

“The worst time was in ‘Cloud Atlas,’” recalled Hugh Grant, who plays Mrs. Jenkins’s quasi-faithful partner, St. Clair Bayfield. The directors of that film, he recalled, “asked me to play six hard-core villainous characters from different parts of history. I thought, ‘I can do that, I can show everyone that there are more strings in my bow than just romantic comedy.’”

“Suddenly,” he added, “I was standing on a mountaintop dressed as a post-apocalyptic cannibal, and I realized I had no idea how to play the part.”

At the after-party, held at the futuristic Brasserie 8½ in the once-futuristic Solow Building on West 57th Street, Simon Helberg addressed the same question.

A “Big Bang Theory” veteran who plays Cosmé McMoon, Ms. Jenkins’s pianist, the boyish actor actually played the complex piano parts in the film himself. So he did not have to think hard about his most vulnerable moment as an actor.

“Making this movie, honestly,” Mr. Helberg said. “On top of doing scenes with Meryl and Hugh and Stephen, I had to play Mozart and Delibes and Bach and Chopin. We did it all live. So it was this great gift to work with everyone, but it was also: ‘By the way, you’re also going to have to juggle these chain saws.’”

Not far from the ivory-tinkling actor, in the sleek subterranean space that felt like the mother ship in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” notables like Ric Ocasek, Regis Philbin and Zac Posen milled about as guests nibbled on spinach-and-ricotta crepes and spare-rib risotto.

Meanwhile, Ms. Streep showed up in character as a great American actress who was not doing interviews (or even photographs at the party). She nevertheless found time for warm embraces and banter with Arthur Levy, the vocal coach who had trained her to sing — that is, sing terribly — for the role.

It seemed fair to assume that Ms. Streep, despite the fact that she has convincingly played a steel-town Vietnam War bride, a French lieutenant’s woman, a concentration camp prisoner and an Australian mother whose baby became dingo dinner, could not actually sing, too. Surely she can’t do everything.

You know what they say about assuming.

“She was trained classically in her late teens and early 20s,” Mr. Levy explained later, recalling their rehearsals together. “Every once in a while, she’d get to a stratospheric note and wince. But it was still better, and more on pitch, and more rock solid, than Florence.”

Even when Ms. Streep is bad, it seems, she is good.

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