Simon Helberg on His ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ Role: “I’m an actor and I want to stretch different muscles”
The Big Bang Theory star Simon Helberg hasn’t had much time to do projects outside the long-running CBS series, but he stars in perhaps his biggest film role to date in Florence Foster Jenkins opposite Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. Helberg portays Cosme McMoon, a piano player who performs for perhaps the worst professional singer in history, who is played by Streep. In a conversation with AM New York, Helberg spoke about why he didn’t consider an interview with McMoon helpful with portraying him and whether or not he feels typecast by his Big Bang Theory role.
Helberg points out the irony of acting in a movie opposite Meryl Streep in which Streep is supposed to be playing someone with no talent. He says, “I’m playing a character who was actually a very gifted concert pianist, so it was quite the thing to walk into, to have to be the anchor for Meryl Streep and playing someone who is actually pretty accomplished. Both are things that I couldn’t relate to. So that certainly brought some level of daunting intimidation with it.”
Though Helberg was given an archive interview with McMoon, he didn’t think the interview would help inform his portrayal. He explains, “There’s one interview that exists on audio tape — from right before he died, maybe a few years before. So he’s a lot older. It’s about 7 to 8 minutes long, and in that he talks about Carnegie Hall [where Cosme and Florence eventually perform] and there’s certainly a little bit of an air of cynicism, and a snide sort of looking down the bridge of his nose at this woman. That was something I never wanted to be, in any shape or form, a part of this character. And because this script was so brilliant and Nick Martin created such a vivid character, I wasn’t at risk for that. The other actual information is very sparse and most of the good stuff was in the movie, him being interested in body building and hinting at him being gay. It all to me added up to this innocent, naive, chaste little fellow who probably was completely unaware of his own sexuality. …. Just picturing what it would look like for this guy to enter a world of cosmopolitan socialites — he’s going to look like a lost little bird probably.”
Helberg is asked if he has had any issues or concerns with typecasting considering how long he has played the same character on The Big Bang Theory. He says, “I think that it’s hard to be fully, again like this movie, aware of what other people presume you to be. From my vantage point, I’m an actor who got hired to play a character. I’ve had the fortune of playing that character for almost 10 years. I guess the flip side of that is people just might easily write you off as being that character — even people who are smart enough to know that actors play roles. That can happen. Doing this movie, aside from all of the other incredible things — aside from what a wonderful experience it was making it and doing it and playing this guy — it is nice I get to do something wildly different. Just selfishly, I like it because I’m an actor and I want to stretch different muscles. … I don’t actively feel any pigeonholing, but I actively know I’m guilty of doing it too.”