He’s best known as the woman-obsessed engineer who lives with his mom in the hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” but Simon Helberg is now flexing his skills against some of the biggest names in Hollywood in “Florence Foster Jenkins” alongside Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant.
Jumping away from the cocky scientist, Helberg inhabits a mousy role of a concert pianist hired by a New York heiress and music enthusiast.
“Florence Foster Jenkins” (who is portrayed by Streep), is based on the life of the New York socialite. The film picks up her tale in the 1940s during World War II.
Jenkins is the toast of the New York’s music scene, spending a fortune on the best musicians, composers and conductors in the city. She makes the decision to take singing lessons and hires Helberg’s character, Cosmé McMoon, as her personal pianist.
The catch: She’s a terrible singer.
However, no one tells her, and McMoon finds himself in a bizarre situation of following in the mode of her devotees.
The film is both hilarious and touching, and ultimately endearing. By the end, you’re cheering for Jenkins as well.
Prior to “The Big Bang Theory,” Helberg attended the Tisch School of the Arts in New York where he not only refined his acting skills, but tuned his musical talent as well. He reached the level of concert pianist during his studies.
It was one of the reasons he was chosen for the part of McMoon. Helberg told KTAR he was very keen on playing the character.
“The script was so unique,” he said. “I guess (it) really spoke to me — and not just the love of music, but this idea of perception and the sort of disparity between our perception of ourselves and what other people perceive.”
Despite Jenkins’ awful singing voice, she is the toast of New York. While she initially is made a laughing stock, she wins the hearts of her audience through her sheer passion.
Helberg said he think people fell in love with her because she was so sincere in her love of music. He described her as having child-like enthusiasm.
“I think that there’s a very human quality and I think there’s almost nothing more human than failure,” he said. “And I think it’s funny and it’s tragic and it’s comforting but only when it’s done passionately, only when somebody is putting themselves out there genuinely and ironically, and you know, aiming for the fences and kind of falling flat, no pun intended.”
Helberg acknowledged that working alongside Streep and Grant forced him to up his own game.
“I was probably the odd man out in the sea of talent,” he said. “It was both like every actor’s dream … when you can kind of jump into part with the, honestly, the greatest people working today and maybe ever.
“Because ultimately, you’re really only as good as the people around you and these people make you even better. I think … that’s a sign of greatness.”
“Florence Foster Jenkins” could be the boost Helberg needs to take him from pop culture sidekick to true film artist.