It’s fitting that in Ricki and the Flash — the newest film from music-loving director Jonathan Demme — there’s Rick Springfield on stage with Meryl Streep, singing the Bruce Springsteen deep-cut, “My Love Will Not Let You Down.” Fitting, because in the ‘80s, Springfield’s former label released a song called “Bruce,” which had lyrics like, “Aw, wait a minute man, who do you think I am?/He answered, ‘Mr. Springsteen, you’re a famous man.’” But this is the Rick Springfield from 2015 — this is the Rick Springfield who is making out with Meryl Streep on screen and getting his teeth knocked out by Colin Farrell on True Detective. I suspect Rick Springfield doesn’t care too much today if you called him “Bruce.” (As Springfield tells the story below, “Bruce” was actually recorded in the ‘70s and was only released after his music career made him a superstar.)
In Ricki and the Flash, Springfield plays Greg, the lead guitarist for a past-their-prime L.A. rock band, led by Ricki (Meryl Streep). When Ricki (or Linda, in her former non-rock star life) has to return home to Indiana for a family emergency, her relationship with Greg finds new meaning.
When you meet Springfield, the first thing you notice is that he is a tall man (or, the opposite of Bruce Springsteen, really). He’s kind of soft-spoken in a guarded way at first, in sort of a, “So, when are you going to ask my about ‘Jessie’s Girl,’” kind of way. Ahead, we cover a lot of ground with Springfield, from, yes, his days of being confused with Bruce Springsteen to working with David Fincher on Fincher’s first ever directorial gig, the bonkers video for “Bop ‘Til You Drop.” Springfield also laments about getting killed off in the pilot for Battlestar Galactica; the problems with the feature film that would put him in the starring role for the first time, Hard to Hold; and he explains why he doesn’t watch True Detective. Sadly, we never did get to “Jessie’s Girl.”
In Ricki and the Flash, you perform a Bruce Springsteen song, “My Love Will Not Let You Down.” In the ‘80s, you had a song called “Bruce” that complained about people confusing you for Bruce Springsteen.
Yeah, “They called me Bruce.”
That song was recorded in the ‘70s, but not released until the ‘80s?
Yeah, ’76. I recorded it at Sound City and Joe Gottfried, who was my manager, owned Sound City. And, you know, I could go in and do records on spec because Joe owned the studio. So, this album I wrote, a couple of times people had called me Bruce.
No, no. I remember I went out for some acting thing, and this girl saw me from an acting class. As I walked out, she said, “Bruce!” But I get it. You know, Meryl has a story where people sometimes come up to her and say, “You were great in Fatal Attraction,” which is Glenn Close.
People say that to Meryl Streep?
I mean, I get, “Bruce, I loved you on General Hospital.” So, they get the character. So, I wrote this humorous song about it and the record didn’t get a deal. We tried to shop it and didn’t get a deal. And the next record I wrote was Working Class Dog — so these people kept the record, and when I had hits, they released “Bruce” because they had the rights to it.
When that song came out, I was maybe 8 years old and didn’t even really know who Bruce Springsteen was. I wasn’t really listening to Nebraska then.
It’s not a musical mix-up, it’s just a name mix-up is all it is. We don’t look alike. We are actually born like a month apart. I actually saw a guy the other day who was standing behind Bruce [in line] in the ‘70s, and he told this story to Bruce and now he’s telling it to me — that Bruce had a bunch of clothes, he was buying them, and they checkout guy called up, “I have Rick Springfield here. He wants to take these clothes out.” And Bruce, had to say, “No, I’m Bruce Springsteen.”
When you’re filming this scene, did you mention to anyone, “Hey, I released a record distancing myself from this guy?”
[Laughs] It did cross my mind at one point. I thought it was kind of humorous, actually. It’s pretty funny.
Do a lot of people get this relationship?
A few people will get it. You’re the first one who has actually mentioned it. Actually, Meryl brought that one up; she brought that song up. They were looking for a closer that dealt with what had gone on.
And it’s a deep cut Springsteen song.
I believe it’s a song cut from the Born on the USA album. It later got released on a compilation set.
And I had never heard the Edgar Winter song… quite a few of the songs, actually. And it’s from my era. That’s the era I grew up in.
Now you’re working with Jonathan Demme, is this the most high-profile director you’ve worked with?
Yeah. Well, actually…
Other than David Fincher on the “Bop ‘Til You Drop” video.
Other than Fincher, yeah. Of course I’m a giant fan of movies like Silence of the Lambs and I loved Stop Making Sense. So, I knew he understood the music thing – and he absolutely loves music. So, when he said he wanted it all live — he didn’t want any overdubs or anything; he wanted recorded live on set – so everything you hear is absolutely live. Which I was a little but nervous about, I thought we’d do a couple of patches. And which is why he wanted an actor who could play guitar, because he didn’t want any overdubs. And he understood the lip-syncing thing is what kind of pulls people out of a movie.
I do remember thinking the guitar player was really good for a guy playing at an L.A. dive bar in front of just a few people.
All the guys who play in those bars are great… by the time anyone that age gets to that, they really are accomplished players. Not every accomplished player becomes successful. This is a story of a band that’s a great band – I mean, three of the players are top-notch players – but I know guys like that who do have another job and aren’t professional musicians. It didn’t work out.
I’d like to think if the band in the movie were real, there would be a bigger crowd.
I think it’s Jonathan Demme’s comment on the age thing, too. If you’re talking about 30-year-old guys, yeah, that is a little different. There’s a certain kind of loser vibe to the whole place that I really dig.
When you’re a little kid, “Bop ‘Til You Drop” is a cool video.
It’s a great video.
It has nothing to do with you bopping until you drop.
No, nothing at all.
I once asked David Fincher about it. He said he was appreciative that you let him do it, but made it clear, if he did it today, it would look different.
[Laughs] Well, if I wrote it and sang it today, it would be different. It was great, he also did a live show called The Beat of the Live Drum where he filmed the concert in a live arena, then took the roof off in post and put in all this amazing stuff.
When you watch his career, do you ever think about his directorial debut being your video?
I was his champion. I knew he was incredible. When I saw “Bop ‘Til You Drop,” I said this is some kind who just came off Return of the Jedi. My favorite video is the one he did called “Dance This World Away.” It’s really, really cool.
Did he even do a lot of takes back then?
We couldn’t do a lot of takes back then because we had to do it in 24 hours.
Those were filmed in 24 hours?
It’s funny that Fincher directed a video from a song on the Hard to Hold album…
Oh, yeah, you’re right…
He should have directed the Hard to Hold movie.
Dude, he would have been – please, it would have been a much better film. That’s the difference between Ricki and the Flash and Hard to Hold — apart from all the great people involved — was the director of that movie hated rock music.
Yeah, he was the son of an opera singer. He went to one rock concert before he started filming and walked out with his fingers in his ears. Where Jonathan is a music freak.
Was that a problem on set?
No, no. It was the first time I had done anything like that, so I would just kind of going on with it and just focusing on my part.
Why didn’t you stay on with Battlestar Galactica after the pilot?
Well, other than your character dies.
I blew up. I was so excited to get the part, and I’m reading the script, and, like 20 pages in, I’m dead, and I’m going, “F*ck.” I’ve signed a lot of stuff actually.
I bet you have.
Sci-fi geeks bring it out, because my photo is on the cover of the DVD or something.
You’re also in True Detective. Do you understand what’s going on?
I don’t watch it.
You don’t watch it?
I don’t watch anything I’m in. And I only saw this movie because Jonathan had a screening. But I don’t like to watch, because once I’ve done it, I can’t change it. It’s not like when I’m recording and I can listen to something and go, “I think we can do that better,” then go in and redo it. With acting, it’s done and you have no more control.
Do you watch your videos?
No. Because of the type of person I am, I’ll find something I don’t like and it will spoil the whole thing for me. But, I did like the movie. I was very pleased with the whole thing. I was more worried about the sound than anything because they didn’t do any overdubs, but I was really pleased.
Well, now you sound happy you’ve watched it. You should watch True Detective.
Eh, knowing my personality, it’s better if I don’t.
That scene you had with Colin Farrell got a lot of attention.
I listen to people that I know who react to it. Because if I watch it and even if someone says, “It’s great,” I’ll see something I don’t like and it will get me down. Suffering from depression isn’t a fun thing and I think that’s where I address that from.
A lot of actors feel that way, but it surprises me that you say it because you are also a rock star and are used to seeing yourself.
I mean, it never really gets easier because you’re still looking for the that thing you do that you don’t like when you do it. It’s a totally personal thing.
You should watch the “Bop ‘Til You Drop” video.
I’ve seen that.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.