Sunday, June 29, 2014

Music According to Benedict - "Can't Keep It Inside" - August: Osage County

Lee GrothOlson had a dream job.

Lee GrothOlson courtesy:


Who? Lee GrothOlson


How? Talent (and location - it's not just important in real estate, you know.)

Why? Benedict Cumberbatch NEEDED her.

See what I mean? DREAM JOB.

So, here's the wrinkle: It sounds like a dream job IF you're a fan of Sherlock (she was), but does the dream become reality when that job is to teach Benedict Cumberbatch (a music lover, but NOT a musician) how to play piano for a minor character (but a key role) in a star-studded film based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play?

Cumberbatch admitted he "auditioned ardently" for the role, having "watched the play with my mum." A successful run of Tracy Letts' dark comedy on Broadway in 2007 was followed by the 2008 UK debut in London at Benedict's home for "Frankenstein" - the National Theater.

What could Ms. GrothOlson, general manager of the Bartlesville Symphony Orchestra, expect when she was told she would have a month's time to teach the actor she enjoyed watching on Masterpiece Mystery! how to play two songs on the piano? Was he a quick study? A slacker? A showman? How would she know?

Well, we all had a few clues about his approach to a role...

During a video promoting the series debut of Sherlock in 2010, Cumberbatch did briefly mention violin lessons, but talked more about his character's motivation for playing:

While taking lessons to learn the violin for the second series of Sherlock, his instructor, violinist Eos Chater observed at their first session:
"He’s very quick- he’s very focused. He’s not at all a muppet. And he’s a real perfectionist. Not content to just look convincing, he wants to sound convincing, too" 
By lesson three, she saw signs even more clearly:
"I was becoming familiar with his laser focus, and his ‘locked onto target’ eyes,  when it’s best to stand back and leave him to work it out for himself.  Having been told once, he knows when and where he’s making mistakes, then he drills and drills until they are smoothed out - any tweaks from me while he’s in this process would be more of a distraction than a help."

After learning the violin, Cumberbatch told Graham Norton on BBC 2 in 2011 that he "had to take up the piano for the next part" he was playing, although he didn't specify the role.

Now, as far as appreciating the musical ability of others is concerned, we know one name consistently comes up whenever Benedict mentions a piano: James Rhodes.

In August 2013, during a conversation about the piano and classical music with Rhodes (filmed for More4's Piano Night), Benedict praised the beauty of the piano, and attempted to play a bit of Debussy's Clair de Lune (one of his favorites):

Those few notes don't tell us very much about his aptitude as a piano student, but GrothOlson likely wasn't too worried, although she admitted to being a bit starstruck. Fortunately, it appears neither of them needed to be concerned, because BOTH only had words of praise for the other.

Surprised? I didn't think so.

GrothOlson was interviewed this past January about how she came to be a part of August: Osage County, as well as working with Cumberbatch:
"Benedict really was such a sweet gentleman, just no pomposity about him. He was just a hard worker, and very much a humble student, willing to learn, and I'm amazed at his ability to learn so quickly."
She shared her on-set experiences as well, noting the unexpected change that Benedict would be playing the tune NOT on a piano, but a split keyboard organ, and how she watched and worried for him as if he were one of her local students performing at a recital.

During a radio interview (also in January) to promote August: Osage County, Benedict was asked if he still played the piano after filming ended, to which he answered,
"I do actually...every now and again," adding, "I'd love to be good at the piano. I've got a little bit of down time now, so that's one of the things I want to focus on is really getting to grips with that instrument, because it's so rewarding, and my teacher in Oklahoma - she was a wonderful lady, and it was one of the best experiences of being there, really, was to have those lessons and to be, to try something a little bit different than I've done before on screen. It's a very rewarding instrument, I think."
Later in the interview, he also observed:
"It's a cool thing to be able to do. There's no getting away from it. It's a very, very cool instrument."
- and praised GrothOlson, as well:

"She was really, really gracious and calm and lovely."
"Really good teacher, very patient. One of the great experiences of being in that part of the world."

Now, the results of work done by a "humble student, willing to learn" and a "wonderful lady" and "really good teacher" don't always end up in film starring Oscar nominees Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts nor in a movie soundtrack, but sometimes, if we're patient, we're all very lucky:

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