Garrett thanks for the Tex Ritter Award for the movie ‘Country Strong’ in this video as he didn’t attend the ceremony.
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Tex Ritter Award
Country Strong recieved the Tex Ritter Award, which is given to a movie released and/or receiving major exposure during the preceding calendar year, featuring or utilizing country music. Country Strong (Produced by Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Entertainment.) is a drama film starring Oscar® winner Gwyneth Paltrow as a country superstar staging a comeback, while two-time ACM male vocalist winner Tim McGraw played her husband and manager. Meanwhile, rising stars Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester portrayed the challenges and rewards of building a career as a performing songwriter. The accompanying soundtrack featured strong performances by the film’s four leading characters, along with country stars like Trace Adkins, Sara Evans, Faith Hill, Ronnie Dunn, Patty Loveless, Hank Williams Jr., Lee Ann Womack and Chris Young. Past recipients of the Tex Ritter Award include Beer For My Horses, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Crazy Heart, O Brother, Where Art Thou, Sweet Dreams and Walk the Line, among others.
Writer/director of ‘Country Strong’ Shana Feste talks about her love of country music and how that influenced her creative decisions.
Thanks to films like Walk The Line and Crazy Heart, country music has enjoyed a push back into the cinematic limelight in recent years, and writer/director Shana Feste’s Country Strong looks set to continue this trend. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw and Garrett Hedlund, Country Strong follows a fallen country music star who works with a rising singer/songwriter to find herself again.
What inspired you to write and direct this film?
I think it stemmed from my love of country music. I lived in Austin while going to grad school and I was dating a country singer and I kind of fell in love with the world and that genre of music. It’s one of the few genres of music that still emphasises storytelling. As a writer that hits home for me.
Can you talk about casting actors who could sing rather than the other way around?
That was the most important thing. Coming from the South, I wanted this to feel authentic and there was talk in the beginning about re-voicing actors. You know, ‘Put other actors on the list. Even if you don’t think they can sing, it won’t make a difference.’ And you’re thinking, ‘Oh God, that seems like a disaster.’ You’re making a movie about country music and you’re re-voicing your actors? This, like, cheesy Disney voice comes on? I can always tell when actors are re-voiced in films.
I worked off a list of actors I knew could sing, except for Garrett. Garrett was actually the first person I cast. When I met him he could not sing or play the guitar and I had never seen him in a dramatic performance. With Garrett, I had a really honest conversation and I said, ‘You know, you’re not ready to play this role tomorrow. You know that. I think you will be ready to play this role but I need you to be mine for the next few months. You can’t take another job. I need to work with you.’ He gave everything up. He didn’t take another job. For four months he would come to my house and he’d do monologues and we’d do scene studies. He worked with a vocal coach and he worked with a guitar teacher. Then he moved to Nashville about two months early and stayed at Tim’s [McGraw] guesthouse on a ranch and started going into the recording studio. I started seeing progress every week and it was something that was really exciting.
Did you try to get Tim to sing?
I wanted Tim to sing and he would sing on set all the time but then it kind of started to blur the lines. Is it Tim McGraw? Or is it James Canter? I didn’t want to blur those lines.
I’m really glad that I did not go to a Tim McGraw concert until after I started shooting the movie. After it wrapped my producer and I went to a Tim McGraw concert and I was like, ‘I think I have a crush on Tim McGraw.’
It seems like it takes one set of skills to direct a feature film and another to direct a concert film. Is it a markedly different thing?
Yeah. It definitely was. My favourite concert film is The Last Waltz and I watched that a lot. Directing musical performances is also very different from directing two actors having an intimate conversation in a room. When they get on stage it’s all about confidence and that’s something that’s very hard to direct. What I found most valuable was using the extras in Nashville. I could not have directed those performances without those extras. Gwyneth was so nervous back stage, just shaking when she was about to play for thousands of extras in Dallas. When she came out and started singing, they stood up on their feet and started applauding and cheering for her. I saw how that impacted her performance. There’s a direct correlation between how loud they yelled and how much confidence she exuded in the performance.
Even though we only see snippets of certain musical performances in the film, did you actually film complete sequences for them?
We did. My first cut came in at three hours because I just wanted to keep every single song. That was really tough in the editing room. Deciding how much to show of each song and when to cut and go back to the scenes. If I had my way, I could have made a true musical out of this film and just held onto these songs.
Do you know what your next project is going to be?
It’s something very different. Something I have not done before. It’s called The Outlaws and it’s about father and son bank robbers so it’s a genre film. It’s definitely a dramatic genre film with strong character roles but it has a lot of action, which I’ve robbers so it’s a genre film. It’s definitely a dramatic genre film never done before so I’m excited.
Thanks to Mel!
Garrett Hedlund has mixed and matched his roles throughout his career and from the success of Tron: Legacy he switches for the musical drama Country Strong.
He teams up with Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Leighton Meester in the Shana Feste directed movie.
- How did you get involved in this project?
I had been sent the script and told that, if I responded to it, Shana Feste would fly up to Vancouver where I was filming Tron: Legacy and meet with me. I remember reading the script and having tears in my eyes by the end.
I really wanted her to come up and have this meeting. I felt honored that she would come all the way up to Vancouver to meet with me. It’s tricky though. You read a tagline or synopsis that says, ‘A triangular love affair that takes places on a ten city tour’ and your immediate thought is to set it aside.
Or else they could have explained it a little bit differently. I find Shana so incredibly talented and wonderful. This being her second film, I feel so proud to be a part of it and proud for her.
- How did you prepare to play a musician?
The biggest thing was overcoming lack of coordination. I couldn’t play at the beginning and this guy Neal Casal, who’s the lead guitarist from Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, stopped by my place and four days a week we’d be playing early Hank Sr. songs and the Byrds or just things to play that had chord progression.
We’d go to the studio and record and chart the progression. That was for four months. Then I moved out to Nashville a month before the shoot and stayed at Tim’s ranch cabin.
Like anything, it takes time to gain the abilities and you’ve got to fall on your face so many times. You’ve got to look silly in front of so many people before you finally start finding the ability and finding confidence within the approvals of others.
- Do you prefer playing dive bars or stadiums?
I prefer the dive bars. In most of these [movies], they cut in close to the fingers and they have a hand double just going at it. They’re mocking chords when the camera’s farther away. I was in fear that I would have to do everything on my own.
I was like, ‘These scenes are beautiful. I’ll work on these scenes but I can’t wait to do them with Gwyneth and Leighton and Tim.’ Performing, I thought, ‘Can we just get this over with?’
Our first time performing for an audience was at the stage, like the first musical scene in the film. I just remember having so much fun up there, but it also helps because I felt great about the songs. Having Hayes Carll there, whom I admire so much as a singer songwriter and who’s very parallel to this character, has a real Blaze Foley kind of grit to him.
When you’re confident and the songs are good, the audience enjoys it so it’s not hard for them to partake in just kind of really cheering and being genuine with it.
- Were you a fan of country music?
I grew up on a farm. We had one radio station and it was all country. Tim McGraw would be filling the airwaves then and I’d be in the tractor listening to Tim songs and Faith Hill songs and then for him to play my father in Friday Night Lights.
I got up on stage with him in 2004 and sang, I Like It, I Love It. But I wasn’t a country singer. I was like, ‘Can I sing ‘Don’t Take the Girl’?’ He said, ‘No, you’re singing ‘I Like It, I Love It.’ You’ll catch on.’
So I’m up there just kind of mouthing with him, ‘I like it. I love it.’ His guidance within this was great. He said, ‘You just have to live and breathe countrymusic. There are thousands of people out here who are incredibly talented just trying to gain success. You’ve got to meet the scales that are raised so high and really live and breathe country music.’
That’s what I tried to do. He let me stay at his cabin, which was just great because I got to work with the guitar coach out there – this guy Rob Jackson – who’s kind of the best of the best in guitar training.
I got to go to the studio every day and work with this producer Frank Liddell and engineer Luke Wooten. They work with a lot of incredible people. I was kind of taken in by these people who were trying to help me succeed the way I wanted to succeed and wanted to help me get there. Once they saw a possibility in it, we just sort of ran for that door.
Trading in his “Tron: Legacy” neon-trim helmet for a ten-gallon hat, Garrett Hedlund explained how he had a learning curve in preparing to play up-and-coming country singer Beau Hutton in “Country Strong” — but that it was one that brought him back to his past. “I grew up in a very small Minnesota town where we only had one radio station, and it was all country music,” he said. “So that’s why it was very surreal on ‘Friday Night Lights’ to be working with Tim McGraw, because (McGraw’s) “Don’t Take the Girl” is my favorite song, and (I grew up) driving in the tractor and singing it, and next Tim’s playing my father. It’s very surreal.”
Even with his background as a fan of country, Hedlund had to work to get his voice up to speed. “I wasn’t a country singer by any means,” he said. “I was familiar with all the great old men. My grandfather used to play Johnny Cash to our turkeys. Me and Shana Feste (director and writer) had sat down ever since August. Me and Shana would meet up every Tuesday and Thursday and sit and watch old documentaries, either ‘The Highwaymen’ or things on Kris Kristofferson, Roger Miller — just all these great performers. Waylon (Jennings), Merle (Haggard). Just what they were about, the soul to them — and trying to bring that soul to this.”
Hedlund also elaborated on how his preparation — and tastes — have more to do with how country was in the past than the current form of the genre, a discussion that underlies much of the showbiz subplots of “Country Strong.” “The music today in country music had changed so much from when I was on the farm,” he said. “Once you move to the city, you kind of go away from that, go alternative. But when I came out here, country was home and kind of flew back to it and really made me feel much better. I was relaxed a lot more in the chaotic city of Los Angeles with country music. But today’s music, I hadn’t almost known a single song when we were starting back in August, and by the time March rolled around and we’d finished, there wasn’t a song I didn’t know every inflection to.”
Hedlund’s well aware of the weird gap between his work in “Tron: Legacy” and “Country Strong.” Add in his work on the yet-to-be-released adaptation of Kerouac’s “On the Road” and his explanation of the changes he went through is exhausting to hear, never mind live: “By the time I did ‘Tron’ I had to start a massive amount of training for capoeira and parkour and physical training and motorcycle and all the wire rigs and things like that, so the physicality came into play, the physical transition. And then having wrapped that, then straight into the guitar, just sitting back and feeling the soul of all these tunes and moving out to Nashville and the pulled pork and the lovely Lower Broad venues that we frequented. I ended up going up to 200 pounds for ‘Country Strong,’ and after I finished, I said, ‘OK, now you have five weeks before ‘Tron’ re-shoots.’ So then I got with the trainer and then I had to lose 30 pounds to get back into the suit, because the suit was what it was.
“Then we had to do ‘On the Road,’ or getting ready for ‘On the Road,’ but I had to keep the facial hair to go to Nashville to do additional scenes for ‘Country Strong.’ … It was just so chaotic. It’s been such a multiple-personality sort of disorderly year.” Hedlund laughed at his shifts and multiple personas over the past year: “How can I make that make sense?”
Thanks to Elle for linking and Laura for posting over at Garrett Minds
Garrett Hedlund believes he “won the lottery” by landing a role alongside Gwyneth Paltrow.
The actor is one of Hollywood’s brightest rising young stars, having featured in Four Brothers and Tron: Legacy, among other movies.
In Country Strong he portrayed Beau Hutton and filmed a number of scenes with Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth. And it is this that Garrett is most thankful for, especially as she was incredibly kind to him on set.
“Gwyneth is so incredible – she couldn’t have been any sweeter to me. I think I won the lottery in this situation,” he told the British edition of Glamour.
In the movie, Garrett’s character works to try and help singer Kelly Canter, who is portrayed by Gwyneth. For the 26-year-old it was a dream come true, yet it did have its drawbacks as he was terrified of performing in front of a crowd.
“Country Strong was a dream role. I play a singer-songwriter who goes on tour with Kelly,” he said.
“Singing live was scary. I’d been playing around Nashville with my on-screen band to prepare for the role, but when it’s the first take in front of 500 – 1,000 people, your fingers get jittery between chord transitions.”
Garrett has also landed a role in the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s famous novel On the Road. It stars sexy Twilight actress Kristen Stewart and he says moviegoers will have to wait and see if he gets romantic with her, or buy the original text. “When somebody asks, ‘Do you kiss Kristen’s character?’ I’m like, ‘Well read the book!’”
Great response Garrett! People, read the book!
Thank you to Celine for posting over at Garrett Minds
In other news, I MET EVA. IT WAS THE BEST. WE WENT DANCING AND HAD COCKTAILS AND HAD INTENSE GARRETT CHAT. I LOVE HER. <3