Gwyneth Paltrow returns to the mic in her latest feature film entitled Country Strong. It’s a drama that centers on a country music superstar who’s hit rock bottom in her career and her personal life. The actress, who has a perfectly good singing voice, takes center stage alongside real life music veteran Tim McGraw who plays her worrisome husband in the film. When we had the opportunity to speak to Paltrow about her latest gig, she opened up about the wonders of the country genre, and the hard work that went into creating her onstage persona. Check out the interview…
There’s a really rich history of movies about country music. Did you watch any of them in preparation for the role?
Gwyneth Paltrow: I watch a lot of them. I watched Tender Mercies a lot, and The Coal Miner’s Daughter. And I watched a lot of DVD performance videos to prepare and I studied all of the ladies of country. Because it wasn’t like I was playing someone who was trying to be a country music singer, I was playing a huge country music star, which was much more daunting, because some movies are about somebody who is trying to make it or are on their way to making it, but she’s on the way down and had been this massive star. So I was like, “Wait a minute, how do you play being a huge country star?” So I just watched everybody. But, honestly, I think the thing that made me feel, “Okay, I sort of feel like I get this” is I watched Beyonce a ton – because I think she’s the best live performer happening right now – and she has this amazing confidence. And I thought to myself, “If I can just get a tiny bit of that self-confidence, then maybe I can pull off this scene at the end.” You wouldn’t necessarily think that Beyonce would be an inspiration for country music, right? [laughs]
You’ve performed in films in the past, do you have a formal singing background?
GP: Well, I had never studied voice and I have a naturally, perfectly nice singing voice, but these songs had a lot of scope to them and I really needed to build up a strength. And my singing teacher in London was really a task master and was really focused on getting a much bigger voice out of me, which I was surprised to find in myself. So that was kind of exciting. And just working on all of the technical parts of singing and also learning how to sing something over and over and over again.
Have you always been a fan of country music?
GP: No, I grew up in New York City where there’s no country music radio stations so I just wasn’t exposed to it. Of course, you hear the major things, the crossover acts, and I loved a lot of the crossovers like Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, and Patty Griffin. I remember going to see John Prine when I was younger, but I was never exposed to it a lot or heard it a lot until I took the role and then I sort of had to get serious about learning about country music. And I really fell in love with it. I mean, this whole thing is very surprising to me, but to discover a whole genre of music at 37 years old and be all psyched about it and geek out on it was fun. I never thought I would be a country music fan or singer or anything.
What did you learn about the country world?
GP: Quite a lot, actually. People in country music are really nice people. They’re very warm and they’re very open and supportive of each other, and they’ve got a lot of southern hospitality. It was nice. It didn’t feel as cutthroat as other lines of entertainment. It’s really nice people.
When you’re standing on stage in front of thousands of people, even during a movie shoot do you feel like a rock star?
GP: Well, not entirely, but when we were shooting the end of the movie where I do this big performance, by halfway though the day – because at first I was terrified – but then by halfway through the day I thought, “Oh, this is actually kind of fun. I can see why people do this job.” But, of course, my fans were paid to be there [laughs]. It guarantees a good response.
How did you learn the accent?
GP: I had a really good accent coach and we were in Tennessee. I was always nervous to do it in front of Tim, just because a) he teases me all the freaking time and b) his accent is so… but once I got the stamp of approval from Tim I was like, “Okay.”
Is this the beginning of a new work cycle for you? You have taken off a few years in the past and had breaks between projects. Are we going to be seeing a lot more of you?
GP: No, don’t worry [laughs]. I can do kind of one thing a year. I did this at the beginning of [last] year, in January, and then the Contagion thing was like one day in Hong Kong and like four days in Chicago, so I was able to squeeze that in. But I really can’t do more than one thing a year. It’s just not worth it to my family and everything.
Can you talk about your character in Contagion? Did you do any training with the Center for Disease Control?
GP: My character in that is totally unaware. I get the virus very early on. Kate Winslet plays the CDC doctor. I’m not playing like someone from the Czech Republic who does backhand springs or anything like that. It’s pretty straight forward.
How is it being a part of this ensemble?
GP: The movie is a really exciting movie. We all kind of have these little parts in it. We’re all important parts in the whole overall thing. It’s exciting for me because I got to work with Steven Soderbergh.
Do you get to be in The Avengers?
GP: No, I’m not in The Avengers.
So when do you have to be on call for Iron Man 3?
GP: I don’t know. I think it comes out in 2013, so I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything about anything yet. I really don’t know.
What’s been piling up around the house while you’ve been out working?
GP: I don’t know. I don’t like to let too many things pile up, although I’m a terrible script reader. I’ll have a script, and I’ll see the movie coming out and I’m like, “I’m sure that’s on my desk. I meant to read that.” [laughs]
What does it take for you to pick up a script from the pile?
GP: Well, this one, for example, my friend, Jenno [Topping], was the producer and she’s been a really good friend of mine for like 15 years. So she just beat the shit out of me until I read it [laughs]. But I’m glad I did!
Country Strong opens in theaters everywhere on January 7.