In Country Strong, Gwyneth Paltrow plays country music superstar Kelly Canter who is struggling with addiction and scandal while attempting to resurrect her failing career. The powerful, music-filled drama features original songs performed by Paltrow and her co-stars that were written for their characters by some of country music’s most notable composers and producers.
When Kelly takes a romantic shine to Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), a talented young man with a guitar who works at the rehab facility where she’s recuperating, tensions flare. Her dedicated but romantically aloof husband/manager James (Tim McGraw) attempts to reignite her stalled career by booking a comeback tour that includes plans to introduce his new protégée, an ambitious beauty-queen-turned-singer named Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester). As the quartet embarks on their fateful tour, romantic complications, dormant demons, and the demands of showbiz threaten to derail all the players in this tale of modern Nashville.
MoviesOnline sat down with the Academy Award-winning actress to talk about her new film. Gwyneth told us how she was excited about the music but nervous about playing someone who was such a huge star, why she felt she was the right actress for the role despite the studio’s initial objections, and how Beyonce and Faith Hill inspired her performance. She also confided how much she enjoyed the guilty pleasure of chowing down on fried chicken & biscuits while shooting in Nashville.
MOVIESONLINE: This seems like a good entry point. The public perception of you as a macrobiotic Buddhist goddess in Manhattan and you’re playing this Vodka-swilling, uncontrollable country singer…
GWYNETH PALTROW: …which is much closer to the real me.
MOVIESONLINE: Was there, not considering your capacity to wrap your head around that, but rather the audience’s capacity to wrap their head around that seeming contrast?
GWYNETH PALTROW: Yeah. I mean, first of all, I think the image that I had for a long time was extremely exaggerated. But, yes, Clint Culpepper, the head of Screen Gems, when the script came to him I was already attached. And he’s like, “You all are crazy. She is so wrong for this part.” And they were like, “No, no. She’s not [right].” And now he’s like, “I can’t believe I thought you were wrong for this part.” He’s like “I admit it.” But, yeah, I think when you think of country super stars, drugs, drink addicts, maybe they don’t think of me immediately. But it’s in there. She’s in there.
MOVIESONLINE: You’ve been quoted as saying you had a good time eating when you were shooting down in Nashville. What types of things did you like to chow down on?
GWYNETH PALTROW: Oh, god. A lot of fried food, fried chicken. There is this restaurant there that makes a slider out of biscuits and fried chicken. It’s really good.
MOVIESONLINE: Is it very hard to find macrobiotic biscuits?
GWYNETH PALTROW: I haven’t been macrobiotic for a long time now but no, probably not. Maybe in Nashville.
MOVIESONLINE: Did you tell Tracy (personal trainer Tracy Anderson) what you were eating?
GWYNETH PALTROW: Yeah, she’s like “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
MOVIESONLINE: How long did it take you to feel kind of loopy?
GWYNETH PALTROW: Well, fortunately for Tracy’s method but unfortunately for me, it worked so well that it took me basically until the end of the movie for everything to fall apart. So, I still kind of look like myself for most of the movie. And then, at the end, when I was finished, I was like “What the fuck?!” but it was too late.
MOVIESONLINE: Were you nervous about the singing in the movie or were you more excited about getting a chance to show people something new?
GWYNETH PALTROW: I was excited about the music but I was nervous about it because I’ve always sang and had a fine voice, but I was nervous about playing somebody who was such a huge star, which is different than playing someone who has a guitar and sings and is trying to make it. It’s a huge difference and I was worried about that. And my singing teacher in London really worked me hard. She’s like “There’s a big voice in there. We’re going to get it out.” I was scared of my own voice. But it was so much fun to discover that and to try and figure out how to play someone who would be believable because it’s such a specific thing. I obsessively watched Beyoncé perform because I was like she’s it in terms of a performer; like the talent and the confidence, and I thought if I can just get a little bit of that incredible self-belief and abandon that she has on stage. So that’s what I was focusing on for that final performance of the movie where you see Kelly Canter and [realize] why she’s a star – hopefully.
MOVIESONLINE: And yet there is also so much vulnerability. Can you talk about that and the breakdown scene that you have on stage? I was thinking of Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter. Did that inspire you at all?
GWYNETH PALTROW: There have been a few like Johnny Cash breakdown scenes. I was like I know this has to be different in terms of how and what’s happening. Shana (Feste) and I talked about it a lot. It was hard. It was sad. And you know what was amazing was the audience. Our extras and the actors who were in the audience were amazing. They were so with me. It was an incredible experience because they didn’t know when they got there what it was. It was like this amazing exchange of energy. They were so great. They really made that day work.
MOVIESONLINE: Can you tell us more about what it was like working with Shana, working with her on set, and how you came to the project?
GWYNETH PALTROW: I got the script and of course I didn’t read it because I’m a terrible script reader. But my friend, Jenno (Topping), was producing it. So after a couple of weeks she said “Can you please do me a favor and just read this script?” And I read it and I couldn’t put it down. I thought it was just very haunting. It drew me in. I kept thinking about it. And then I met Shana and she was just great. She’s really cool, and smart, and I liked her sensibility a lot. And then I saw her movie, The Greatest, and I just cried and cried. I was like she really has something. She really knows how to, I don’t know, there was like a subtlety in the emotion and I thought like, okay. I’ll do it. And on set she’s great. She just gives you a lot of freedom. She loves actors. She loves when you do something good. So it’s fun.
MOVIESONLINE: How did it feel to perform at the CMA’s? What was the experience like getting a standing ovation?
GWYNETH PALTROW: Oh, my god. It was the most surreal, amazing, bizarre, exhilarating experience. I feel like I’ll look back on it always and just be like, what a moment in my life. I can’t believe I was there and I did that. And I was very overwhelmed by the standing ovation. It really brought a tear to my eye. I was just amazed that people were so supportive and it gave me chills. It was amazing. It was just amazing.
MOVIESONLINE: What was Chris’s reaction to the film?
GWYNETH PALTROW: He hasn’t seen it yet.
MOVIESONLINE: Oh, really. Did he give you any tips?
GWYNETH PALTROW: Yes, he did. He was great. But to be totally honest, I kind of picked the brains of my girl singer friends more because I think it’s a very different thing to be a male in a band as opposed to a lead, like Beyoncé or Faith Hill, just there by yourself. They were amazing. They were both so supportive of me and just like, I don’t know. They were so generous of spirit. The only reason I got through the CMA’s was because of them. Beyoncé was in London. She helped me so much before I went. When I got to Nashville, Faith helped me so much. And Faith had also said to me, “You know, 30 days before you do it, just start singing it.” She said “Sing it every day so you know the vocal part is just in your muscle memory and you don’t worry about the vocal.” And thank God, because if she hadn’t told me that, just all the stuff that she [suggested]. She’s like “Wear one of your inner ears in and one out so you can hear the room and you can hear everything.” I did everything she said and she got me through it.
MOVIESONLINE: Can you talk about your leading men, both Garrett and Tim?
GWYNETH PALTROW: Yes, both total hunks. I love both of them. Garrett is so sweet. He’s so like big and tall, strong, but he’s got such an incredible sensitivity and vulnerability. And Tim is just great. He’s got so much in there. When you look in his eyes, it like there’s so much. And he’s so intense. It was fun to work with somebody who is like discovering how good they are at a different thing. He has real chops. I love both of them. It was great.
MOVIESONLINE: What do you look for in roles? Having been in the industry for so long, do you only do movies that really speak to you now? And what do you expect over the next 10 years?
GWYNETH PALTROW: I have no idea. I try to do things where I’m going to feel challenged in some way. I only really do one movie a year. I did this one at the beginning of the year and I just did a tiny part in this movie called Contagion.
MOVIESONLINE: We’re super excited for that.
GWYNETH PALTROW: You are?
MOVIESONLINE: Yes. Soderbergh! Cmon!
GWYNETH PALTROW: He is amazing. Oh, my god. He is so good. What a great experience that was. So, I want to do something where it’s like either short and with someone great like Steven Soderbergh, or take one project. I just want to work with good people. I want to push myself and challenge myself. But I don’t know. I’m very open to it. I feel so grateful and just excited about where I am right now. I just feel like I’ve had this really surprising autumn where I’ve got to do a lot of singing and be on Glee. You know, just whatever. Just anything that’s fun and different and is going to be inspiring.
MOVIESONLINE: Do you have any tips for Moms on how you ease the guilt of working?
GWYNETH PALTROW: No. Do you? It’s very hard. It’s been really hard for them this fall because I’m always home or they’re always with me, because I keep making these quick trips and don’t want to pull them out of school to take them to Hong Kong for one day of filming. It’s just not feasible. It’s mean, even though I want to. It’s hard. I also think it’s important that I say how much I love what I do, and how lucky I am to have my job so that they also feel excited for me because I don’t want to paint it as “Isn’t it terrible?”
[Gwyneth’s cell phone rings]
MOVIESONLINE: What’s your ring tone?
GWYNETH PALTROW: Dirt off Your Shoulder by Jay Z. But I think it’s important that they know that I feel, as much as I’m going to miss them and as hard as it is for me to be away from them for a week or four days, or whatever it is, that I have an incredible thing that I do that I love to do. So they ask me questions about it. But when I came for Glee they came with me. They still come a lot. I’ll pull them out of school if it’s going to be more than a few days. But it’s hard. It’s hard. There’s no answer.
MOVIESONLINE: Could you see yourself ever playing a few dates singing, just doing a small arena or small showroom and just going somewhere?
GWYNETH PALTROW: Small arena?
MOVIESONLINE: Could you see yourself doing that?
GWYNETH PALTROW: I don’t know. They asked me to sing at the Opry, which I would love to do. So, I don’t know. I would love to. I’m having a lot of fun. I’m going to sing this like Yahoo country music show thing tomorrow. I think it’s tomorrow.
MOVIESONLINE: And you are also getting your star on the Walk of Fame tomorrow.
GWYNETH PALTROW: Yes. That’s tomorrow.
MOVIESONLINE: What’s that feel like?
GWYNETH PALTROW: I’m very honored. I feel shy about it, like what? Really? Did someone bribe the mayor of Hollywood? What is going on? But I think about my kids and grandkids. I think about my kids being grown up and taking their kids and say, gosh, that might be there for a while. It’s kind of cool.
MOVIESONLINE: I had a chance to speak with Mr. Damon and he said that working on Contagion activated the most full-blown case of germaphobia he ever had and all he wanted to do was wash his hands. Did you have a similar reaction?
GWYNETH PALTROW: Well, fortunately, or unfortunately, my brother read an article in the New York Observer about ten years ago where, basically, someone went around swabbing surfaces in New York City. So, thanks to him, I’ve been kind of a germaphobe for about 8 years, or whenever it was. He was like “By the way, there’s staph on everything.” But, you know what? I believe that our bodies are equipped to do what they were meant to do and if you start to think about the minutia of all of that, and look at parasites and viruses under a microscope, I mean, it’s just horrific. Our bodies, for the most part, know what to do.
MOVIESONLINE: It makes them stronger.
GWYNETH PALTROW: Yeah.
MOVIESONLINE: You know, Kelly comes to this sort of tragic end. I wonder if you thought that was the only possibility for the character?
GWYNETH PALTROW: I did. I really did. You know there was a line in the original script that we shot that wasn’t in the movie because somebody, I think the studio, thought it was too confusing. I don’t know. But where Tim looks at me, like I’ve done something particularly horrible, and he just says, “When are you going to let me off?” I felt like I needed to let him off. It was like she just wasn’t going to conquer her demons, not in this lifetime. I think it was her time, in a way. And I liked that she became sort of a guardian angel for Leighton and Garrett’s characters.
“Country Strong” opens wide in theaters on January 7th.