Tim McGraw makes his feature film debut in October when Friday Night Lights and Black Cloud (a film produced in 2003 and directed by actor Rick Schroder) hit theaters, but he’s been a comfortable presence on the small screen for more than a decade now with music videos, awards shows and concert specials.
But when he’s asked how all that on-camera experience helped him while making the movie, he’s quick to answer: “I don’t think at all. When you’re shooting a music video, you’re so used to looking at the camera, and that’s the last thing you need to do when you’re doing a movie. And you’re used to performing, and you don’t need to perform when you’re making a movie. If you’re a drunk guy on the hood of a car, then you’re a drunk guy on the hood of a car, and you don’t need to be performing.”
Like his wife, Faith Hill, in The Stepford Wives, McGraw signed on for a supporting role for his film debut. Though many of his songs through the years have a cinematic bent to them, he intends to keep his musical career and his acting separate. In other words, don’t expect Red Ragtop: The Movie any time soon.
“If I get to do movies throughout my lifetime that I’m really proud of, I’ll be happy,” he says. “And I’d love for Faith and I to do movies together someday, too. It’s something I want to do more of, but I’m not going to quit my day job.”
In Friday Night Lights, McGraw plays the alcoholic and abusive father of a running back on a Texas high school football team in 1988. For insight into his character, he thought back to his own teenage years in Louisiana.
“I was an athlete growing up and I spent a lot of time around the ballpark and the football field and the basketball court,” he says. “I could probably take five or six, seven or eight people I knew through my years of playing ball, of drunk fathers showing up and being belligerent and kids getting whacked around.”
Though McGraw still loves a good game of hoops and admits to his competitive streak, he says he won’t be an obnoxious sports dad, himself, and won’t pressure his kids into playing sports as they grow up. “If that’s what they want to do, I’ll be there,” he says. “I’ll do as much of it as they let me.”
The couple’s oldest daughter, 7-year-old Gracie, just finished her first season of basketball. “She scored the first two points of the season,” he says. “That was the last two points she scored, but she got the first two points of the season, so I’m proud of her.”
He’s more reticent when it comes to discussing the death of his father, Tug McGraw.
“Well, you just … that’s all personal,” he says. “You don’t deal with it publicly. Everybody has things they have to deal with. It’s no different for me or anybody else. People deal with stuff that is way more serious than anything that I have to deal with — every day, on a daily basis, without any of the support that I have. I have no right to act like mine was any more serious than anybody else’s.”
McGraw took time off the road to support Hill’s fledgling acting career by hanging out in Connecticut while she filmed The Stepford Wives. To pass the time, he invited his longtime buddies Brad and Brett Warren to visit for a few days, and according to all accounts, it was one hell of a time. McGraw says their pool parties stirred up the ritzy neighborhood, but Brett shrugs off that notion by saying the closest neighbors they knew about were Harry Connick Jr. and his wife, who lived a good distance away.
McGraw first met the Warren Brothers when they opened Faith Hill’s first headlining tour in 1998, when “This Kiss” was dominating the airwaves. Once they found out McGraw liked the same sports and the same whiskey, Brad says, a friendship was forged. Several years later, McGraw produced a Warren Brothers album for RCA, but it was never released. He’s currently taking the freewheeling duo on the road with him, and they all write songs together when they’ve got some free time.
None of their collaborations have surfaced yet, but if they do, they will mark McGraw’s entry into the world of professional songwriting.
“I tell you what, he could be an absolutely great songwriter,” Brad Warren says. “He’s got totally great ideas and instincts. He knows a hit. Obviously he can pick a hit better than anyone else.” Warren jokes, “He’s just so ADD [attention deficit disorder], he is not going to sit in the same room for more than 20 minutes to finish a song.”
Brett Warren says McGraw might casually toss out a great idea and then let the brothers write it, without asking for any credit. (Of course, they write for McGraw’s publishing company.) “He’s a lot smarter than what people give him credit for,” Brett says. “Just the way he operates his business. He thinks three steps ahead of what people think. It’s not luck. You don’t get lucky that many times. If I could say one thing, he’s very intelligent.”
Yet, McGraw says he’s not fond of reflecting on the past.
“You know when you’re in your 20s and you watch Oprah and you see these people that are talking about how bad they had it in life, you’re sitting there thinking, ’Come on.’ But the older you get, the more you think, ’Well, maybe they’ve got a point.’ So you always reflect the older you get, but I still don’t think I’ve gotten to that point.”
He continues, “Kid Rock’s dad told me one night … ’You ever sit back and just look back and think about the things that you’ve done?’ I said, ’No.’ And he said, ’Well, you really need to.’ I just haven’t reached that point yet. I’ve tried. I’ve tried to sit back and reflect on things, but it just doesn’t work for me yet. Maybe it comes out in the music. Maybe the music’s the way that I can do that. But … on a personal level, I can’t sit back and do that yet.”