Toby Keith Takes a Trip in Beer for My Horses

Inspired by Duet With Willie Nelson, His Second Film Is Ready for Theatrical Release

Toby Keith’s fans will see him become Joe Bill “Rack” Racklin when his new film, Beer for My Horses, has its theatrical debut Friday (Aug. 8).

The Oklahoma native already achieved a level of success as an actor in a previous movie, Broken Bridges, but the new project also provided him with additional challenges as a producer and writer. Beer for My Horses was produced jointly by CMT Films and Keith, and he co-wrote the script with comedian Rodney Carrington, who co-stars in the film. Directed by Michael Salomon, the film also stars Claire Forlani (CSI: NY), Ted Nugent, Barry Corbin and Greg Serano. Willie Nelson and Tom Skerritt are also featured.

Beer for My Horses features Keith and Carrington as sheriff’s deputies on a road trip while they chase a drug lord and kidnapper. The film soundtrack arrives in stores Tuesday (Aug. 12).

In a recent conversation with CMT Insider, Keith talked about the film and his friendship with Carrington. Here’s a portion of that interview:

What’s the most different about this movie compared to the first time around?

The first movie was somebody else’s movie, somebody else’s script, somebody else’s idea with a role that I had to go in and play. This movie was written by me, for me. It’s about me. It’s got my fingerprints all over it, so it’s a different animal.

Does it give you a different level of satisfaction?

Absolutely, when you start with an idea and say, “I’m gonna go do this,” I mean, you’re gonna spend some money. You’re gonna put some money where your mouth is on this deal because you’re gonna go out and you’re gonna put your time and effort into it and start from scratch. You’re gonna complete the screenplay. You’re gonna get the movie going. You’re gonna have to go back it up and see it through. It’s an undertaking, but it was worth it. I knew it would be. I knew it would be a long journey, but that it would be worth it in the end, and I couldn’t be more pleased with it.

Your character is really the only sane one in the movie.

(Laughs) I’m the Andy Griffith in Mayberry in this bunch, but that’s the way it’s set up. It’s real nice tip of the hat to Burt Reynolds and the way he made movies. I don’t see movies like that anymore. I mean, I see movies I appreciate and comedies and things that I like, but there was a certain amount of charm that came with the Burt Reynolds movies that I wanted to relive. I miss those kind of movies. I miss Smokey and the Bandit and I miss Hooper and even some of those Clint Eastwood things, Every Which Way but Loose and things like that. … You don’t see people make those movies anymore. And so when we set out and wrote the script, that’s the direction that we went. That’s our vibe.

So that’s what you were going for?

It is. It’s 48 Hours meets Smokey and the Bandit. … It’s hard to come up with a new cop plot that hasn’t already been done. They’ve just about all been used up, but, at the same time, if you can keep enough twists and turns in it to make some people go “wow” and still be a comedy, too, then I think you’re accomplishing what you set out to do. And I think that’s what we did. I wanted it to be better than the average just straight-ahead cop story, but at the same time I wanted it to be a great comedy. So combining the two, I just wanted it to be explosive when we got to the end. … I tried three different ways to write it as a serious cop movie, action movie … involving all those writers from Hollywood. It always took away the Southern ease. The dialogue was never right when you’re dealing with somebody who wasn’t from here, so … I just said, “Hey, this thing’s a comedy, and I’m gonna get Rodney to come in and do it with me.” And we started writing the dialogue, and it just became clear to me that I was doing the right thing.

If you’re Andy Griffith in the movie, then Rodney is Barney Fife.

Oh, no question. He plays an adorable character. He plays a character named Lonnie Luther Freeman that is just absolutely adorable. He is my character’s best friend. … The relationship between Rack and Lonnie is what makes you pull for them, and that’s what we try to do. We try to establish that even though Lonnie Freeman is a numb skull, he’s still Rack’s best friend and the only guy Rack can go talk to about his personal life.

Did it help having a guy who’s a real life friend of yours playing your friend in the movie?

You know, it’s really weird. He’s so good. Rodney had his own television show on ABC, but he’s so good as an actor. Rodney’s a great person. He’s really sincere in real life. He loves his family. He’s all about the good things in life. He doesn’t bring all of that baggage to the table like a lot of people bring when you’re successful. … Then when he plays Lonnie Freeman, he’s a complete nitwit. Even if we were friends going into it, I don’t think that it helped our relationship because he is such the opposite in real life of what Lonnie Freeman is. Rack just had to adore Lonnie. It’s like, if you don’t make Lonnie and Rack best friends, then there’s no reason to bring Lonnie along for the journey because if they’re not best friends, you don’t want him having your back.

In your acting style, is there anybody that you would like to compared to?

I haven’t done it long enough to say I’m shooting for that. I sing, and I can tell you who my heroes were, but I never did aspire to be an actor. It’s something that came about through the process of what I do for a living. It grew into that. …. Burt Reynolds told me on the last movie, “There’s two things that can make a successful leading guy. You have to be dangerous or you have to be charming.” And he said. “I was never very dangerous, but I was always charming as hell.” And he said John Wayne was both. He was charming and dangerous.” … He said you have that quality to be charming and dangerous. And he goes, “You need to stay with this.” You know, whether that’s BS or not, he took the time to pull me aside, and he felt like he needed to tell me that. So that kinda fits what I’m after. And that also fits the way this movie is. In this movie I try to be as charming as possible, but capable and dangerous at the same time. And so that’s kinda the way Rack’s character was built around that format.

Editor’s note: The interview was conducted by CMT Insider producer Terry Bumgarner.