Tim McGraw eases through the door of the small recording studio on Nashville’s Music Row and moves around the semi-circle of reporters shaking hands. He’s wearing jeans, a long sleeve shirt and a dark ski cap and sporting a beard he’s grown for his upcoming movie.
“It’s driving me crazy,” he says of the facial hair, as he seats himself on a stool and faces his inquisitors.
Before he becomes enmeshed in his next movie, Love Don’t Let Me Down, which will soon begin shooting in Nashville, McGraw has been calling radio stations to help goose his current single, “Southern Voice,” up the charts. This week it’s at No. 4, and he and his team are hoping it has the legs to go No. 1.
A reporter asks him how he feels about saluting the late coach, Bear Bryant, and the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide football team in the lyrics of “Southern Voice,” a song written by Tom Douglas and Bob DiPiero.
“I hate that part of the song,” the Louisiana native groans. “God! You know how many times I’ve tried to make ’LSU Tigers’ blend in with that [lyric]? But I couldn’t do it.”
McGraw is clearly pleased that The Blind Side, the inspirational movie in which he co-stars with Sandra Bullock, is a box office hit. But he confesses he was initially reluctant to act in another movie that involved football, having already done so in Friday Night Lights. Nor was he looking to be in a family film. He’d been there with Flicka.
“I was really looking for something heavier and darker,” he explains — something, he jokes, that involved him killing people. In the end, though, he adds, the high quality of the script won him over.
McGraw counts himself one of Bullock’s major fans on several levels. Besides being “very professional,” he says, “She’s friendly. She’s not a diva at all. She’s kind of like your best friend’s sister, the one that you liked and was cool to hang out with. And [me] being the father of three daughters, to see a woman with that kind of success, it’s always good. You always applaud that.”
Acting in movies, he points out, isn’t all that different from recording.
“When you’re in the studio and you’re in a dark room like this and you’ve got the lights off and you’ve got the headphones on and you’re singing this song — well, yeah, it’s your voice and you’re singing it and you’re being emotional about it, but you’re singing about a character that’s sort of walking through a scene.
“So you sort of find a way to see through that guy’s eyes and walk through the scene with [him]. … Or you try to create an empathy. It’s not about whether you like the guy or don’t like the guy. It’s about an understanding — of wanting to see how this ends up. It’s the same when I’m doing a character in a movie. It’s my job to go in and make people interested in how this guy’s life is going to turn out.”
But he does recognize a major difference between doing music and movies.
“I’m sort of used to being in control of what I do in music and touring,” he says. “Then you go to work in a movie and you’re sort of like a paid hand.”
Although Love Don’t Let Me Down, which stars Gwyneth Paltrow, concerns the country music business, McGraw says he wanted a non-singing role, which he got. He says he’s met Paltrow and is impressed by how good a singer she is.
Over the years, McGraw has expressed an interest in going into politics. But right now, that’s a prospect very far on the horizon.
“I don’t have time [for politics],” he says with a chuckle. “I grew up in Louisiana, and it’s like a sport there. … I’ve always been fascinated by it. … I feel you are obligated to a certain extent to help [people] and do what you can, whether it’s in politics or not. Politics is something to me that I would never go into just to say I’ve done it.
“But somewhere down the line, if I feel like there’s something I can step into and make a difference and do some good, then I think it’s just a matter if the time lines up with the cause and the reason in my life. Then it would be something that I’m interested in. But it’s not something I’m going to go and pursue.”
Twenty-five minutes into the round-robin conversation, a producer tells McGraw it’s time to make another phone call. But the singer-actor-songwriter is in no hurry to leave. So he lingers to take another question or two. After all, there are so many things to talk about these days.