Tim McGraw, Country Strong Stars Discuss Their Roles

Leighton Meester, Gwyneth Paltrow Join CMT Insider Interview

Despite his high profile as a country superstar, Tim McGraw says he didn’t worry about the musical element of Country Strong, a new feature film depicting an alcoholic country star’s comeback attempt. Instead, he focused on the story itself.

“The main thing was how good were the characters and how was it written,” he told CMT Insider host Katie Cook. “’Is it going to be so much music-based that the characters don’t really mean that much?’ When I found out that Gwyneth was going to do it, I realized that the characters were going to be very well done. Then I read the script, and it’s such a great, great script. It was so well-written and the characters are so well developed that I knew the music would eventually find its way.”

McGraw joined Paltrow and Leighton Meester (who plays aspiring country star Chiles Stanton) to visit with Cook about Country Strong, which is now in theaters nationwide.

CMT Insider: Well, let’s talk about your characters. If you would describe Kelly Canter. …

Paltrow: When the movie starts, she’s in rehab, but she’s a massive country star who has kind of gone off the rails a bit. I think she’s a person who wishes she was like Faith [Hill], but she’s really actually more like Courtney Love or Shelby Lynne. … That’s how I sort of approached her. She’s just got demons, and she’s not really able to conquer them that easily. It’s hard for her. Tim plays her husband and manager. When the film starts, he’s trying to resurrect her career by starting this comeback tour. And he’s found this beautiful young singer-songwriter to open for Kelly, which is a whole other can of worms.

Tim, you’ve certainly known a manager or two in your day. Is your character, James, a pretty typical country music manager?

McGraw: Well, I don’t know because now that I’ve seen it through a manager’s eyes, I understand that artists are difficult. I didn’t think that before. (laughs)


McGraw: I thought the artists were always right before. But now to see it through a manager’s eyes, I realize it could be pretty difficult. No, I don’t know if it’s typical. I don’t think that any situation’s typical. I don’t think any artist is typical. I think that artists are such different people and the routes are so different that you take in order to succeed, I think every manager has a specific style they have to find that works for them. I was just trying to develop this character in a way that was from an emotional side. I wasn’t really trying to look at it as, technically, was this what a manager would do? … I was looking at it from a human point of view, as what is this guy thinking? From everything that he knows and all the information that he has around him and the people that he’s dealing with, what would he do and what were the decisions he would make? Really, from my point of view, I tried to look at my character as really the only adult.

Leighton, let’s talk about Chiles Stanton, your character. First of all, describe her.

Meester: Chiles comes on the comeback tour with Kelly Canter, with James as her manager. She comes on to it thinking that this is her big break. She’s a really new, inexperienced young singer-songwriter who gets very nervous and insecure when it comes to performing. And she loves Gwyneth’s character, admires her, and then she meets her and she’s not everything she ever hoped. They’re not best friends right off the bat. (laughs) I think she has a lot of insecurities for that, but rightly so, because Gwyneth is so big and really talented and really kind of shows her up a lot. But she comes into her own and develops her own style and security and sophistication and grows a lot. I think that the relationship between you guys [McGraw and Paltrow] is also interesting because you’re married, and I come in and shake it up a little bit. It’s a little ambiguous. Also, you never know if [his] decisions are based on love with the marriage or if it’s like [he’s] just being a kind of shyster manager.

McGraw: That was the whole play that made it interesting for me — how to create this character and have people empathize with him and still create a little bit of darkness there. But still think, “Well, maybe he’s making decisions because this is all he’s got to work with.” It was a line to walk for sure.

I’m just curious, Leighton. Obviously, we’re used to hearing you sing pop music. Singing country music, how different was that for you?

Meester: The music that I sing is very good for my character because it’s like pop-country. … I guess it’s full-on country, but it’s a lot more produced and fun, like very radio-friendly. … I just had the most fun I’ve ever had making music. It was really fun, and performing it and being here in Nashville, you really have to kind of earn respect. I think that we did a good job of making the music all different for each character. My character matches her music, just like Gwyneth and Garrett each do.

Definitely. Gwyneth, you’re such an inspiration to all of us women, as far as how you take care of yourself, your fitness regime, your diet and nutrition. I’m wondering if you kind of threw that out the window to play Kelly, who obviously doesn’t take such good care of herself.

Paltrow: Yep, with relish. (laughing) It was great. I didn’t work out. I drank a bunch of liquor. I ate a bunch of fried food. I was in heaven.