No matter where he goes, Garth Brooks keeps his watch on Oklahoma time.
The music megastar, who has spent much of the past decade as a stay-at-home dad, does it for his three girls, so he knows what time to call them when he's away from their Owasso ranch.
But Brooks' heart has always been set in Oklahoma, no matter where his increasingly diverse career has taken him.
â€œOne of the greatest gifts is being raised there, living there. It's real life, and it reflects in everything you do,â€ he said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where he was appearing on â€œThe Tonight Show With Jay Lenoâ€ to promote his latest project, a TV movie based on his 1990 hit ballad â€œUnanswered Prayers.â€
The telefilm will debut at 8 p.m. Monday on Lifetime. The Tulsa-born Brooks and Lisa Sanderson executive produced the drama for their Red Strokes Productions.
â€œSince the song came out, we've had the West Coast calling about making a movie about this thing. But every time they brought us a treatment, it changed the song dramatically,â€ Brooks said.
Tanya Lopez, head of Lifetime's original-movie division, believed his country song could translate directly into a timely universal drama.
â€œShe fought like hell to keep this thing exactly like the song was ... and so anything she wants to do in the future, I'm in.â€
Filmed in Virginia, the movie centers on a contented small-town husband and father (Eric Close) whose life is shaken up when his high school sweetheart (Madchen Amick) returns, forcing him to choose between his lost dreams and his loyal wife (Samantha Mathis).
Telling a personal tale
The song, which Brooks co-wrote with Pat Alger and Larry Bastian, appeared on the country superstar's blockbuster sophomore album â€œNo Fences.â€
Brooks, 48, has said in the past the ballad was based on a real encounter he and first wife Sandy Mahl had with his â€œold high school flameâ€ in October 1989.
â€œI think it's about the choices that we make in our life and looking back on those choices. You know, that hindsight's a 20/20 thing. Well, sometimes you get a real, live shot at seeing someone again. Or if it's a job, a real, live shot at taking that job again down the line that you either didn't get or passed up. ... I think it's just kind of (about) how we sit with our own choices,â€ said Brooks, who divorced from Mahl in 2001 and married fellow country star Trisha Yearwood in 2005.
When he rehearsed â€œUnanswered Prayersâ€ for â€œThe Tonight Showâ€ with a string ensemble, he was pleased with how the song has endured.
â€œThank God and Allen Reynolds, the producer ... it's as fresh as the day he cut it. It just stands up to time really well,â€ he said.
Making a movie
Brooks, who grew up in Yukon, was involved throughout the filmmaking process, from sitting down with the screenwriters and visiting the set to going to dailies and, naturally, working on the music.
â€œIf you learn real quick that you really have no control over it, you'll be a lot better. You just don't. There's just too many hands, too many different opinions,â€ he said. â€œAnd you just pray and look for good karma that everything kind of runs on the same theme. And this one really did. The crew was sincere, cast was sincere, and it was wonderful.â€
Actress Patty Duke, who has a supporting role in the telefilm, said her visits with Brooks were memorable.
â€œThough we had never met, he has been a real hero in our family. We just love his work,â€ she said in a separate teleconference. â€œI was delightfully surprised at how funny, witty he is. I mean, he had me laughing the whole time we spent together. And his song â€˜Unanswered Prayers' says a lot to all of us who wish for things that maybe it's better that we didn't have.â€
With his trademark Oklahoma humor, Brooks suggested another song that would make an intriguing film: â€œThat Summer,â€ his 1993 hit about a teenager who goes to work for a lonely widow and finds romance with her.
â€œI'd like to see Halle Berry (in it), and I'd like to play the young boy,â€ he joked with a laugh â€œCourse, I'd have to ask Ms. Yearwood if that's OK. I'm sure she'd be fine with it.â€
Contributing: Assistant Features Editor Lillie-Beth Brinkman.
The Lifetime Original Movie â€œUnanswered Prayers,â€ executive-produced by Oklahoma country music superstar Garth Brooks and based on his hit song, will debut at 8 p.m. Monday on Lifetime Television.