LOS ANGELES — With her latest film project, Gwyneth Paltrow joins a prestigious roster that includes Barbra Streisand, Mark Knopfler, Del McCoury, Diana Krall and Carrie Underwood.
The Oscar-winning actress is pleased to be added to the long list of luminaries who have made music with Oklahoma-born and bred Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill.
“I adore Vince Gill, and he was so supportive of me. It's like if you look at how Vince Gill was to me during that performance, it's like that encapsulates country music. It's like that warmth and support. He was great,” Paltrow said in a recent interview at the Four Seasons Hotel.
In November, Gill backed Paltrow as she made her live debut singing country music at the 44th Annual Country Music Association Awards. In front of an audience of the genre's shining stars, the unlikely duo played guitars and belted out “Country Strong,” the theme song of her new country music drama.
“I loved it. It was like one of those moments I think I'll always just look back on and think, ‘I can't believe I actually did that.' You know, it was sort of an once-in-a-lifetime thing. It was crazy. It was really exhilarating and fun and just unexpected,” Paltrow said of performing on the CMA Awards. “Like, if you had told me a year ago that I would have performed at the country music awards, I would have bet against it. It was a wonderful surprise.”
In “Country Strong,” Paltrow stars as fallen country superstar Kelly Canter, who has struggled publicly with substance abuse. Her aloof manager-husband, James (Tim McGraw), pulls her out of rehab early to start her comeback tour, but Kelly refuses to go without her lover, Beau (Garrett Hedlund), an aspiring singer-songwriter who works as an orderly at her rehabilitation facility. She also envies her opening act, James' beauty-queen-turned-singer protege Chiles (Leighton Meester). With Kelly still coping with the tragic consequences of her addiction, the tour bus is bound for an emotional wreck.
Despite her high-profile supporting role as Pepper Potts in the “Iron Man” movies, Paltrow has limited her film roles over the years to focus on mothering her two children with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. She was compelled to go country after reading writer-director Shana Feste's script.
“It's very emotional, but it's complicated. You know, none of the characters are kind of black or white or good or bad,” Paltrow said. “And I loved the idea of the challenge of the music.”
When the particulars of portraying an addict stymied her, she sought help from her Oscar-winning “Iron Man” co-star Robert Downey Jr., who survived his own public battle with substance abuse.
“I understand addiction, like I used to be very addicted to cigarettes, for example. So I understood the idea of ‘I know this is bad for me and it causes cancer and my dad has throat cancer but I'm going to smoke it anyway,' like that sort of disconnect or self-destructiveness. ... But I couldn't understand it to the point of wrecking someone else's life. So I e-mailed Robert Downey Jr. and was like, ‘Just explain to me how this goes,'” she said.
“And he wrote me back the most amazing e-mail, and he just explained the psychology of it so well.”
Although she sang in the 2000 movie “Duets” and recently covered Cee Lo Green's hit “Forget You” on the cult TV series “Glee,” “Country Strong” required Paltrow to perform the anthemic title song, the feisty “Shake That Thing” and the poignant “Coming Home” with the power and confidence of a music megastar. She and McGraw also teamed up for the end credits theme “Me and Tennessee.”
“I had never studied voice. Like, I have a naturally perfectly nice singing voice, but these songs like had a lot of scope to them, and I needed to really build up strength. And my singing teacher in London was really like a taskmaster and was really focused on getting a much bigger voice out of me, which I was surprised to find in myself,” she said.
Preparing for the movie also afforded her the chance to explore and fall in love with country music.
“I grew up in New York City where there's no country music radio station so ... I was never like exposed to it a lot or heard it a lot until I took the role,” she said. “To discover a whole genre of music at 37 years old and be like all psyched about it and like geek out on it, it's fun.”
Travel and accommodations courtesy of Screen Gems.