Country Strong - Gwyneth Paltrow, Gabe Sipos and Lisa Stewart Seals
Kelly (Gwyneth Paltrow) readily agrees to sing for Travis (Gabe Sipos) as Travis's mom (Lisa Stewart Seals) sits beside him © 2010 Screen Gems

Gwyneth Paltrow, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Shakespeare in Love, has appeared in such successful movie as Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Running with Scissors, Emma, Sliding Doors and Proof.

In 2000, she starred in Duets, which was directed by her father, Bruce Paltrow, in which she got to sing. Now, ten years later, she’s singing again in her new movie Country Strong, playing country music star Kelly Canter. Canter, who was traumatized by the death of her unborn baby, when she was drunk and fell off of the stage during a performance, is now attempting a three-city comeback tour conceived by her husband/manager, James (Tim McGraw).

Along for the ride are Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), a singer and love interest of Kelly’s, who worked at the rehab facility where she was recuperating, and Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), an ambitious beauty-queen-turned-singer.

On this particular movie, were you more concerned about the singing than the acting?

Country Strong - Gwyneth Paltrow
Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) © 2010 Screen Gems

I’d say that before the movie started all of my attention was on the preparation for the music, voice lessons and guitar. I had to play guitar live and sing my first day (of shooting), in the rehab, and I was like, ‘Okay, I have to sing a song and play guitar right now.’ But once that scene was over and everything was finished recording-wise, my focus was more on the [acting].

Do you see yourself gravitating more towards the music now? Do you get a rush from it that you don’t get from acting?

Yes, there is. I never understood it, obviously, until very recently. But, yes, it’s a big rush. It’s very different because when you’re singing a song, it’s so you. When you’re acting you’re playing someone else, but even when you’re acting and singing a song it’s coming from your soul. There’s no way that it’s not really you.

It’s amazing.

Did you base your stage performance on anybody? I read that you looked at a lot of Faith Hill’s videos. Tim McGraw (Hill’s husband) said you owned the stage by the end of the movie like Faith would.

Country Strong - Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw
Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) and James Canter (Tim McGraw) © 2010 Screen Gems

I pulled from a lot of different people. The performance at the end, if I had to say who influenced me the most, weirdly, because it’s not in the same genre, was Beyonce. Her confidence level and her presence is so mind-blowing, especially when you try to do it and you see what she does, it’s like inhuman. I (hoped) I could just bring a tiny bit of that extreme confidence, joy and abandonment that she brings, because it wasn’t like I was just trying to play a singer who was making it.

I was playing a huge, huge star and that’s what really threw me off. I was like, ‘I know I can play someone who’s just trying to make it, but how I can be credible as someone who’s won seven Grammy’s and sold however millions of records?’ That’s a very special and specific thing. So that was what I was really aiming for, to try and pull that off.

What was it like singing at the Country Music Awards with millions of people watching on TV?

It was so fun. It was terrifying because it was the first time that people had heard any of those songs, too, and so it was just nerve-racking. But then once we went a few times it was like, ‘Oh, this is kind of fun.’

What was it like working with Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester?

Country Strong - Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw with left Chris Clark, Neal Casal
Country Strong - Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) and James Canter (Tim McGraw) dance in the swirl of the classroom. Visible at left: Kelly's band (Chris Clark, Neal Casal) © 2010 Screen Gems

It was great. I didn’t have a lot to do with Leighton, but we had a few key moments and I love seeing young women do their thing. Since I’ve had kids I feel very maternal towards the younger generation, and she was great and she has a beautiful voice and I felt like it was a great role for her.

Garrett was so paradoxical because he’s like a real man, not like a puny, Hollywood actor. He’s tall and he’s raised on a farm. But he’s so sensitive and he’s got so much heart and you look in his eyes and there is so much in there. So it was really fun to work with him and to see him do his thing. I love his singing voice so much. I listen to his song all the time.

Was Glee fun to do?

It was the best. I had so much fun. It was such a great surprise. I didn’t even know what Glee really was. I hadn’t really heard of it. My brother was like, ‘You have to do it. It’s so great.’ So I started watching them all and now I’m totally Glee obsessed. When I got to set I was kind of star struck. I was like, ‘Wow. This is so fun.’ I had the best time.

Have you ever been in the position like this character, where the pressure was so high that you couldn’t perform?

After I won the Oscar it was really too much for me. I thought that I got the flu, but I had whatever it was for like three weeks. I was in my parent’s house. I was just exhausted and overwhelmed. It was too much. It’s a lot.

Do you think that living in London has helped you stay grounded, away from the Hollywood craziness?

Yeah, I do, because as much as I miss it here, and the older that I get the more I want to move back to California, it’s nice to live in a place where show business is not the center of everyone’s dinner conversation. It’s nice to just be with people who have all different kinds of jobs. And I feel like even here the mums at school are like, ‘Oh, how much did it gross this weekend?’


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.