Country Strong - Garrett Hedlund
Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) © 2010 Screen Gems

2010 was a very big year for Garrett Hedlund. He just finished shooting On the Road opposite Kristen Stewart and Sam Riley, based on Jack Kerouac’s novel; he co-starred with Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy and his new movie Country Strong opened in limited release at the end of the December.

Now opening wide release, Country Strong tells the story of Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow), a singer whose life has been hit by tragedy, leading her down the road to addiction. While she’s in rehab she meets a young singer/song writer, Beau Hutton (Hedlund), who is working there as an aid.

When Kelly’s husband/manager, James (Tim McGraw) takes her out of rehab to begin a short three-city comeback tour, she insists that Beau join the show as an opening act.  Also on tour with them is Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), a model-turned-singer who is being mentored by James Canter.

What did you think when you first read the script?

Country Strong - Leighton Meester and Garrett Hedlund
After Chiles's (Leighton Meester) series of embarrassing false starts, Beau (Garrett Hedlund, center) surprises her on stage for a rousing duet © 2010 Screen Gems

I didn’t know how I felt about a film that required singing and performing. That wasn’t what I thought would come next. But I remember by the time I got to the end of the script having to wipe the tears away from my eyes, and that doesn’t happen very often.

Shana Feste (the movie’s writer/director) flew up to Vancouver, it was Jazz Week; we went for a walk and I took her to a little country bar where we had a wonderful chat and she played me some of the music by these young talented singer-songwriters who are doing great things right now, like Ryan Bingham, and Hayes Carll [who wrote most of Beau’s songs].

The tone of these guys is so real and so alive and unique but, at the same time, it’s almost like they came out of the scene forty, fifty years ago, and I wanted to emulate them.

What is your take on Beau?

Country Strong - Garrett Hedlund
Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) © 2010 Screen Gems

Beau is an extremely talented singer and songwriter but elements in his life just aren’t going the way one would care for them to go – his mother goes in and out of rehab and he works at the rehab center. He’s dealing with these chaotic women in his life, trying to be the mediator of it all and help everybody, but really ends up hurting everybody at the same time – he has so much love to give, but the more he tries to express himself, the more he ends up screwing up a lot of things.

How would you describe his relationship with Chiles?

He’s obviously much more mature than Chiles and has these aspirations to be taken very seriously, to be known as an artist, whereas she’s approaching it from a whole different route – she wants to be a star. But down the road he realizes that there’s something about her that’s naïve and very sweet, so when all this destructive backstage drama with Kelly’s going on, something within Chiles starts unveiling and he realizes that this is who he’s supposed to be with.

Maybe this is the moment where opposites attract, and he falls in love with her. But that’s where it gets pretty complicated, because when Beau’s finally ready to give his love to somebody they just might not be able to love him back.

Was there ever a point where it was all just too daunting and you thought, ‘I can’t do this?’

Country Strong - Garrett Hedlund
Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) © 2010 Screen Gems

I think it was the guitar. It was still nerve-racking with the guitar even by the time I moved out to Nashville in December. Shana would have me play for her, and she’d see how I played standing up and she had me walking around and playing. I knew I wasn’t where I had to be at that point.

A couple of weeks before we started to film there was a massive amount of progress and Shana had me play for her again, and when she said, ‘That is exactly where I want you,’ it was a relief. Once her stamp of approval was on, then you got to jump on a plane of confidence and try and fly it.

What was it like working with Gwyneth in this?

I found that being with Gwyneth is this film was very much parallel to how Beau’s character is with Kelly. I’ve always had such a great respect for her as an actress, so when we were going through these scenes where she means a great deal to Beau, I think the situation is similar to how it is in real life. And she has such a wonderful voice. She just plays Kelly so beautifully and heartbreakingly that I don’t think they could have gotten anybody better.

Are you a country music fan?

I’ve always been a country music fan. I grew up in a town where we only had one radio station, because we’re very far north of Minnesota, and it was all country. When you grow up  in the country you want to hear other things so when we’d be driving to school in the morning we could pick up the Winnipeg stations and we’d get rock and roll and rap and be like, ‘Oh, this is new!’

You have Tron out and now this is opening – two films that couldn’t be more different.

Tron: Legacy - Garrett Hedlund
Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) © 2010 Disney Enterprises

I hope I can do every film as opposite [as these two]. I wouldn’t have wanted to do Tron and then another blockbuster, and finding something as poetic as this [was wonderful].

Did you ever jam with ‘the Dude,’ [Jeff Bridges] while you were shooting Tron?

He jammed and I just got to listen really. He would try and show me how to play a song. What a great turn of tables it was seven months later, I’m in my trailer playing Jeff’s songs from Crazy Heart. And we went back to do some additional footage for Tron over the summer, once I’d finished this film.

Now we’re in the trailer and I’m playing songs going, ‘Listen to this one, this one’s from [Country Strong]. He was like, ‘Yeah, man!’


Judy Sloane

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