Gwyneth Paltrow gave an absolutely stunning performance of an unstable country star trying to make a career comeback in her 2010 film, Country Strong. The movie shows Paltrow battling her old demons while on a new tour and showcases the challenges of actually being a country superstar. It was an unexpected role from Paltrow at the time, who was even able to show off her impressive singing chops throughout the film. While Country Strong was good when it first came out, it's managed to steadily become more popular in the years since its release.
Paltrow stars as country singer Kelly Canter whose husband/manager James Canter, played by the one and only Tim McGraw, has organized a big career resurrection tour after she gets out of rehab for alcohol abuse. Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester co-star as her opening acts, up-and-coming singers Beau Hutton and Chiles Stanton. There are romantic entanglements on the road between Kelly and the two young singers, and some incredible country music performances from all three.
The emotional song "Coming Home" received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, and Paltrow even performed it at the 83rd Academy Awards. Here are some interesting things you probably didn't know about the hit country music film.
1. Paltrow didn't know anything about country music when she read the script
After growing up in Hollywood, Paltrow wasn't very familiar with the world of country music, which makes sense. She grew up the daughter of an actress and director, so Nashville couldn't be farther from what she knew. So what did she do to familiarize herself with the material? Paltrow told The Boot that she looked to some of the greatest voices in the genre for guidance.
"I knew nothing about country music. I was born in Los Angeles, and I grew up in New York City, and I wasn't really exposed to it. So, I was very daunted by the idea of taking it on, but I fell completely in love with the character and the world. So, I started doing research. I started with Hank [Williams] Sr. and Johnny Cash and just started educating myself."
2. The soundtrack featured some incredible country artists
Chris Young, Patty Loveless, Sara Evans, Lee Ann Womack, Ronnie Dunn, Hank Williams Jr., Faith Hill, and Trace Adkins were all featured on the film's soundtrack. Talk about a seriously iconic soundtrack with all of those big names working together. Paltrow also told The Boot they brought Vince Gill to sing backup on "Country Strong." A song that wasn't technically written for this movie but ended up being a perfect addition. So Paltrow got to work with Tim McGraw and Vince Gill while working on this film. She really got some incredible on-the-job training from some of country music's greatest stars.
"I was in Byron Gallimore's studio, and I had just finished singing the song, and they were doing the monitor mix. Byron just said, "You know who would be great on this is Vince. Let me call Vince." I said, 'What? What do you mean?' He was like, 'I'll just call him and see if he wants to come in. His voice would be so perfect on this chorus.' I was like, 'Yeah, yeah, but really?' So, he just called him and got him to come in."
3. Garrett Hedlund auditioned with a Pearl Jam song
According to the film's writer and director, Shana Feste, Hedlund didn't know how to sing or play the guitar when he auditioned for the film. But he won her over by performing a Pearl Jam song at a karaoke bar. He fully immersed himself in preparation for the role to be as authentic as possible. It probably helps he had some natural talent...not everyone could take the karaoke stage and end up landing a major film role. But Hedlund did and was honestly really impressive in the film. His character draws comparisons from some of country music's greats like Townes Van Zandt, who has a unique sound compared to some of the more mainstream voices of today's country radio.
"We had a few drinks and he got up there and started singing and was definitely not the sound that he is at now, which is amazing, because he literally went from singing a Pearl Jam song to singing country like the best of them," Feste told The Hollywood Reporter.
4. Paltrow got a lot of help and inspiration from her co-star's wife, Faith Hill
Paltrow studied some of country music's greatest female voices to prepare for her role, including Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Miranda Lambert. But she also had Tim McGraw's superstar wife, Faith Hill, as a helpful resource. She really couldn't have asked for a better person to help her because they are of the same generation, and Hill has toured the country just like Paltrow's character. There are certain scenes in the film when Kelly is performing that feel reminiscent of Faith Hill leading a national stadium tour.
"When I was researching the role, I went back and watched all of her DVDs and videos and her performances, because we have a similar height and a similar [look], so I felt like if you sort of did a hybrid of Faith and Courtney Love, that's kind of like who I am in this movie," Paltrow told The Boot. "I asked her a lot of questions. She was very supportive of me and really, really helpful throughout the process. She was like an encyclopedia for me."
5. The film was inspired by Britney Spears
You might be surprised that it was actually pop singer Britney Spears that inspired the film, not a country star like Shania Twain. It was the fascination around Spears' public meltdown and the following media frenzy in 2007 that inspired the story of Kelly Canter. It's really just the tragic tale of the world sitting back and watching someone fall apart while the celebrity tries their best to put the pieces back together. It's sad no matter how you spin it, but certainly, an interesting story to tell.
"That's where this movie came from. I mean, I was seeing what was happening in the media to Britney Spears," Shana Feste told the LA Times. "I finished the script when Michael Jackson passed away. I think it's tragic how we treat people who give us so much, and we love to see them knocked down to build them back up again, to knock them down again. It's a weird fascination."
6. Tim McGraw doesn't sing in the movie
Can you believe that? Though McGraw was the only actual country music star in a leading role, he fully sticks to his manager role and is never seen singing in the film. But a duet with Paltrow, "Me And Tennessee," is included on the soundtrack. The song was written by Paltrow's husband at the time, Coldplay's Chris Martin, and is a really emotional tribute to the characters Kelly and James and everything they endure throughout the dramatic film.
7. McGraw and Hedlund previously appeared in Friday Night Lights together
Before Country Strong, Hedlund and McGraw played father and son, Charles and Don Billingsley, in the football film Friday Night Lights. It's a much different dynamic than what you see in Country Strong, with James constantly skeptical of Beau while he's fully focused on trying to get his wife's career back on track. But similarly, they don't always see eye to eye in either film.
8. Paltrow received advice on playing an addict from her Iron Man co-star Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. is well known for his many successful years of sobriety after a challenging and public battle with addiction. According to Paltrow, she reached out to him for advice on accurately capturing her character, and he wrote her a long, in-depth email that helped her showcase Kelly Canter's inner demons. He clearly gave some solid advice because Paltrow's performance is mesmerizing as you watch her struggle nonstop throughout the film.
"I asked Robert, 'How does this work?'" Paltrow said in an interview with Reuters. "He was really articulate about addiction and the psychology behind it. He really helped me a lot."
This article was originally published in July of 2020.
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