Garrett Hedlund has mixed and matched his roles throughout his career and from the success of Tron: Legacy he switches for the musical drama Country Strong.
He teams up with Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Leighton Meester in the Shana Feste directed movie.
– How did you get involved in this project?
I had been sent the script and told that, if I responded to it, Shana Feste would fly up to Vancouver where I was filming Tron: Legacy and meet with me. I remember reading the script and having tears in my eyes by the end.
I really wanted her to come up and have this meeting. I felt honored that she would come all the way up to Vancouver to meet with me. It’s tricky though. You read a tagline or synopsis that says, ‘A triangular love affair that takes places on a ten city tour’ and your immediate thought is to set it aside.
Or else they could have explained it a little bit differently. I find Shana so incredibly talented and wonderful. This being her second film, I feel so proud to be a part of it and proud for her.
– How did you prepare to play a musician?
The biggest thing was overcoming lack of coordination. I couldn’t play at the beginning and this guy Neal Casal, who’s the lead guitarist from Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, stopped by my place and four days a week we’d be playing early Hank Sr. songs and the Byrds or just things to play that had chord progression.
We’d go to the studio and record and chart the progression. That was for four months. Then I moved out to Nashville a month before the shoot and stayed at Tim’s ranch cabin.
Like anything, it takes time to gain the abilities and you’ve got to fall on your face so many times. You’ve got to look silly in front of so many people before you finally start finding the ability and finding confidence within the approvals of others.
– Do you prefer playing dive bars or stadiums?
I prefer the dive bars. In most of these [movies], they cut in close to the fingers and they have a hand double just going at it. They’re mocking chords when the camera’s farther away. I was in fear that I would have to do everything on my own.
I was like, ‘These scenes are beautiful. I’ll work on these scenes but I can’t wait to do them with Gwyneth and Leighton and Tim.’ Performing, I thought, ‘Can we just get this over with?’
Our first time performing for an audience was at the stage, like the first musical scene in the film. I just remember having so much fun up there, but it also helps because I felt great about the songs. Having Hayes Carll there, whom I admire so much as a singer songwriter and who’s very parallel to this character, has a real Blaze Foley kind of grit to him.
When you’re confident and the songs are good, the audience enjoys it so it’s not hard for them to partake in just kind of really cheering and being genuine with it.
– Were you a fan of country music?
I grew up on a farm. We had one radio station and it was all country. Tim McGraw would be filling the airwaves then and I’d be in the tractor listening to Tim songs and Faith Hill songs and then for him to play my father in Friday Night Lights.
I got up on stage with him in 2004 and sang, I Like It, I Love It. But I wasn’t a country singer. I was like, ‘Can I sing ‘Don’t Take the Girl’?’ He said, ‘No, you’re singing ‘I Like It, I Love It.’ You’ll catch on.’
So I’m up there just kind of mouthing with him, ‘I like it. I love it.’ His guidance within this was great. He said, ‘You just have to live and breathe countrymusic. There are thousands of people out here who are incredibly talented just trying to gain success. You’ve got to meet the scales that are raised so high and really live and breathe country music.’
That’s what I tried to do. He let me stay at his cabin, which was just great because I got to work with the guitar coach out there – this guy Rob Jackson – who’s kind of the best of the best in guitar training.
I got to go to the studio every day and work with this producer Frank Liddell and engineer Luke Wooten. They work with a lot of incredible people. I was kind of taken in by these people who were trying to help me succeed the way I wanted to succeed and wanted to help me get there. Once they saw a possibility in it, we just sort of ran for that door.
– What was it like going from shooting Tron: Legacy on a sound stage to shooting this film on location in Nashville?
It was close to a sixty or seventy day shoot for Tron on stage in the suit. You can’t even sit down during the day because of all the cables that divide the foam rubber and the electrical circuits.
We had these stools that were this tall with a bicycle seat on it. You’re looking at fucking blue screen all day. To be able to wear jeans and a Levi button-up shirt was exactly what I wanted.
I became family with so many of the locals when I was there because of that month before. By the time I was filming, I was going down to a lot of the Lower Broad spots and a lot of these young musicians or even the guys in my band, like Chris Scruggs, would be up at Robert’s every night.
Chris Scruggs is the grandson of Earl Scruggs who is like the godfather of the banjo. It’s a famous family. There was a documentary made about them in the ‘70s. Randy Scruggs played the guitar on my tracks for Chances Are.
It’s fucking Randy Scruggs! On YouTube there are black and white videos of him and Earl Scruggs and Bob Dylan all in a room playing and Randy Scruggs is just seventeen and won’t take his eyes off Dylan.
Now he’s playing guitar for me. The other band members, when they’d be up at Robert’s I’d go up and get up and sing a song. I was basically becoming a lot more comfortable with the auditorium scenes just by getting up on stage and doing it. One time at The Station Inn, I got up and, at the table right in front of me was this guy Jim Lauderdale, who wrote and played with George Jones.
He was in Gwyneth’s band as a guitarist and he was playing at The Station Inn and at intermission he said, I want you to play Chances Are and teach the band it and sing it for the audience.
I said, ‘Alright.’ There I am after six or seven months of learning how to play the guitar and now I’m teaching this band how to play it? I said, ‘We go from ‘G’ and then we jump down to ‘C’ and bring it back to ‘D’. Now just bring it again. Yup, that’s it, that’s it.’
We get up on stage and play it. Right in front of us are Gwyneth and Chris Martin and Caleb, the lead singer of Kings of Leon, and Faith Hill and Dierks Bentley. It was one of the greatest nights of my life.
– What was it like filming On the Road?
Six months on the road. It was such a journey guerilla shoot with the most incredible family with Walter Salles directing.
He’s put such work into this film over the past six or seven years. I’ve been attached since September of 2007 trying to get this project made. On the first day on set, I was like, ‘We’re fucking filming ‘On the Road’!’
Today’s the day after we just finished. Yesterday morning I was driving across the Bay Bridge in a Hudson, wrapped at eleven, jumped on a plane to get back here, cut my hair and went straight to the Tron premiere.
It was unfortunate to be partial with the family you’ve come to just love so immensely on this journey. We went from Montreal to South America to Argentina to Patagonia up to New Orleans, Arizona, Mexico, Calgary, Montreal. We just wrapped in San Francisco. I watched the Fourth of July turn into Christmas.
– What did you like about your character in this film?
I liked the soul of him. He was kind of a young Kris Kristofferson. Sort of poetic and tender and just happy to be playing for a bunch of hard working people that like to have a beer while they listen to good music.
This was a happy home for him. I think I like the message of what he was about at the end of the day: choosing love over fame. That was a big one. When that line comes up in the film, I think the whole audience is going to be questioning that key line and formulating their own opinions of it.
– Are you going to keep playing music?
In my own time. It’s funny, I was on set and Terrance Howard came over to play a role in On the Road and we worked together in Four Brothers and became really close. He played a lot of guitar on that and I would just sit back.
He’s going at it; he’s phenomenal at the flamenco and Spanish guitar rhythm. The night he wrapped in Montreal, he came to my room with a bottle and a guitar. This time we took turns. We must have played fifteen songs apiece.
He’s like, ‘Garrett, why don’t you have your guitar?’ And I said, ‘My character, Neal Cassady doesn’t play the guitar. It’s all about the jazz and the writing.’
He goes, ‘Yeah, but Garrett does.’ That was the moment where I was like, I’ve gotta keep the guitar with me at all time.
– Now that On the Road has wrapped, what other movies do you have lined up?
Nada. I’m very fortunate to be a part of these projects. Now I’ll be able to sit back and read some books and try to enjoy the time a little more than being tossed around.
– Are you playing your favorite type of country in this movie? The singer-songwriter type?
Yeah, most definitely. Hayes Karll, who wrote Hard out Here and Turn Loose the Horses and Hide Me Babe I get to text him once in a while and see where he’s at in the world.
He’ll say, ‘Drinking in Virginia tonight. Was in Nashville last night. Hope you’re well.’ It’s pretty cool.
Thanks again to Laura from Garrett Minds!