Forever My Girl, which opens this week, is a tame, PG-rated romantic drama about a country music star’s homecoming that’s aimed at primarily teenage audiences. Unfortunately, critics say it isn’t particularly good, even for its genre, so if you’re not particularly interested in the film, Christy Lemire offers up three alternatives that are probably quite a bit more satisfying, but also just mild enough to watch with your kids… depending on their age and maturity level.
Rating: PG, for thematic elements including drinking, and for language.
This bland, Nicholas Sparks-adjacent romance finds country music superstar Liam Page (Alex Roe) returning to his Louisiana small town and reconnecting with Josie (Jessica Rothe), the fiancée he left at the altar eight years earlier to pursue fame and fortune. It’s all about forgiveness, reconciliation and insipid music, with an adorable little girl (Abby Ryder Fortson) at the center. Writer-director Bethany Ashton Wolf’s film has some picturesque images of the bayou, and Roe and Rothe are sufficiently pretty, as well. But they don’t have much chemistry with each other, and many of the movie’s supposedly dramatic moments end up being unintentionally hilarious. Also, this is a decidedly PG-rated depiction of country-star excess, so Liam is only slightly surly and his major drinking problem consists of bringing a flask to a funeral. (He also visits the cleanest and most wholesome honky-tonk ever depicted on screen.) A child is briefly in peril. And before Liam sees the light, he wakes up in a hotel room with a groupie, but we don’t see any actual physical contact. This is a wholesome story of faith and redemption, suitable for viewers around 7 or 8 and older.
If Forever My Girl has you thinking about other movies set in the country music world you can watch with your family, here are a few suggestions:
I’m not saying it’s a great movie, but it’s a fine choice if you’re looking for something the whole family can watch, and Miley Cyrus does have her undeniable charms here. The singer/songwriter/provocateur was still clinging to the last vestiges of her innocent, Disney Channel image here, playing both small-town sweetheart Miley Stewart and her secret pop-star alter ego, Hannah Montana. Similar to Forever My Girl, Miley gets a little petulant and carried away with her celebrity lifestyle in Los Angeles. This prompts a return to Tennessee for some hometown reprogramming, courtesy of Cyrus’ real-life dad, country star Billy Ray Cyrus. Slapstick humor abounds down on the farm, and Miley finds her first boyfriend in a farmhand (Lucas Till) who was a childhood friend. And of course, because this is a Hannah Montana adventure, the movie is filled with music. The insanely catchy Hoedown Throwdown is admittedly a highlight, as is the power ballad The Climb. Fine for all ages.
Rating: PG, for adult situations/language and violence.
The gold standard for how to make a music biopic; everything else comes up short by comparison. Sissy Spacek rightly earned the Academy Award for best actress for her vivid portrayal of country music legend Loretta Lynn, and Michael Apted’s film received another six nominations, including best picture. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I watched Coal Miner’s Daughter when I was 8 years old, even though I realize in retrospect that I didn’t truly understand some of the more adult elements of the story. Spacek stars as Lynn from the time she was a 13-year-old girl growing up poor in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, all the way through her rise to country music superstardom. We see her marry her husband Doolittle Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones) when she was 15 and he was 22 (including their awkward wedding night in motel room), play the Grand Ole Opry, become friends with her idol, Patsy Cline (Beverly D, Angelo) and give birth to multiple children. But the pressure of performing and touring while also juggling fame and family causes her to have a breakdown. We also witness Lynn’s devastation after Cline’s death in a plane crash. And Doolittle Lynn is a notorious drunk and womanizer – which was the inspiration for many of Lynn’s most enduring country hits. Spacek shows massive range her in portraying Lynn over several decades and she did all her own singing. This is a beautifully acted film with a rich sense of place. It hits the important moments of Lynn’s life but still feels like a full, complex story. I highly recommend it for viewers around 8 and older, especially if they have an interest in music or performing.
Rating: PG-13, for some language, thematic material and depiction of drug dependency.
Another great music biopic and another Academy Award-winning film: this time for best actress Reese Witherspoon’s performance as June Carter Cash, the muse and longtime love of Johnny Cash. Joaquin Phoenix also earned an Oscar nomination for his indelible role as the iconic, influential Cash. Director and co-writer James Mangold’s film may follow a familiar path along the way to country star greatness, from Cash’s youth on an Arkansas cotton farm and his early dabblings in music through his romance with singer June Carter and early dabblings in drugs. And of course, there are the eventual redemption and perspective that come with time and age. But Walk the Line features vibrant performances and tremendous energy. Phoenix and Witherspoon have ridiculous chemistry and, as Spacek did in Coal Miner’s Daughter, they performed their own songs and played their own instruments. But there’s even more grown-up material here, including adultery, significant drug and alcohol abuse, depression and language. Still, it’s a classic, and a fine choice for viewers around 13 and up. (And when your kids are older, you can show them the excellent and extremely R-rated Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story, a dead-on parody starring John C. Reilly.)
This week, get your Miley Cyrus fix with Hannah Montana’s feature-length trip to the big screen (Hannah Montana The Movie), or do a complete 180-degree turn with the latest Hollywood horror remake (Last House on the Left). Director James Toback goes the documentary route with boxing’s Iron Mike (Tyson), while David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer continues the family legacy for eccentric thrills (Surveillance, starring Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman). Actress Lori Petty makes her directorial debut with a personal indie drama (The Poker House) while Tilda Swinton turns in a powerhouse performance as an alcoholic kidnapper (Julia). An ’80s sci-fi gaming classic makes its way to Blu-ray (The Last Starfighter) and we take a look at a trio of Toho reissues and new TV on DVD inside!
The power of Hannah Montana cannot be denied. After a solid critical reaction to her ‘tween-fueled Best of Both Worlds Concert movie, Disney star Miley Cyrus brought her onscreen alter ego into theaters again, this time in a feature-length film. Cyrus stars as Miley Stewart, a Tennessee teenager who moonlights as the uber-popular pop singer, Hannah Montana; when her increasing celebrity threatens to take over Miley’s ego, her country music singing dad (played by Cyrus’s real-life country music singing dad, Billy “Achy Breaky Heart” Ray — stay with us here) takes her back to the homestead to get back to her roots. Teen sitcom clichés and plenty of Disney pop tunes ensue, making this a guaranteed hit among the young Hannah Montana faithful — if not among older audiences and critics. A generous menu of special features include bloopers, deleted scenes, director commentary, and more, and even the stodgiest of detractors can’t resist the disc’s piece de resistance, which you can watch exclusively here on Rotten Tomatoes: a how-to lesson on doing the Hoedown Throwdown Dance (“Pop it, lock it, polka dot it…”)!
Next: File under improbable –Ingmar Bergman gets the torture porn treatment?
While nobody was really clamoring for a remake of Wes Craven‘s marginally-celebrated 1972 exploitation horror pic — the original Last House on the Left only earned 65 percent on the Tomatometer — Hollywood served up the revenge story yet again, making good use of the recent boom in torture porn sensibilities for which modern audiences seem to have an appetite. (Interestingly, many argue that Craven’s first LHOTL is far more gruesome.) Garret Dillahunt stars as the ringleader of a vicious band of criminals; Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn are the parents of his victim who decide to turn the tables. Critics were in part repulsed by the remake’s brutality and lack of intelligence, resulting in a hard-to-watch attack-vengeance tale ultimately not worth the ordeal. For the same story done better, check out Ingmar Bergman‘s Oscar-winning 1960 film, The Virgin Spring (94%), the medieval rape-and-revenge pic that inspired the first Last House.
Next: Carradine’s posthumous sea dog period comedy comes to DVD
A “horrid piece of filmed dinner theater” — (Scott Foundas, LA Weekly). An “arthritic romantic comedy” — (Ronnie Scheib, Variety). The raves keep comin’ for this misbegotten adaptation of a 1904 novel by Joseph Lincoln, which posits three grumpy old men — David Carradine, Bruce Dern, and Rip Torn — as a trio of septuagenarian sea captains looking for a house wife in Cape Cod, circa 1905. An abundance of turn of the century mariner slang and Mariel Hemingway‘s performance as the object of the Boys’ domestic desires might help keep things interesting, but you’ll likely wonder why this adaptation was made at all.
Next: James Toback gets up close and personal with Iron Mike in Tyson
Director James Toback (Fingers, Bugsy) detours into documentary film with this well-received portrait of infamous boxer Mike Tyson. Iron Mike himself provides much of the film’s commentary in intimate interviews that reveal the complex psyche of the man who became the undisputed heavyweight champion at age 20, served time in jail for rape, had his own 8-bit video game, and mounted a career comeback before biting off part of his opponent’s ear in 1997 on live television. Premiere footage and a commentary by Toback highlight the special features.
Next: Is director Jennifer Lynch (Surveillance) as twisted as her father?
Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman star as Feds investigating a roadside killing in this Rashomon-esque thriller, directed by Jennifer Lynch. To preface, take a look at Lynch’s pedigree (her father is David) and her past work (she won a Razzie for her debut, Boxing Helena — a movie in which a woman has her limbs amputated by a lover). Critics say Surveillance is appropriately perverse, gory, and twisted, which you might find either good or bad, depending on taste; they also say a last-act twist threatens to undermine the whole affair. Decide for yourself which side of the Fresh/Rotten divide it belongs on.
Next: Tilda Swinton’s tour de force turn in Julia
Tilda Swinton‘s performance as a struggling alcoholic takes center stage in Erick Zonca‘s Julia, a kidnapping thriller and character study that lets the usually-buttoned up Oscar winner let loose. Julia is addicted to partying and substance abuse, trapped in a downward spiral that leads her to accept a neighbor’s proposition to kidnap a young boy from his cushy home in Mexico, until a series of unfortunate events throw everything into chaos. Swinton fans should jump at the chance to watch the actress play out-of-control — a woman under the influence, as it were — in a film that has drawn comparisons to a Cassavetes flick on a rager.
Next: See, something good did come of In the Army Now…
Years after meeting In Living Color‘s David Alan Grier (presumably when they both starred in the Pauly Shore vehicle In the Army Now), actress Lori Petty teamed up with her old friend to script this semi-autobiographical story based on her own childhood, which also marks Petty’s debut as a director. The familiar realm of indie dramas about abused and/or neglected kids toughing it out amidst unsavory adult types gets a jolt thanks to a trio of young actresses (Jennifer Lawrence, Sophia Bairley, and Chloe Grace Moretz) who, critics say, carry the picture with strength and nuance. Lawrence in particular shines as the 14-year-old protagonist Agnes, who is left to care for her younger siblings when their drug-addicted prostitute mother (Selma Blair) and dubious father figure (Bokeem Woodbine) fail them, and worse. Petty herself provides a commentary track.
Next: The Last Starfighter lands on Blu-ray!
There are those who champion The Last Starfighter as an unassuming landmark of ’80s science fiction, significant even while overshadowed by bigger, flashier, more memorable flicks of its kind. We think you guys just love it because (along with TRON and our sentimental fave, The Wizard) it legitimized those hours of obsessive video gaming as essential training, inevitably to come in handy when called upon by a higher power. Director Nick Castle (who would go on to direct the live-action Dennis the Menace movie, Major Payne, and script August Rush) employed impressive-for-the-era special effects in the tale of a trailer park teenager named Alex (Lance Guest) whose hobby of playing the Starfighter arcade game pays off when an alien from the planet Rylos reveals that the game was a test, and that Alex is to be the next “starfighter” in an intergalactic war. Looking back on The Last Starfighter now, the ’80s stylings are charming (to put it kindly), but even though it doesn’t quite hold up 25 years later, it’s a fun blast from the past on Blu-ray. Tons of retrospective features, a filmmaker commentary, and image galleries make for a comprehensive collection of bonus features.
Next: A Toho Studios trifecta!
Gojira fans, take note: the Japanese monster known stateside as Godzilla wasn’t the only camp-tastic science fiction hero to come out of the wacky world of Japanese cinema, circa 1960. Serving up three newly remastered genre classics from the makers (director Ishiro Honda and special effects pioneer Eiji Tsuburaya) and home (Toho Tokyo Studios) of such kaiju classics as Godzilla, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is releasing The Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection. In The H-Man (1958), radioactive bomb testing turns people into oozing, infectious slimy blobs; in Battle in Outer Space (1959), a sinister alien race use enhanced weapons and mind control to attack Earth. Finally, in Mothra (1962), the famous psychic, moth-like God and frequent Godzilla opponent is introduced, defending her island of worshippers from their capitalist kidnappers. While the collection is woefully short on bonus features, the films have been meticulously restored and offer multiple subtitle options.
Next: Gossip Girl, Sons of Anarchy, Swayze’s Beast and more TV on DVD
It’s a huge week for new TV on DVD releases, so we’ve collected them all here for your one-stop perusal. For starters, check out Season 1 of Patrick Swayze‘s recently cancelled show, The Beast, in which he plays an FBI agent of dubious methodology (A&E cancelled the show after one season due to Swayze’s declining health). The 2000-2001 exploits of Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart, and Maggie Simpson also hit DVD, though beyond a guest starring spot from boy band *NSYNC, we’re hard pressed to recall any of that season’s specifics (The Simpsons Season 12). Fresher in our minds is the explosive debut season of Kurt Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy (Season One), FX’s Hamlet-with-bikers starring Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, and Sutter’s wife, Katey Sagal. We’d also recommend picking up Season 3 of Dexter, in which Dex battles a frenemy and contemplates marriage. For lighter fare, there’s Season 3 of the campus dramedy Greek, along with the most OMG-inducing show of all: Gossip Girl Season 2, which includes the flashback episode leading to the would-be spin-off, Valley Girls.
Until next week, happy renting!
This weekend the queen of teendom Miley Cyrus flexed her muscles again at the multiplexes with Hannah Montana: The Movie which defeated all competitors for a squeaky clean number one debut over the Easter holiday weekend. Former chart-toppers Fast & Furious and Monsters vs. Aliens kicked in over $20M a piece powering the overall marketplace to its best showing ever for the bunny holiday.
Disney ruled the North American box office with an estimated $34M opening for Hannah over the Friday-to-Sunday period as the actress/rocker’s fan base came out in droves. The G-rated film about the popular television character’s reconnection to her roots averaged a powerful $10,904 from 3,118 theaters. It was the second biggest opening ever over the Easter holiday frame trailing only 2006’s Scary Movie ($40.2M). Hannah also scored the fifth largest April debut after Fast & Furious ($71M), Anger Management ($42.2M), Scary 4, and The Scorpion King ($36.1M).
The teen superstar first proved her box office clout last year with the music pic Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert which debuted at number one over Super Bowl weekend with a stunning $31.1M from only 683 3D venues for an eye-popping $45,561 average. Higher $15 ticket prices, a more narrow release, and the promotion of the film as a one-week-only event made it a unique player at the box office. But Hannah Montana The Movie proved that the tween brand is still strong a year later and that Miley can open a regular film on her own. Cyrus has now seen her last two films both open at number one with $30M+ debuts, something most Hollywood A-listers can’t claim. Her talent reps must now see whether she can still open a picture outside of the Hannah Montana franchise. Next up for the sixteen-year-old is The Last Song, based on the Nicholas Sparks novel, which Disney plans to have in theaters next year.
The studio chose Easter weekend for Montana since most of its target audience of school children and parents would have extra time off thanks to schools being closed on Good Friday. That holiday helped propel opening day sales to a stunning $17.3M as intense demand pulled most of the crowd out in the first day. Saturday fell sharply by 40% to $10.3M while Easter Sunday is estimated by Disney to drop by 38% to $6.4M. More than half of the weekend tally was collected on Friday. The audience breakdown had no surprises – 79% of the crowd was female, 60% was under 17, and two-thirds were families.
Dropping back to second place was last weekend’s gargantuan opener Fast & Furious which tumbled 59% to an estimated $28.8M in its second lap. The sophomore weekend decline was in line with past films from the franchise as 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious dropped 63% while 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift fell by 59%. Neither had a holiday helping the second frame. After ten days, the new Furious has raced to a stunning $118M and should speed past the $127.2M of 2 Fast next weekend before eventually racing ahead of the $144.5M of the original The Fast and the Furious from 2001. A final domestic tally of $160-170M could result for the Vin Diesel–Paul Walker reunion.
Overseas has been on fire too as the Universal smash grossed an estimated $46.5M this weekend from 50 territories to boost the international sum to $91M. The global gross now stands at an incredible $209M after less than two weeks and by the end of this week, the racing sequel will become the highest-grossing installment of the lucrative series on a worldwide basis. Talks have already begun on a fifth chapter starring both leads.
Kids lured in by 3D gimmickry were still lining up for the animated adventure Monsters vs. Aliens which pulled in an estimated $22.6M in its third weekend. Off just 31%, the PG-rated smash posted a great hold and boosted its total to a stellar $141M in 17 days. Monsters is now on the same course as two recent toon sequels that made a killing running only 4% behind the pace of 2006’s Ice Age: The Meltdown and 3% ahead of last fall’s Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. Those blockbusters each went on to gross north of $180M domestically and more than $590M worldwide. Meltdown, like Monsters, had Easter to help the third frame but its drop was bigger at 41% and its weekend take was smaller at $20M. By the end of the week, the DreamWorks hit will become the top-grossing film of 2009 and could find its way to the neighborhood of $190M from North America alone.
This weekend underscored how big moviegoing has been this year over holiday sessions. All three holiday frames this year not only beat 2008 numbers, but soared ahead by more than 20% in each case. Compared to last year, 2009’s Martin Luther King weekend was up 24%, Presidents’ Day frame was up 33%, and the Easter session climbed 26%.
Monsters voice actor Seth Rogen opened a new live-action comedy Observe and Report this weekend, but bowed at number four with a mediocre $11M, according to estimates. The Warner Bros. release averaged a mild $4,085 from 2,727 sites and performed much like the actor’s last R-rated laugher Zack and Miri Make a Porno which opened to $10.1M from 2,735 locations last fall. Observe, which co-starred Anna Faris, featured Rogen playing a mall cop battling a streaker menacing his domain. Reviews were mixed.
The two films that followed both enjoyed small declines over the holiday frame. Nicolas Cage‘s actioner Knowing dipped by only 18% to an estimated $6.7M for Summit boosting the cume to a solid $68M. Paramount’s comedy I Love You, Man slid by just 17% to an estimated $6.4M for a $59M total to date. Dropping 40% to an estimated $5.7M was The Haunting in Connecticut which has taken in $46.3M for Lionsgate so far.
Failing to connect with moviegoers was the new sci-fi action pic Dragonball Evolution which limped to a $4.7M debut, according to estimates, putting it in eighth place. The PG-rated film was aimed at young boys but was rejected averaging a weak $2,132 from 2,181 locations for Fox.
Rounding out the top ten were Miramax’s Adventureland with an estimated $3.4M and Universal’s Duplicity with an estimated $3M. The theme park comedy fell by 40% in its second weekend and lifted its ten-day tally to a disappointing $11.5M while the Julia Roberts spy flick eased by only 28% raising the cume to $36.8M, a low figure for the A-list actress.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $126.4M which was up a scorching 63% from last year when Prom Night opened in the top spot with $20.8M; and up a solid 34% from last year’s Easter frame which fell in mid-March when Horton Hears a Who stayed at number one with $24.6M.
This week at the movies, we’ve got a pop songbird (Hannah Montana: The Movie, starring Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus), a mall cop (Observe and Report, starring Seth Rogen and Anna Farris), and plenty of dragon balls (Dragonball: Evolution, starring Justin Chatwin and Chow Yun-Fat). What do the critics have to say?
Ok, let’s get this out of the way upfront: if you fall within the target demographic of tween girls, you’re unlikely to be swayed by what the critics have to say about Hannah Montana: The Movie. Still, the pundits say the film is unlikely to draw many converts — or parents — into Hannah Montanah’s orbit. Miley Cyrus stars as the titular hero, who alternates between a life of pop-star celebrity and a down-to-earth existence in a small town. But will success spoil her? Will she forget her Tennessee roots? The pundits say the movie is inoffensive and good-natured, but painfully thin in the plotting department and fails to capitalize on its star’s natural charisma and charm. It’s also several notches below Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert, which notched an impressive 70 percent on the Tomatometer. (Check out our interview with Miley’s dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, in which he tells us about his five favorite movies.)
What is it about mall cops that screenwriters find so hilarious? Observe and Report follows on the heels of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, but happily, critics say this time out the fledgling formula is more successful. Seth Rogen stars as Ronnie, a rent-a-cop who takes mall security very seriously. However, when a flasher starts trouble, Ronnie is on the case, hoping it will be a springboard to the police academy — and a relationship with a make-up saleswoman (Anna Farris). The pundits say Observe and Report is one of the weirdest — and creepiest — mainstream comedies in quite a while, an odd mix of sadness and hilarity that provides ample teeth-gritting chuckles. But some also note it’s very dark and occasionally cruel.(Have a look at this week’s Total Recall, in which we list Seth Rogen’s Best Movies.)
For non-initiates, the Dragonball universe (detailed in graphic novels, video games, and a TV seires) can seem all but impenetrable. But critics say that’s the least of its big-screen incarnation’s problems; of greater concern is that Dragonball Evolution is simply dull and generic. Justin Chatwin stars as Goku, a young martial artist who seeks training from Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat) after the evil Piccolo has slain his grandfather; Goku and Piccolo end up in a race to acquire the Dragon Balls, magical spheroids that grant wishes to their possessors. The pundits say Dragonball Evolution is a dull slog, with so-so special effects and little of the complex mythology that spawned such cult devotion to the books and the TV show.
Also opening this week in limited release:
Art imitates life (and vice versa) in Hannah Montana: The Movie, in which teen idol Miley Cyrus stars as the titular character, a 16-year-old A-list celebrity desperately trying to balance stardom with her normal life. That normal life is her “real” life as Miley Stewart, a high schooler whose pop identity is only known to family and friends and who is about to get a wake-up call in the form of an extended stay in the homegrown Tennessee countryside where she grew up, courtesy of dad Robby Ray Stewart (played by Miley’s real-life father, country music star-turned-actor Billy Ray Cyrus). RT talked to the elder Cyrus about his favorite films, his transition from “Achy Breaky Heart” recording artist to Hollywood thespian, and how he credits David Lynch (and a letter from Johnny Cash) with helping daughter Miley become the teen entertainment phenomenon that she is today.
Oh my gosh! The incredible acting; the performances that are delivered in such an incredible true story. It’s a great film.
Clint Eastwood is an inspiration to me as an actor. He, Robert Redford, and Michael Landon, might be three of my biggest influences as an actor. In each of those cases, it’s the fact that they play everything with a “less is more” style. There’s just something about that style that I try to tap into every now and then; it’s definitely my approach to a lot of things.
I’m just a sucker for a good love story. And that would be another of my influences by Robert Redford. He’s been a definitive inspiration as an actor and as a role model, if you will.
Let’s go with Elephant Man — no, I’m going to go with Blue Velvet, for my David Lynch pick. I’m going to go with Blue Velvet because I love Roy Orbison so much. He was a great influence on me musically, and still is. That’s when I kind of put two and two together — with Blue Velvet — and thought, film is a great way for your music to be heard, without radio. It’s a great way for your music to be heard.
And that came out before you actually met David Lynch and starred in his film, Mulholland Dr.
Oh yes, it came out considerably before. I’m pretty sure I was a young hellion at the time, about wild enough to shoot at. Just rockin’ and rollin’, playing these little bars and clubs up in West Virginia and Kentucky and Ohio. Wild as can be, just crazy. It appealed to me.
I’m gonna go with the most recent film I saw that was really good. I thought Twilight was pretty killer. Put it up there, I’m gonna go with it! Even though it was about vampires, I thought it was told in a really cool way. I thought the acting was strong. And, I thought the music that accompanied the film was really cool.
Next: Billy Ray Cyrus on auditioning for David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., how he credits Lynch with starting Miley Cyrus’ acting career, and his close friendships with country legends Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Waylon Jennings
Thanks to his hit single, “Achy Breaky Heart,” Billy Ray Cyrus was a household name long before starring on TV shows like Doc and Disney’s Hannah Montana, which spins off into theaters in this week’s Hannah Montana: The Movie (he plays Robby Ray Stewart, father to secret superstar Miley Stewart — played by his real-life daughter, Miley Cyrus). Below, Cyrus shares how he made the transition from country music to Hollywood, how David Lynch figures prominently in both his and Miley’s career, and which fellow country icons helped him along the way.
At what point did you realize you wanted to act?
Billy Ray Cyrus: You know, it was in the mid-90s…my dad came down to ride horses with me, and we were sitting out in front of the campfire, just talking about things in my life. He said, “I always pictured you having one of those careers like Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.” And I said, “Dad, I’d love that, but you know, how do you do that? What’s the key?” And he said, “You’ve got to get into acting! You have all of your eggs in one basket with this music thing and you need to branch out.” And so the next week, I was in Los Angeles touring, and I saw in a little newspaper that David Lynch was casting for Mulholland Dr. I called my agent — I’d never been to an audition before — and I asked, do you think I could go in and audition for this movie? I’d seen that they were looking for a character named Gene the Pool Man, and I don’t know why but something told me, surely I could go be Gene the Pool Man. I went into the audition, and lo and behold, they hired me!
During filming, David Lynch pulled me to the side and said, “I don’t have any reason to blow smoke up your butt, but I just want to tell you the truth — I think you could be a serious actor.” And I said, “Really? I’ve never done this before.” He said, “A director is looking for someone who is real, and you’re very real. I love the way you’re playing these scenes. If you just continue to be real, you can do anything you want to do as an actor.” With that note of embracement from David Lynch, I then went on to read a script called Doc, and Doc was about hope and faith and love, a very positive show on Pax TV. I went and auditioned for Dr. Clint Cassidy and they hired me, and four years, 88 episodes later, I was a full-time actor.
You look back on it and without David Lynch, Miley wouldn’t be Hannah Montana. Without Toronto, Canada, and the fact that I did that first series…that’s when Miley fell in love with acting. She started taking a role on Doc — she became this little girl named Kylie in a recurring role — and I took her to see Mamma Mia! on the stage in Toronto. Toronto really embraced the arts and acting; at the time, it wasn’t so much like that in Nashville, they didn’t have acting classes. She was able to surround herself with some great coaches and some great thespians from the moment she said she was going to become a great actress. That was the turning point, when she said that’s what I’m going to do. She applied herself to become an actress. So without Lynch, that wouldn’t have happened.
Does he know that you credit him with Miley’s Hollywood career?
BRC: No, I don’t know that he knows that. I don’t know, but I sure would love to tell him. Why don’t you tell him for me? You put it out there, he’ll read it.
Do you stay in touch with him at all?
BRC: No, I haven’t seen him for quite some time. I haven’t seen him since we made the movie.
One last question from our resident country fan — who helped you through the down times in your music career?
BRC: Johnny Cash. Waylon Jennings. George Jones. Those were guys that I really looked up to. Carl Perkins. Johnny Cash wrote me a letter, encouraging me to continue to be real, continue to love the music, and continue to be an original. An original, he called me; he said I reminded me of a friend of his named Elvis Presley. And that in my case and in Elvis’, the good far outweighed the bad, and as long as I would always remember to give thanks to Almighty God from whom all things that are good come from, that I would be just fine. Then he signed it, “Let ’em have it, I’m in your corner — Johnny Cash.” That’s pretty killer, isn’t it? That letter lived on the wall, right outside of Miley’s bedroom in Nashville, Tennessee. She grew up reading that letter.
Johnny Cash was a great influence in my life, as was Waylon Jennings. Carl Perkins was one of my best friends, if not my best friend at a certain point in my life. I sang at both of their funerals; I was out of town for Johnny’s, but I sung at Waylon and Carl’s funerals.