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Billy Ray Cyrus: Action Movie Leading Man (1999)

Behind the scenes with Billy Ray Cyrus on the set of his new action-packed movie!

photos by Morrison/Wulffraat

Oirginally published in the July 20, 1999 issue of Country Weekly magazine.

Billy Ray Cyrus is crouched in a Vermont forest cradled in the rugged Green Mountains. He’s been chased, beaten and bloodied, shot and seduced. Now he’s out to make the bad guys pay.

As sunlight filters through the towering firs, the makeup specialist dabs sweat from Billy Ray’s brow. The movie cameras roll again as he cases the secluded house where the head thug lives.

Billy Ray is adding movie star to his country star resume. In the wake of recent TV guest roles, he’s landed the lead in the action film Radical Jack. The movie co-stars Dedee Pfeiffer, Michelle’s younger sister, and Noah Blake, Robert Baretta Blake’s son.

“I play Jack, a former government agent, who foils gun-runners. My character captures a bit of Billy Jack, Bonnie and Clyde, Rambo, and Clint Eastwood’s character in The Good the Bad and the Ugly,” explains Billy Ray between takes. 

“When people see the opening shots of the movie they’re not going to recognize me,” continues Billy Ray. “I’m a mess. Dirty. Drunk. Slumped over in a bar.”

Dedee, best known as Cybill Shepherd’s oldest daughter on the recent hit TV series Cybill, nods. “Billy’s fans are going to be blown away by how good an actor he is.”

Noah, who plays one of the bad guys, adds, “Billy Ray’s got a natural talent. He brings depth to his role as an action hero.” 

The film’s cast and crew move to the outside of the West Rutland, Vt., Town Hall building. 

“Action!” bellows director Jim Bradley, as Billy Ray crosses the street carrying a bag full of groceries. Passing behind a parked Jaguar, he purposely drops a can of soda and secretly plants an electronic bug under the bumper. 

“How was that? Do you need to see more of my hand?” Billy Ray asks.

“Good idea. Let’s reshoot from a lower angle,” says Bradley.

While the camera is reset, Billy Ray confides, “I like it that Jack has the guts to do what’s right. It’s also cool that he rides fast Harleys, powerful jeeps and packs a lot of firepower. And he’s real effective with the grenade toss.”

Effective indeed. In a warehouse scene, Jack does his grenade thing while blowing up cars, blowing away evil dudes and sending 40 oil drums exploding into the air. 

“I’m doing action things I never dreamed I’d be able to do, including some karate moves,” declares Billy Ray. “It’s tough, but fun. I like the martial arts aspect a lot and my little boy has been wanting to take lessons. He and I are probably going to do that together.”

For the first two weeks of filming, Billy Ray was joined on the movie set by his wife Tish, his daughter Miley, 6, and son Braison, 5. “My little boy’s goal in life is to be a Power Ranger,” Billy Ray adds. “When he saw me fighting the bad guys and doing the motorcycle chase scene, he was into it real big.

“The whole family liked the action scenes, but Tish wasn’t too tickled about the bedroom scene.”

“Yeah, I know,” he acknowledges, “but my kiss with Dedee—and what follows the kiss—is a whole different deal. I wasn’t out on the bow of The Maiden Princess; I was underneath the sheets! It was a tough scene to do.”

Dedee sees another side to the scene. “Billy isn’t some L.A. actor who’s worked for months with a personal trainer for the ‘shirt-off scene.’ His adorable shyness created a vulnerability in me as a woman and as an actress. That made the scene really hot.

“His legion of female fans will either hate me or love me. I hope they love me, because I consider myself the luckiest gal in Hollywood to be Billy’s on-screen love interest.”

Maybe so. But it’s clear that Tish is Billy Ray’s off-screen love interest.

“She’s the most wonderful person in the world,” he gushes. “And she just gave me some great news—come February we’re going to have a new baby in the house!” Billy Ray glows with pride. 

“I’m going to love holding the baby. I missed a lot of the baby times with my other kids because I was touring so much. I vowed if we ever had another child I’d spend every second I could being with him—or her. Now I’ll get a chance to do that.” 

Billy Ray has more great news: “When I finish Radical Jack, I’m doing a TNT movie starring Bill Pullman,” he says. “It’s an original script based on the ’60s TV western The Virginian. It’ll be shot in Calgary, Canada, and I play Bannister, a government man.” 

Billy Ray’s chances to act are mushrooming in the six months since he played a country singer on The Love Boat: The Next Wave and a pool man in the TV movie Mulholland Drive.

Sitting beside his motorhome dressing room, Billy Ray confesses, “Doing the TV roles were fun and didn’t involve much pressure. Being the lead in Radical Jack puts a lot more pressure on me. But I’m surrounded with a talented cast. Dedee, who now co-stars on the sitcom For Your Love, has shared techniques she’s learned in 17 years as an actress. And Noah has been like a coach to me.

“I can’t imagine anything better as I pursue an acting career than to come here and act for 30 days. This is on-the-job training at its best.”

After a scene in front of the post office, Billy Ray reveals what he thought would be an added problem turned out to be a life saver.

“I thought having tour dates throughout Radical Jack’s filming would cause troubles. Now I’m thankful I had them,” confesses Billy Ray. “When I get over-stressed on the set, I go do a show. Getting a dose what I love doing—making music—and being with the fans re-energized me. I come back better focused on the acting.”

On one of his jaunts to do a show, Billy Ray decided to take the movie to his fans. While performing in Syracuse, N.Y., he seemed to get into a brawl right onstage. It was actually his stunt double and some of the movie’s thugs pounding each other. Billy Ray finally stepped onstage and eased his fan’s fears.

Billy Ray admits his own fears of pursuing acting were eased by doing music videos. 

“I’ve done 19 videos for Mercury Records,” explains Billy Ray. “That’s a lot of experience in acting and being on a production set. Those videos helped prepare me for acting and they allowed me to be comfortable doing this movie.”

The video for his latest single, “Give My Heart to You,” did more than make him comfortable on the Radical Jack set. He actually landed him the part. 

“I was meeting with a casting agent in L.A.,” remembers Billy Ray. “He asked if I had any film showing what I can do. I said I’d just finished a music video and my buddy Mark Collie and I did this little movie in front of the music video.

“After watching that mini-movie, the agent said, ‘That character I just saw is Radical Jack.’ And he gave me the Radical Jack script. I was excited. It looked like I was on the road to starring in a movie.” 

But the road almost had a dead end. “I read the script on the plane heading home. It had some unrealistic parts, so I decided to pass on the project. But I liked Jack’s character, so I asked my manager to find out if the script was chiseled in stone. 

“A few days later, I was doing a show in Dover, Delaware. The movie’s director and producer met me there. We talked and the script was rewritten. I really like the new version.”

Because of his background, it’s understandable that Billy Ray is putting his imprint on the movie’s music.

“Deborah Allen had been talking to me for years about doing a duet of a song she wrote called ‘Satisfied Woman, Satisfied Man,” explains Billy Ray. “When I read the Radical Jack script, I realized that song was perfect for this film. So Deborah and I recorded it and she came up to be in the film.

“Hey, man, the legendary Hank Cochran’s in this movie!” adds Billy Ray. “The band playing in the bar scene is an awesome group: Hank, Deborah, Don Von Tress who wrote Billy Ray’s “Achy Breaky Heart,” among other hits, Clinton Gregory and a member of a local Vermont band called Huge Members. Those performers represent about 150 million in record sales. 

“I live and breathe Don Von Tress’ music. He has some songs I knew fit the script. We’re using one off Don’s Ghost Dance album for when I’m roaring around in my jeep. 

“There’s also a young rock band called Bare Bones from Boone County, W.Va. Their song, ‘Colt .45,’ goes great with the chase sequence at the front of the movie. And there’s a monster of a song that Hank Cochran and Clinton Gregory wrote called ‘The Feelin’ in My Eyes.”

“Clinton plays the song on the fiddle in a bar scene. I’ve just had this big fight in the bar and the patrons clear out. This song brings them back in.” 

The songs, the acting, the directing—the complete package—will determine how Radical Jack is distributed. 

“Edgewood Studios have produced seven movies and they’re really stepping up to the plate on this one,” declares Billy Ray. “They want to put one out of the park with Radical Jack. The script kept getting better and the people playing the parts are super.”

Director Bradley interjects: “Billy Ray is doing a great job, and if the rest of us do our jobs right, we could have an HBO or Showtime sale before the video release. Or we may release it to theaters. Until it’s shot and edited, we won’t know.” 

A cedar-scented breeze curls in from the mountains as the crew sets up the camera outside a picturesque, 100-year-old feed store. The scene calls for Billy Ray to defend a friend from some burly bullies.

“OK, let’s go right some wrongs—and kick some bad guys’ butts,” Billy Ray declares with a wink. The bullies are in for a long afternoon.

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