Randy Travis Is Acting Like a Movie Star (1997)

Originally published in our March 18, 1997 issue featuring Randy on the cover.

Start taking Randy Travis seriously as an actor. He does. And so does Hollywood. 

After five years of patience and polite begging, the man credited with starting the 90s country boom is beginning to earn respect as an actor and getting roles from movieland giants like Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Seagal.

Over the past few months, Randy has played everything from bad guys in The Shooter and Seagal’s Fire Down Below to a father in Boys Will Be Boys to an agitated juror in Coppola’s The Rainmaker. And there are at least two other projects in the works.

Respect wasn’t always there for Randy as an actor, the singer told Country Weekly during a break on the set of The Shooter, a western due out this summer.

“I’ve had to beg for every part I’ve gotten,” says Randy. “Having a name as a singer helps me get my foot in the door, but it doesn’t prove I can act. They’ll look at me and be polite, but I certainly won’t get any work because of it. It’s more like, ‘There’s that singer who wants to act,’ a kind of `Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ You end up begging for everything and you end up doing things you’re not crazy about just to get some experience.”

Like the time Randy’s speaking part in Young Guns was cut—to a shot of his back.

He can laugh about it now, but that’s because he understands work.

“If you’re going to succeed in the film business—just like in the music business—you have to be serious and apply yourself and be willing to put the time into doing smaller projects to work your way up,” he says bluntly. Randy is convinced that the crossover is possible, despite Hollywood’s apparent lack of interest in using artists from other fields.

“Look at Barbra Streisand, who is hugely successful in both areas,” he points out. “Cher made it, George Strait did a great job with Pure Country and Reba has done well, too.”

What started out as simple fun in 1992, when Randy joined Andy Griffith on an episode of Matlock, has become an exciting career challenge. Randy and his wife, Lib, now own a condo in Los Angeles and Randy has been studying with L.A. acting coaches Stephen Book and Andrew Magarian.  

“They’ve taught me how to tear a script apart, figure out why a character feels the way he does in certain circumstances, and prepare for the way this character acts,” he says, and as he leans back, he suddenly bears a startling resemblance to his hero, Clint Eastwood.

“With each piece I work on, I feel a little more at ease—both in front of the camera and in figuring out things for the character. You don’t just walk into the frame and say the words—you try to figure out what you can do with the shot and how you can move. My coaches have told me that acting is doing, and there’s always more to do. When you get into that aspect of it, acting becomes more and more fun.”

There was plenty of fun working with Coppola on The Rainmaker. “Francis was different from anybody I ever worked with,” Randy says of the notorious director of Apocalypse Now and The Godfather

“The first day, we used the script. The second day we had a completely new story, and everybody was a different character in another trial. That improvisation lasted several hours.

“He had trial lawyers advising everyone, and it was a wonderful experience,” Randy says, breaking into a smile. “He is definitely a perfectionist. I may have only a minute or two on screen, but I probably did the scene 50 times.

“I play a juror, and the other jurors have told the defense attorney, Jon Voight, that I’ve been tampered with, so he’s hassling me. I start off by saying it isn’t true, and then I get mad because he won’t drop it. Finally I jump across the front row of jurors and start whipping Jon. After doing that 50 times, I was sore everywhere.”  

Dom DeLuise’s direction of Boys Will Be Boys was something else entirely. “The man is funny; he entertains you all day long, even while you’re working,” Randy says, laughing at the memory. “He’s unlike any director I’ve ever worked with. He kept the camera running while we did another version of the same scene with different dialogue. He rewrites it on the spot, which can make you a little nuts, but he’s shooting for spontaneity. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.”

Randy will also be heard as both the narrator and a character in Annabelle’s Wish, a children’s animated film due this fall for which he’s co-writing the music.

But perhaps his biggest stretch will be the role he starts next month, when he’ll play a psychiatrist in Storm of the Heart, starring Martin Sheen.

“I don’t have to do a lot of research to play a cowboy, like I’m doing here,” Randy says, looking around The Shooter set. “I’ve been playing a mean character, which is a little different from any character I’ve played before—but the role of a psychiatrist is something I’m really going to have to prepare for. 

“A lot of people have suggested I see a psychiatrist,” he says with a faint smile, “so I’ll actually go see some. I’ll sit in on some sessions while they’re counseling people to see how it works, which will be good for me. I’ve heard of people going to bartending school so they can play bartenders, so I’m sure I’ll learn something by watching counseling. Maybe I’ll even learn something about myself.”

Creating each character is a separate process, says Randy, but some are tougher to create than others.

“A character who is compassionate is harder to play than a guy who really doesn’t care about anything or anybody,” he says. “In The Shooter, for instance, I’m just mean—I hate everybody and everything, so you just don’t get in my way!”

That sounds almost funny coming from Randy Travis, until he quietly adds that meanness is a character flaw he understands all too well. 

“I’ve been there,” he admits. “No joke. The meanness is there. I’ve changed and calmed down a lot since I’ve gotten older, and I’ve tried my best to live as a good person and treat people the way I’d like to be treated. But I went through those years where I fought, drank a lot, tried outrunning the police and all kinds of things. I’ve totalled four vehicles, I’ve had motorcycle wrecks and I’m still here. It’s amazing.

“I was around people who are fine now—the ones who are still alive—but at the time they were a rough group, and I was around a lot of meanness.” The relief in leaving that part of his life behind is evident; he seems genuinely grateful.

For Randy, the toughest part of making movies is the scheduling. 

“I’m used to things being more regimented,” he says. “When we book a show, I know that on a certain day I’m going into this town, into this building and that the show is going to happen within 10 minutes of when it’s supposed to.”

Not so in Hollywood. “In the movie business, I may be working the day after tomorrow but I don’t know it. It makes the music business seem totally sane.”

Last year Randy survived some seriously insane scheduling during a period when he was working on a film during one of his own tours and had to jet home from Canada every weekend to perform at concerts. He learned his lesson: No longer willing to jeopardize his health or his music, he has decided that when his four-month tour begins this June he won’t make films until it’s over.  

“I need to sing,” he explains. “I’ve been singing since I was 8 years old and writing songs since I was 16, so it’s something I have to do. If I’m not performing for an audience, I have to sit down and sing and play guitar, and I also have to write songs every once in a while. It’s kinda like an addiction, I guess. I couldn’t imagine living without it.”

Movies give him another kind of pleasure, he says. “Film is fun because you get to pretend to be someone else and in shows like The Shooter I get to be a kid again with the riding and shooting and fast-draw stuff.” Randy is actually so fast on the draw that he was asked to slow down so the crew could get the shots. 

“I’m really enjoying making this picture, but the feeling of being in front of an audience is unlike any other,” Randy says. “There’s no doubt I’d rather be onstage on the good nights than anywhere else.” 

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