Originally published in the April 12, 1994 issue of Country Weekly magazine—the very first issue!
Randy Travis took a year-long break from his grueling country music schedule to make five movies—four of them westerns—but now says he’s recharged his musical batteries and has left the bright lights of Tinseltown for a triumphant return to Music City.
“Anybody, regardless of where they are, where they’re from or what they do for a living, dreams of being a cowboy once in a while,” the golden-voiced, three-time Grammy Award winner told COUNTRY WEEKLY in an exclusive interview.
“But music is my first love, and it will always be.”
After making nine albums since 1986, Randy tired of the country music grind and decided about a year ago to take time out from touring and recording to chase his dreams of starring in Western films. A year later, he’s notched five, big-budget movies with a constellation of Hollywood stars: Maverick with Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson, Dead Man’s Revenge with Bruce Dern, Frank and Jesse, The Legend of O.B. Taggart with Mickey Rooney, and At Risk, the only non-Western in the bunch.
Now that he’s got the “acting thing” out of the way, a newly inspired Randy returns to the forefront of country music this month with the release of his new album, This is Me.
So what does he say to all of his fans who think he retired? “They got that wrong. These films coming out this year, some in the theaters and some on TV, will show people what I’ve been doing.”
More often than not, what he’s been doing has involved pulling on a pair of chaps, strapping on a couple of six-guns and hopping up on a trusty stallion. Of the five movies that Randy shot, four of them are westerns.
“Anybody, regardless of where they are, where they’re from or what they do for a living, dreams of being a cowboy every once in a while,” Randy said.
His first taste of moviemaking came with a bit part in Young Guns. Blink and you’ll miss him, since most of his work ended up on the cutting room floor. But the acting bug bit.
“I’d been touring for about eight years and was burned out on that. It wasn’t the singing for an audience ‑ I loved that and always will. But I wanted to get off the road and stop waking up in a new town every day.”
His timing couldn’t have been better—following Clint Eastwood’s success with Unforgiven movie moguls put together one dusty shoot‑’em‑up after another. Randy was waiting.
“I’ve been practicing quick draw and target shooting and riding horses since I was a kid.”
Randy’s expertise in the cowboy way allowed him to help out his co-stars in handling guns. He also did all but one of his own stunts on the set of Frank and Jesse, most of them involving a horse.
In Deadman’s Revenge, airing April 15 at 9 p.m. ET on the USA Network, Randy plays Marshal Harriman, a lawman who can’t keep a ruthless land baron (played by Bruce Dern) from cheating everyone in town.
The big budget Maverick, due in theaters next month, stars Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and James Garner in a remake of the old TV show that features Randy in a cameo.
At Risk, the only non‑western in the bunch, takes on the tragic topic of AIDS. “It’s kind of an artsy‑type movie, made for the theater,” said Randy.
The Legend of O.B. Taggart, a feature film about a train robber who gets out of jail and goes after the loot he hid, co-stars Mickey Rooney and Larry Gatlin.
And of course, there’s Frank and Jesse, the big one for the fledgling actor.
He plays Cole Younger, a member of the notorious James/Younger gang who robbed and killed their way into infamy. “Cole was a rough character,” Randy says. “I read quite a bit about Cole and the James/Younger gang to prepare for the movie. I played him the way I thought he might have been.”
Not only will Randy’s fans have to get used to seeing their idol as a villain, they’ll also have to find him underneath a face full of hair. Cole Younger was a bearded man.
“I shaved it as soon as I finished the movie,” the once‑again clean‑cut performer said. “I never got used to it.”
Randy said even though the character of Cole Younger was as nasty as they come, acting the tough guy was a lot of fun. In some ways, it allowed him to follow in the footsteps of the man Randy considers to be the master, Clint Eastwood, who turns out to be a big fan of Randy’s music.
Randy spent just a speck of time on the set of Maverick but it was a speck worth spending, he says.
“The set was unbelievable,” he recalled. “I walked into that room and looked around and saw all these character actors I knew from the old westerns since I was a boy. I just stood there like a kid in a candy store.”
Along with all the fun, though, came some real work and Randy found his experience as a performer on a stage sometimes helped and sometimes didn’t.
“It’s totally different,” he says. “On live shows you get the automatic feedback from an audience, plus there’s no backing up.
Working in front of the camera, the only audience is people working alongside you and the camera, which you have to learn to ignore.
“On the other hand, working onstage makes you feel a lot more comfortable in front of a camera.”
Cutting an album has a few more similarities to moviemaking, Randy says. “Doing an album, the producer is sort of like the director on the set. He sits in the booth while I’m singing and gives me direction. If he thinks I’m approaching a line too hard or too
soft, whatever, he directs me, plus he tells all the musicians what he wants.
“The biggest difference between Nashville and Hollywood is the pace. The music business seems totally sane compared to the movie business,” Randy explained.
“I knew exactly where I was going to be, how long I would be there and exactly what time the show would take place. In the movie business you can’t make schedules like that. You might get called and told to be there in 20 minutes.”
As much as Randy adapted to his new world of lights, cameras and action, he didn’t let the old world of guitars, lyrics and melody fade into the background. One film threw him together with country crooner Larry Gatlin.
As for Frank and Jesse, expect to hear a Randy Travis‑penned song on the soundtrack.
“Music always has been a priority for me,” he emphasized. “I see myself always working on albums -‑ as long as we can sell a few, as long as there’s a reason to keep making them.
“This is the best that I’ve felt about an album in quite some time,” he said. “My producer, Kyle Lehning, and I had a year to put it together, so we took the time in finding the right songs and, in the studio, doing the work we needed to do to make a strong album.
“We experimented a little production-wise. Things will sound a little different than most of the other albums we’ve done. In some cases there are productions that are a lot more rowdy than we’ve been used to doing.”
And while This Is Me is undeniably a Randy Travis album, with his distinct voice and styling, the singer has been diligent in keeping up with the Joneses (George division) as well as the Cyruses (Billy Ray type).
“I listen to country radio all the time,” he says. “I’m not one of those who sings country and listens to something else.” So he’s well aware of the changes that have been churning through Nashville, even in the past year.
“When I started in the business, every label that signed anybody tried to record traditional country music,” he notes. “A few years went past, and kind of like they did in the 70s, they started experimenting and stepped out of those bounds and went to the pop‑sounding music.”
“ Now there’s a huge variety of music that’s being played on country radio ‑ a lot of it good, a lot not so good.”
“I look at movies the same way I look for a song. It has to be something I like,” he explains.
“At the same time, at the position that I’m in right now, I can’t get the best scripts and work the way Mel Gibson can. I’m at a beginning point. It’s not to say that I have to take anything that’s offered, because I won’t do that. But I can’t be quite as choosy as a Mel Gibson.”
He doesn’t expect to be another Mel Gibson either. “I want to be a competent actor and be offered some good parts and some really good movies that the public receives well. I don’t see myself winning any awards.
“I went after the acting because it’s something I want to do. I kind of wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.”
All the script offers headed his way indicate he proved something to somebody.
“In the beginning I hated to watch myself. I’d see everything that was wrong instead of what was right,” he says. “I’m my own worst critic.” And hey, if it doesn’t work out then he always has that singing thing to fall back on.
And, hey, if it doesn’t work out, then he always has that acting thing to fall back on.