Country Strong: Gwyneth Paltrow Starring in Shana Feste’s Indie (Women in Film)

Gwyneth Paltrow stars as country singer Kelly Canter in Country Strong, written and directed by indie diretor and writer Shana Feste. The film, which also stars Tim McGraw and Leighton Meester, was released by Screen Gems on January 7.

The filmmakers’ first choice to play the pivotal role of Kelly Canter – a self-destructive woman of uncommon talent — was Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow.  “I’ve known Gwyneth for a very long time,” says Topping, “and she was an obvious choice from the standpoint of her acting ability, her credibility, her stature in the film world–and the fact that she has a beautiful singing voice.  She is a little younger than the character, who was meant to be at that precipice of forty-five or so when the ‘up’ part of her career might be over. But Shana, Tobey and I were so excited by the idea that it seemed ridiculous not to go to her. Gwyneth doesn’t work that much, she says no to everything and it is very difficult to get her to read a script and look at a directing sample, but it was just kismet.  She read it, loved it, and asked to see Shana’s movie; she and her husband watched The Greatest and sobbed, and she called me the next day.  So she was the one and only person we went to!”

Long Process

Paltrow describes the process of being won over by the role. “Jenno, who has been an old, old friend of mine, sent it to me and in true form I didn’t get to it,” says Paltrow. “I’m a terrible script reader and I’ve not worked very much in the past few years in order to be home with my kids.  Jenno emailed me and said ‘I’m going to kill you if you don’t read this because it’s really brilliant and it’s a great part for you.’  So I read it and she was right. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  It was very haunting and the characters were so complicated in such a good way, like everybody has a good side and a really not-so-good side.  It just stayed with me.  I figure if I’m going to be spending time away from my family I better be doing something that means something to me.”

Dream to work with Paltrow

Feste reveals how it had always been a dream of hers to work with Gwyneth. “You write a script in your bedroom, flat broke, and you don’t know if anybody will ever read it and suddenly, cut to a year later, you’re walking across the room to give Gwyneth Paltrow direction!” she explains.  “I’m so lucky to be working with her.  She has a beautiful voice and I knew that out of all the actresses out there today she’s one who would really transform, who would do her homework. She learned to play the guitar, she was in vocal lessons, she worked at this part.”

Demanding Role

In taking on the part of a woman whose struggle against her demons can cause considerable collateral damage, Paltrow realized that Kelly Canter was one of her most demanding roles.  During filming, the Oscar-winning actress confided, “I’ve not done a part that’s this challenging since before I had children because I just didn’t see how to live in both worlds and, to be totally honest, I’m struggling.  It’s very hard for me to be doing this kind of part and then be coloring on the floor and making bottles.  It’s really weird. It’s like the person who I’m playing is so far from who I am in my real life and it’s hard to bridge the gap.”

Costuming

“Kelly wears a lot of expensive clothes,” observes Battat, “but I think the thing about Kelly Canter is she’s vulnerable and she’s a bit of a mess.  She has all these nice things, but doesn’t get it together the way that someone would who is spending a lot of money on their clothes.   But she certainly knows when she needs to be put together, like for the press conference—when she in the public eye.  But when she’s not, she’s sloppier.  Some of our influences for Kelly’s elegant look were real, definitely Faith Hill, but for the most part the inspiration for Kelly came not from real artists, but more from the idea that she was vulnerable. I was thinking about how were we going to make someone as poised as Gwyneth seem like she’s falling apart.”

During Kelly’s triumphant moments on stage in Dallas, her three dresses make bolder, successful statements. Battat describes how “the red ‘Country Strong’ dress was made after we started doing choreography and Gwyneth said she felt more comfortable dancing in boots. I thought that the costume we had originally chosen didn’t suit cowboy boots so we ended up making that red dress in Nashville with locally sourced fabrics.  It’s pretty simple and, working with the movement of the choreography, provided a nice little flounce at the bottom that moved when she danced.  Inspired by the choreography, I wanted her ‘Shake That Thing’ dress to be tight because that song and the movements are very sexy.  For her last costume, the ‘Coming Home’ dress, we wanted her to look ethereal wearing something shiny, feathery and angelic as she enjoys her big moment.”