Mary Steenburgen is known for her decades of work as an actor, picking up an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her turn in “Melvin and Howard.” But she woke up from a minor surgery on her arm in 2007 feeling “very strange.” “My old brain wasn’t really the same anymore,” she explains, adding, “It was replaced by a musical brain.” That fateful event opened up a new career path for Steenburgen as a songwriter, and her country tune “Glasgow” provides a glorious closing moment to the film “Wild Rose.” And this weekend, she received a Critics’ Choice nomination for Best Original Song. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
Steenburgen’s “new musical brain” had her hearing music in her head constantly, despite not having a musical background. Every experience generated music. Instead of allowing this startling change drive her crazy, the Oscar winner decided to find a way to incorporate it into her life. She picked up instruments, studied song structure, and eventually found herself writing tunes in Nashville for Universal Music Publishing Group. “I was always the least experienced person in the room,” she admits, “and also the oldest.”
When director Tom Harper needed a song for his film “Wild Rose,” it became the perfect opportunity for Steenburgen to marry her acting and songwriting skills. The song is one that lead character Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) writes and sings at the end of the movie. Not just some end credits tune, the number has to express everything Rose-Lynn experiences in the film. “I cheated a little bit” she says with a smile, and got her hands on the complete script to read in its entirety. “I approached it partly like an actor,” she explains. “If I’m playing this character, what would I have to say?” She quickly called collaborators who she knew would also understand the character: co-writers Caitlyn Smith and Kate York. “The song poured out of us,” she gushes. It would be titled after the character’s home town in the film: “Glasgow (No Place Like Home).”
“The connection of acting and songwriting is that you’re telling stories” claims Steenburgen. “I can play characters that I could never play in a movie.” She goes on to praise the lead performance by Jessie Buckley. As Steenburgen puts it, “she really plays it with no apologies.” With the actor’s character driven lyrics joined with Buckley’s devastating vocals, the song becomes an emotional and rousing moment of catharsis for the character and the audience.
Though the journey to songwriting was daunting, Steenburgen is enjoying this new aspect of her life. After telling her story of musical awakening she believes “it’s all about saying yes, and not being afraid to only have new beginnings saved for young people.” It’s common for kids to receive words of encouragement, that they can do anything with their big dreams. “Nobody says that to someone my age,” says Steenburgen, “so I said it to myself.” The music world is certainly richer for her leap of faith.
Be sure to make your Oscar nominee predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominees are announced on January 13. And join in the fun debate over the 2020 Academy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.