Interview: Actress and Singer Rita Wilson Has Something to Say With Her Music
Even in her most heart-rending songs, Rita Wilson crafts a meaningful message.
The accomplished actress, who's appeared in films including My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Sleepless in Seattle, stepped into the world of country music with her 2012 debut solo album AM/FM. Initially timid about transitioning from acting to music, an eye-opening question from Chicago co-star and songwriter Kara DioGuardi (Carrie Underwood’s “Undo It,” “This” by Darius Rucker) sparked her songwriting aspirations when DioGuardi posed: “Do you have something you want to say?”
“It was the biggest gift anybody could ever put it in your lap,” Wilson tells Taste of Country. “And I did not take it for granted.”
Wilson has been writing and recording music ever since, releasing three albums and writing countless other songs. Though her writing is constantly evolving, a consistent theme is her desire to capture the truth regardless of whether she’s lived it.
“As an actor, you don't necessarily play people that are just like you all the time. You have to explore and become a different character,” she explains of the parallels between her two professions. “I took that as a lesson to explore writing stories that weren't necessarily my own personal stories.”
The multi-faceted star exhibits her ability to step into a perspective different from her own with “Where’s My Country Song?” shining a spotlight on hardworking mothers, the often unsung heroes worthy of a country song. Penned solely by Wilson, “Where’s My Country Song?” is inspired by her friends who are mothers, along with her own mother and her sister, who is a teacher and single parent.
“I started thinking about all the women out there that are raising families and working and doing it with a lot of dignity and integrity, but they're not really having songs written about them,” she explains of the song’s concept.
Meanwhile, the heartfelt “Throw Me a Party” is deeply personal. Written in the wake of her breast cancer battle and resulting bilateral mastectomy reconstruction, Wilson turned her candid discussions with husband Tom Hanks and other family members about the possibility of her passing into the song, revealing that her ideal send-off includes sparklers, wine and her ashes being thrown to the wind. The song also captures the beautiful nature of Wilson’s writing, as told by the images of a “fire yellow aspen” and being tossed into the leaves where she believes true healing begins.
“I felt like that said exactly what I wanted to say about that experience,” she states.
The actress-turned-songwriter also feels a strong connection to her collaboration with Jimmie Allen on “When This is Over” on his 2020 EP, Bettie James. Having been a fan of Allen’s for years, Wilson jumped at his request to be a part of the song she calls “a little gift from heaven” about coming out of a life-altering experience a better version of oneself. The timely message is carried by Allen’s “smooth and beautiful” voice, as Wilson describes, along with her own gentility and the Oak Ridge Boys’ soaring harmonies.
For Wilson, the sentimental lyrics connect to her story as a breast cancer survivor and as a parent overcoming the “challenge” of nurturing family members who have struggled with addiction, along with her and Hanks’ COVID-19 diagnosis, which she cites as an “awful thing.”
"Thankfully we're alive and here to talk about it. Some people were not so lucky and that was scary, because you don't know if it's going to take that turn,” she explains of the virus she’s since recovered from.
But in venturing through these various trials, Wilson says it’s rewarded her with a positive outlook on life she wouldn’t have otherwise – a notion she hopes listeners carry into their own lives.
“Anybody who's had a struggle understands you think it's never going to end, and when you finally accept 'this is what's happening, I have to accept it,' you hope that on the other side of it, you're going to come out a better person and that you're going to be more grateful, more thankful and that you made it,” she contemplates. “I think that's a really positive message that I wanted to put out there in the world.”
Wilson released her most recent album, Half to Home, in 2019 and is currently working on two more albums.
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