By all accounts, Reba McEntire is one of the nicest people working in the entertainment world. Despite all of her good press, “Big Sky: Deadly Trails” executive producer Elwood Reid was terrified of the country music legend.
Reid wanted McEntire to be part of the new season of the ABC drama – launching at 10 p.m. tonight (Sept. 21) – where she would play the matriarch of a successful backcountry outfitter with a secret history of missing customers. He knew she would be right for the role because he remembered how good she was with a similar character in the 1990 film “Tremors.”
“She’s just this rootin‑tootin ranch woman shooting a gun and killing monsters. I just loved her in that movie. I just was like how come she’s not in more movies? And so her name just always stuck in my head when I was trying to come up with these characters,” Reid says.
What scared Reid was the idea he was pitching McEntire a character that was so dark that it might impact her good-natured, happy-go-lucky image. He didn’t know how she would react to his idea of her taking on such a dark role.
“I was worried her fans or she didn’t want to go there. And so we talked and chit chatted for a couple minutes about rodeo and she was in Montana,” Reid says. “And then I slowly led into the, ‘What if you were to do something bad and not so nice?’”
At that point in the conversation, Reid heard this big voice in the background shout out “Yes.” That voice was coming from McEntire’s boyfriend, Rex Linn who was excited that McEntire was being offered a role that was so different from all of the acting work she had done.
That’s when Reid knew he no longer had a reason to be scared. Not only did McEntire agree to play Sunny Barnes but Linn plays her on-screen husband. Their characters arrive in Helena after a few months of relative peace. That changes when Sunny Barnes and her family set up Sunny Day Excursions just outside of town. From the moment they arrive, things begin to go wrong.
McEntire is very happy she signed on to the series.
“She’s an interesting person. She’s very protective and loving. And she’s trying to make a living with her family on this glamping thing, and she’s working real hard to hold it all together,” McEntire says. “That’s something totally different than anything I’ve ever played and acted before, and I love the depth of it.
“I like that she is more than three‑dimensional. She’s very deep and then very friendly and then she can get very dark. I like the dimensions that I get to play. It’s so much fun for me.”
It didn’t matter to McEntire that she had to juggle both the filming schedule and being on the road with her latest music tour. McEntire has been acting for more than three decades including starring in her own sitcom but music remains the driving force in her life.
The Country Music Hall of Fame member has won 16 ACM Awards, 15 American Music Awards, nine People’s Choice Awards, six CMA Awards, three Grammy Awards, a GMA Dove Award and was a 2018 Kennedy Center Honors recipient. She has 35 career No. 1 singles and has sold more than 56 million albums worldwide.
Taking on acting roles was not a big leap for McEntire. From her early days of performing music, McEntire always imagined that she was acting out a story. All she had to do was learn the basics of being in front of a camera.
“Repetition is the way I memorize, and so that was the hardest part. What Rex calls walking and talking, that’s hard. But it’s easy for me because when I’m singing, I have to sing and get to this point because the lighting has to be there when I’m on stage. So that helped me with that,” McEntire says. “But repetition and doing it a lot does help.
“I just had to train myself like I did with singing and memorizing songs. But I think the memorization is the hardest part for me, which I’d say it’s the hardest part for everybody. And the acting is just being a ham and trying to get attention.”
Reid has observed that when McEntire arrives on the set to work, she not only knows her lines perfectly but has memorized the lines of all the other actors. McEntire credits Linn with making her rehearse so much.
McEntire is willing to put in all the time rehearsing because she is so happy to be working again after COVID shut everything down. She looks forward to every script to see what is going to happen and that tells her the audience is going to be entertained.