Before Lake Highlands graduate Granger Smith became a country star performing shows across the nation, he was singing in our neighborhood.
Though he’d been releasing albums since 1999, first with Waiting on Forever, the album that brought him national recognition was Remington and the single “Backroad Song” in 2016. Over the years he’s cultivated a devoted fan base, Yee Yee Nation
His other titles include podcast host, iHeart Radio host and something of a comedian with his alter ego, Earl Dibbles Jr. And the list doesn’t end there.
After receiving a script from director Vickie Bronaugh that kind of “fell in my lap,” Smith decided to try his hand at acting. The singer’s film debut happened last year in the holiday movie Moonrise in the lead role of Will Brown. He also lent his songwriting skills to the film’s soundtrack.
Moonrise is about a country singer whose grief after his wife’s death sidetracks his career and causes him to push away his teen daughter, Ellie (Piper Clurman). Brown learns to live again once a horse trainer (Sonya Balmores) arrives to teach his daughter how to ride the same horse his wife died riding.
Tell me a little bit about Moonrise and how it was as a film debut.
I didn’t really seek it out. I didn’t really try to go to find this movie script. They were looking for a country singer to fill this role, because the movie is about a country singer. So that’s how it got to my desk. Although I’d never acted before, I thought I really liked the story, read the whole script. It was just random that I read the script, and I actually liked it. I’d called back my brother, Tyler (my manager) and I was like, “I think I’m gonna do it; I’m gonna try this out.”
How many songs did you write for the film, and was it any different than writing for an album?
I wrote 12 songs for it. And it was very different from writing a normal album because I was writing to specific moments, whether it was to a title or a place in the film. The director would say, “Hey, I’ve got this moment right here, this segment, this transition, this montage. Can you run a song for this?” So, I was able to specifically write to a moment in time, which is easier than writing to no idea at all, 10 o’clock in the morning cup of coffee, try to write a song. It’s much harder to do that, though I enjoyed the process.
Did playing Will Brown teach you anything about yourself?
It taught me that acting is hard, that memorization is key to being on set. I needed to memorize my own lines and the other characters’ lines and be able to have that kind of interaction. I had to memorize to the point of believing what I was saying. And that forced me to really become Will Brown. I’d go back to my Airbnb after the daily shoot. Sometimes I would think, “Man, I’m a little sad, depressed. Why? Oh, it’s not because of me. It’s because of this character who’s currently depressed.”
Did you channel some of your own experience losing your son, River, into playing the character and grieving your wife as Will Brown?
I’m certainly acquainted with grief. I thought that maybe that would be the case, and even the director and I talked about that, but my wife Amber plays my deceased wife in the film. It seemed to be impactful emotionally for me if I put myself in the character of Will Brown and thought about losing my Amber. That scenario helped me specifically in the scenes more than drawing on my own life experiences. That would have been a little obscure for me to try to relate losing a child to losing a wife in the film.
What were your family’s reactions to the film?
I was kind of worried about my kids and what they would think. My daughter, when I first started showing her rough cuts of it, she really was interested in watching it. So that gave me hope that maybe my other kids or my other people would like the film itself because my daughter’s a big critic.
Would you want to play any roles in future movies or series?
If it was the right one, if it was the right script. I accepted this one because I just really liked the story, and I don’t think I’d be able to say that about everything. Yeah, I’m not going to start pursuing an acting career.
Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Moonrise was released Dec. 15 on PureFlix and will be available to stream in other formats in the coming months.