forty million albums sold; a string of timeless country-pop ballads like “This Kiss” and “There You’ll Be”; and an impressive slew of Grammy awards: Faith Hill’s accomplishments over a three-decade career have made her one of country music’s biggest crossover stars on both sides of the Atlantic. But within 10 seconds of our meeting, the 54-year-old from Mississippi gave me a big hug and told me that I “look like sunshine” with my neon yellow nails. It’s hard not to blush at this disarming superstar cutie.
Still, we’re not in a London hotel room to talk about style or even their music. Today’s topic is Hill’s role in the 10-part Paramount Plus western. 1883. A prequel to the Kevin Costner-led drama yellowstone (also on Paramount Plus), the show follows a group of 19th-century hopefuls who “move west” from Fort Worth, Texas, in search of new opportunities for their families. Hill plays Margaret Dutton: wife of group leader James and a strict but loving mother of two. As much as the journey begins with hope, it proves far from easy – smallpox threatens to devastate anyone who comes in contact with it, and extreme cold, heat, wind and rain across the country are unrelenting. There is also the significant matter that Native Americans are wary of a large group of armed whites boldly moving through their lands. “Things are becoming real, very quickly,” says Hill.
Her on-screen husband is her real-life husband and fellow country music genre contender Tim McGraw. 1883 marks the first time the couple has performed together in a big way, though they’ve spent years touring the States singing Grammy-winning romantic duets like “Let’s Make Love” and “Like We Never Loved At All.” As Taylor Sheridan, the co-creator of yellowstoneapproached the couple to headline a spin-off series, it didn’t take much convincing before they signed on.
“It should be physically challenging and it should be authentic,” says Hill. “That’s the kind of thing we wanted to get involved in.”
Any quick online search for Hill and McGraw reveals that they’re a proudly devoted couple — an oft-repeated “secret” of their nearly 26-year marriage is that they’re never apart for more than three days. Still, Hill made a firm decision not to use their time together as preparation for the show — they didn’t want their house to become a rehearsal space. “Tim walked into the house and shouted a line from the show and I said ‘Ah ah’ and closed my ears,” she says, shaking her head and swinging hoop earrings. “I felt like we really needed to meet on set as Margaret and James so it was as authentic as it needed to be.”
Their genuine closeness, though magical to their characters’ on-screen chemistry, was something that she felt would get in the way of truly feeling the role of Margaret, who is far stricter than herself. “We never sang together until they said ‘Action,’ and that was the first time,” she says. “It was taboo for me, and that’s how it had to be. When you’ve been with someone that long and you know them that well and vice versa… I wanted to meet James and he needed to meet Margaret.”
before 1883, Hill’s on-screen appearances have been primarily musical performances. She had some high-profile roles, but didn’t enjoy her experience on the 2004 adaptation The women of Stepfordand felt a lot happier about the 2017 indie drama Dixieland. But she downplays her acting experience compared to that of her husband, whose leading roles in films such as friday night lights and The blind side have long since established him as a Hollywood actor. However, Hill’s work as Margaret feels grounded and believable. It’s a stark contrast to the A-list vibe she personally has; Instead of a blow-dried and pastel yellow designer jumpsuit, her character is tightly corseted and practical. Margaret’s first scene sees her swearing at an elderly man when she catches him flirting with her teenage daughter Elsa (Isabel May). That sense of family protection at all costs appealed to Hill.
“She believed in her husband, stood by her husband and her family was the most important thing,” says Hill. “A tough woman. As a nurse in the Civil War, she had seen a lot. And to be pregnant with Elsa while James is a prisoner of war—I didn’t know if I’d ever see him again!” This switch between “her” and “I” when referring to Margaret is one Hill makes often . The connection is palpable. “I take care of our home, the farming, the gardening. I did everything, pregnant with our daughter. she is tough She reminds me a lot of my mom to be honest with what she did for us growing up.”
Shortly after her birth in September 1967, Hill was adopted by Ted and Edna Perry and raised with their older biological sons in the small town of Star, about 200 miles from New Orleans. Knowing about her adoption from a young age, she credits her parents with her devout Christian upbringing. Now Hill is a mother to three daughters in their 20s with McGraw. It’s an experience she drew from to bring her character to life. “Once a mother, always a mother,” she says. “Everything I think about in my life, I think about it as a mother, period. Not as an artist or whatever, I’m a mother first.” However, entering a woman’s world nearly 150 years ago has involved adjustments; She wasn’t able to maintain her armpit hair as it wasn’t realistic for the time, and it also meant layers of uncomfortable clothing (“It was torture!”).
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However, what surprised her most about being a woman in the late 18th century was how social conventions fell by the wayside in such harsh circumstances. “When you’re on a trail, on a wagon and a horse, you’re all on the same page. Man or woman, it didn’t matter. you had to survive So there are skills you would need to learn that you would not imagine you would ever need in your life.”
Since authenticity is a big part of the show’s appeal, there was no fake when it came to learning the skills that would be necessary for such a journey: the “cowboy school” the cast attended before filming, consisted of brushing up on their horsemanship skills, learning to drive a chariot and herding cattle. “Oh, that was so much fun. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that – have you ever done that?” I hadn’t. hill laughs. “I highly recommend it! There is nothing like sitting on the back of a horse with wide space, with the wind blowing through your hair… You are just free. As free as possible.”
As fun as the new terrain was, Hill counts the experience as the greatest physical challenge of her life: “The elements! It was scorching in Texas, coldest in Montana… The wind and the pouring weather was really hard to deal with.” Once filming was over, Hill couldn’t get home and get back to normality fast enough. But a few weeks later, realizing she had said goodbye to Margaret, she was surprised at how much she missed her. “I actually went through a little depression,” she says quietly. “I have never experienced something like that. Because when you invest in someone, and stuff like that… I became Margaret, and I just missed her, and everything about it.”
Soon it’s time for graduation and Hill apologizes: A change in her schedule means she has to leave earlier than planned. But before she leaves, she shares that along with the soaring musical score and the beauty of the scenery, 1883The appeal of lies in its universal message: We would all be willing to take great risks for a better life for our families. “It made us feel like we were so much more alike than we were different. You know what I mean? I hope people feel that. We’re all exactly the same, we want the same thing. So let’s take that and see what happens. It warms your heart.” It’s a very sweet note at the end – but I for one wouldn’t expect anything less.
1883 is now streaming on Paramount Plus
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/faith-hill-interview-1883-paramount-plus-b2115378.html Faith Hill: “Everything I think about in my life I think about as a mother. Not as an artist… I’m a mother first.