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Hannah Montana: The Movie - Billy Ray Cyrus interview

Billy Ray Cyrus in Hannah Montana: The Movie. © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Interview by Rob Carnevale

BILLY Ray Cyrus talks to us about going back home to film Hannah Montana: The Movie, how art often imitates life in terms of his off-screen and on-screen relationship with daughter Miley Cyrus.

He also reveals what it was like to work with martial arts sensation Jackie Chan on his latest movie…

Q. Does your relationship with Miley in the movie mirror real life?
Billy Ray Cyrus: It’s pretty close. Miley is always on, she’s always funny, she’s always writing songs, she’s always making music. The parallel of the film is like Miley says, going back to her home, going back to her roots. Getting back to Tennessee was art imitating life imitating art.

Q. How do you keep your daughter’s feet on the ground as her father in real-life?
Billy Ray Cyrus: I’m pretty laidback as a dad anyway. I just trust her so much. She has a great head on her shoulders and she makes pretty good decisions most of the time. She even has enough common sense that if she makes a bad one she makes adjustments and knows that’s what life is. It’s a day-by-day, step-by-step journey through life, as she says in the movie. The climb… that’s really what life is. You make that climb, take it step by step and hopefully the view is great. I try to be a friend for Miley. I know that’s not everyone’s parenting style. But I try to be a friend, a partner as a singer, actor, songwriter and let her be a teenage girl and do her thing.

Q. How easy was it to get Hannah Montana made? Was it always going to progress from TV into film?
Billy Ray Cyrus: It started with the script. I’d say as early as a couple of years ago they [Disney] started talking about the movie and they’d come up with different ideas and kick around different things. But my family just said: “Not until the script is right.” And then when we came up with this treatment of going back to our roots and Miley getting above her raisings a little bit, we all just said “yes”. So, the script was really one of my first calls as a producer and as an actor. It had to elevate over the top of the series and couldn’t be an extended episode.

Q. What else did you contribute as producer?
Billy Ray Cyrus: My other major contribution as a producer was lobbying to go to Tennessee and not pretend we were there. That proved to be a bit of a struggle just because of the financial reasons and the incentives of other locations. I just kept saying: “Give Tennessee a shot at it!” I flew over and took some pictures of locations and said: “You ain’t going to beat this.” They agreed it looked great, so I said: “What about Miley going home to her room every night, or pictures of her and her friends that she grew up with? That’s emotion. That’s what this movie is about… and the horses in the field that she’s ridden her whole life. Seeing those things will make a better movie for Miley because it will be going home.” That being said, the state of Tennessee came to the table and actually was competitive and Disney said “yes”. Looking back on that now, it’s probably one of the things that I’m most proud of – that I did stick to my guns and say: “If we’re going to make the best film possible we need to go back to Tennessee to do it.”

Q. I imagine that one of your favourite scenes was the duet?
Billy Ray Cyrus: Oh yeah, I love that.

Q. Did you write it together?
Billy Ray Cyrus: No, Glen Ballard wrote that song. He wrote Man In The Mirror for Michael Jackson. I had written a song called Ready, Set, Don’t Go which became a big record for me over the last year and a half. Disney did an episode about it and it just exploded after that. So, they asked me if I could write another Ready, Set, Don’t Go that would follow the same lines, about my daughter growing up. But just a little different. But I told them I couldn’t do that. I write when my heart’s breaking usually, a moment of inspiration colliding with desperation and sometimes even some perspiration. That’s when I write. But Glen just laid right into it.

Q. How long did it take to film?
Billy Ray Cyrus: We spent about half a day on it. It was an afternoon after lunch. We wanted to catch the sunset. We started after lunch and got it finished before the sun went behind the hill. And it was a special moment. I remember as it was over I got in my own car… my house where Miley was raised was only three miles from that location, so I got in my car and drove back to my house and recall feeling that maybe my life had just flashed before me in that moment. It was a case of art imitating life… we felt like we’d just filmed something out of my life.

Q. Is it nice to watch back?
Billy Ray Cyrus: I tell you, it’s a bit heavy. The first time that I did see it back I was like: “Wow.” Now, for me, as both a singer and as an actor, when I see the audience react to it for the first time, I see some tears rolling down from the younger viewers’ eyes and some tears from the daddy’s too – and a lot of mums. But that’s where we wanted this to go. I like comedy and drama, but I also like those moments. Wizard of Oz, for instance, has that little moment where Dorothy clicks her heels at the end and says goodbye to The Scarecrow. You watch that and go: “Wow man, that’s sad.” It has that element of heart-warming giving into tugging at the heart-strings a little bit too. So, that was the goal on that particular song at the moment, to take it somewhere we hadn’t quite been yet with the series.

The way Peter Chelsom drove the story together as a director, I really think he took it up around the peaks and valleys of life, and around the curves of comedy. I think he just wove it together as a really nice ride from the beginning to the end. It really does take you up, down and around, to some different spots emotionally.

Q. It was mentioned earlier whether you feel over-protective of Miley as a father and you said you were quite laidback. But equally, you have a wealth of experience to offer. How invaluable is that to you to be able to offer?
Billy Ray Cyrus: I kind of live it right along with Miley. I don’t really give her advice so much as just live it. She’s seen me living it for years. And when I say living it, I mean more like I just try to keep it real, stay true to the music that I love, the art of acting. I love acting. And also to stay focused on that. I don’t pay that much attention to the distractions. It wouldn’t do me any good if I did. There’s no sense to it. So, it’s just about staying focused on where you’re trying to go, be real and true to your art and the rest will take care of itself.

Q. Do you try and keep her away from gossip sites?
Billy Ray Cyrus: She is the queen [laughs]. If I see her on the computer and I see her getting all upset, I’ll say to her: “Hey, turn it off. You’re inviting that into your world. Why do you read that stuff?” But her and her mum both do it together, and her mum will say: “Miley’s in there…” And I’ll say: “Well, do you reckon it’s because you’re in here on this one, and she’s on that one?” Miley is right, I don’t get on the computer and read that stuff. I know just enough [technically] to get on my blackberry and take care of business, take care of my world and keep the train on the tracks. But I just don’t go digging around for things that might become a distraction.

Q. You don’t Twitter?
Billy Ray Cyrus: I’m getting ready to start. I’m very excited about it. I got it set up before I left to come on this trip. For me, I’ll need a little bit of time to understand it. I’m not exactly sure how it works or what it is but I’m going to do some twitting and some tweeting when I get back. It’s odd, the movie was released in the States and we went on a two-week tour and we came back into LA straight into an episode about me, as Robbie Ray, learning how to work my blackberry and my Twitter. Ironically, it was art imitating life again because I was just setting up my Twitter in real life, before I jumped on a plane to Germany, then Rome and now here in London.

Q. I imagine that one of the many perks of your career is being able to see so much of the world in that way? *Billy Ray Cyrus: *I love the world, I love the people in the world. I’ve seen a lot of different things, tasted a lot of different foods… Some of my friends were very wise men that I had around me when I first broke. They told me: “Man, do the world. Don’t limit yourself to just being here in the States. Go do the whole thing. You’ve got the record to do it, so go do it.” I’m glad that I did. I think I’ve been around the world three complete times and when I get done with this promotion tour, then I’ll have three and a half. Then we go down to Australia and New Zealand, that’ll take it to four. Then, my plan is to do one complete tour just as a musician and bring my band. I told my band last night that I was eating fish n chips here in London and they were so jealous. They love to come here and pour that vinegar all over the fish n chips [laughs].

Q. You can’t beat it… And gravy?
Billy Ray Cyrus: Shepherd’s pie? I love that too.

Q. Which do you prefer – music or acting? Do you miss one when you’re doing the other?
Billy Ray Cyrus: I’ve found a nice balance between the two in some ways. I’m sure I’m getting ready to step into a little different phase. I want to do more live shows and more touring, so when I get this season of Hannah Montana behind me I’m pretty sure I’m going to book a pretty solid world tour… to do that one more time. I did just finish a film with George Lopez and Jackie Chan called The Spy Next Door.

Q. How was acting alongside Jackie Chan?
Billy Ray Cyrus: Amazing. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. He could climb that brick wall over there [points outside hotel window] with no cables. He could fight 20 men out there in the street and be the last man standing. I’ve seen him do some things that I just could not comprehend how he did it. And if that weren’t enough, he was such a remarkable human being. All the cast and crew, everyone working on the film, felt the same. In the make-up trailer one day I saw one of the stuntmen getting a haircut, and his hair fell on the floor, and Jackie Chan got up out of his make-up chair, got a dust-pan, swept up the hair, threw it in the pan and got back in his chair so that the make-up lady wouldn’t have to sweep it up. I’ve just never seen anybody go that far.

And then after we’d finish a scene and move to the next location, he’d start rolling up cables and packing stuff, and helping the grips move their equipment – not because he had to, just because he wanted to. It was like that was his team, and he was the captain, and he was going to play like everybody else. I thought that was pretty remarkable.

Q. Did you get to tussle with him?
Billy Ray Cyrus: No, I was his partner, his side-kick. When people ask me if I did any karate or beat anyone up, I say that my character packed a pistol and that was kind of my gig. Jackie will fight and I’ll show up with a gun.

Read our review of Hannah Montana: The Movie

Read our interview with Miley Cyrus

  1. Oh my Gosh, she rocks.

    Sarah    May 1    #