How Mary Steenburgen Used Her ‘Actor Superpowers’ to Write a Song for ‘Wild Rose’

TheWrap Oscar magazine: “I can’t play guitar, but I can get ahold of scripts,” says the actress who has turned to songwriting in the last decade

Last Updated: November 21, 2019 @ 2:40 PM

A version of this story about Mary Steenburgen, Kate York, Caitlyn Smith and “Wild Rose” first appeared in The Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

Director Tom Harper’s “Wild Rose” is an indie gem, an affecting character study of a fiercely talented but self-destructive young Scottish woman who is driven to become a country singer. Although most of the music in the film consists of covers of country classics, word went out that the film was looking for an important song for its final scene — and when the breakdown sent to prospective songwriters seemed a little skimpy, actress and songwriter Mary Steenburgen went into action.

“I used my actor superpowers to get a full script,” said Steenburgen, who started writing songs about a decade ago when she woke up from a minor operation with music running through her head. “I can’t play guitar, but I can get a hold of scripts. So I read it, and then we had two sessions where we just started thinking about what it was about and what we wanted to say.”

The final song in the film, “Glasgow” finds Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) back in Scotland after a disappointing stint in Nashville, singing a song to her mother and her hometown. “All of us have come to Nashville at some point — it’s a dream,” co-songwriter Kate York said. “We drew that from our lives for the song: What you sacrifice to come here, the days you want to pack up and leave because it’s too hard. I still feel that way sometimes.”

Caitlyn Smith, another collaborator, added, “We had to paint a picture with this song. As an artist and performer, I know that feeling of sharing a new song and being so vulnerable — so it starts out very raw and stripped-down and builds to this all-out wailing.”

The song also contains a classic line, “There’s nothing that a little time and Patsy Cline wouldn’t fix.” “That was Mary,” York said. “I don’t know, maybe there was a line in the script where it talked about her having a Patsy Cline poster in her room.”

“I think the mom actually had a Patsy Cline poster in the script,” Steenburgen said. “We actually wrote, ‘There’s nothing that a little wine and Patsy Cline wouldn’t fix.’ I think they changed it because the Julie Walters character is a sober person. And that’s true, too, a little time and Patsy Cline.”

Steenburgen, York and Smith were not on the set when the brilliant young Irish actress Buckley sang “Glasgow,” but the performance impacted them nonetheless. “Her voice just shook me to the core, and I cried instantly,” said Smith, who had sung on the original demo.

Steenburgen, meanwhile, learned of the performance through social media. “I didn’t even know they were doing the song that day, and suddenly from Glasgow my Twitter started blowing up,” she said. “It was people going, ‘My God, I’m so moved by this song. I’ve heard it 25 times and I’ve cried every time.’

“I realized it was all the background people on the set, and I knew something special was happening.”

This is one in a series of interviews with songwriters in this year’s Oscar race. To read more from The Race Begins, click here.

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