Rita Wilson lives on the edge. The actress ("Volunteers," "The Bonfire of the Vanities," "Sleepless in Seattle"), writer, producer, director, Huff/Post 50 editor-at-large — and singer — admits it was difficult for her to step out of her comfort zone when she decided to record her first album, AM/FM, back in 2012. Actually, it wasn’t the recording session that set her up for light-weight panic attacks, it was the thought of singing on a stage. In front of people!
Think of your worst social nightmare and that’s how the "Volunteers" actress described her first concert, on stage at the Anthology club in San Diego, performing without a safety net (and no security blanket in sight) when she faced her first live audience with her band. The good news is she had a wonderful set list from AM/FM to work with — 15 great songs from the 60s/70s era including the Everly Brothers’ "All I Have to Do Is Dream," and other tunes: "Please Come to Boston," "Wichita Lineman" and "Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues."
Now, with her second EP under her belt (AM/FM: The B-Sides) and many live concerts later, Wilson has settled into her "new" career with a level of confidence that only surfaces after sweating the small stuff — and conquering the stage demons. She’s hip, she’s got the chops, and… she’s on a roll!
The Huffington Post spoke with Wilson — who has the greatest sense of humor — to find out why it took her 40 years into her career to take this leap of faith… and how the rest of us — who may just be on the uphill side of 50 — can begin our own brave journey into unknown, unfamiliar territory.
You’re an actress, you produce, you write, you’ve been successful in so many areas of show business. Why did it take you 40 years to decide make an album?
I think it was just fear. I really do. I wish I had done it so much earlier in my life but you can’t look back. You just have to go with what’s happening now, and I’m grateful for that. I think it’s because when people say, "Oh, I didn’t know you sang." And then I would answer the question like this, "Well, let’s qualify that. Do you mean like Renee Fleming? Do you mean like Barbara Streisand? Not so much." There is room for all different kinds of voices and talents… so I figured that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. (Laughs)
There you go. That’s a good story. I love it. I understand the fear factor. What was your motivation to record your first album, AM/FM, which has some of the best songs ever from the 60s and 70s.
Thank you. I think the motivation was based on an idea to do a play that was using songs from those eras — from the 60s and the 70s… some of the music that I was going to use in the play ended up in my album. It was motivated by storytelling. Each song really has a story to it and to me that was critical because growing up and sitting in the back seat of your parents car and listening to music, you kind of create your own scenarios in your head about who these people are and what if that person was you, if you were the one being sung to. What if you were the one singing it? The stories just were visual to me. I really was trying to honor the songwriter and the storyteller.
You told Rolling Stone last year: "I feel like music is like water. I have to have music on. It can change your mood, it can make you jump up and down. It can chill you out. It can get you going. It’s the one thing I can’t live without." I love that! The bottom line is, no matter how you’re feeling; you’re sad, you’re happy, you’re in love, you’re angry, there’s a song for that, right?
That is so funny because I literally just wrote a song called "The Song for Everyone." I wrote it with Richard Marx who I’ve written another song with. Because on the new album it’s going to be all original material. That was exactly the discussion and how that came about was like, gosh, you know, there’s a song for every mood, every vibe, every feeling, every story that’s been told. There’s a song for it.
Do you have a go-to song if you’re mad or sad or happy or in love or do you just randomly pick certain songs depending on your particular mood?
It depends on where I’m at in a particular part of my life. There are songs that are older songs that put you in the mood. There are songs that are on the top 10 right now or top 50 that you want to listen to. I think good music is good music. I do have play lists that are called things like "Dance." Or I have something called "Chicks" that is just female artists that I love. I have things like "Mellow" and there are different play lists on that. I have play lists that are created by mood I guess you would say.
You have 15 great songs on your first album, AM/FM. Is there a song or two on that album that hits a personal chord with you that really is sentimental for you or that just touches your heart in some way when you sing it?
Almost every single one of those has a personal resonance. I love "Love Has No Pride," written by Eric Katz and Libby Titus because I was always attracted to the songs that were in movies that were sort of about either unrequited love or mistakes that you’ve made that you can’t change and you can’t go back and make a different decision. I really love "Please come to Boston" because I just thought why isn’t this woman going with this guy? She is nuts. He is clearly an adorable, cute musician who keeps inviting her to all these places, and she just is like: no I think you should come home. I spent way too many hours thinking about that couple in that song. (Laughs)
It was during the 70s and we had the feminist movement happening and I questioned why a woman had to go and follow the guy. Then I questioned why she couldn’t make her own art thing happen because he says during the song you can sell your paintings on the sidewalk in front of a café where I hope to be working soon. I just thought, so she’s an artist too. I thought about her as an artist, what did she do with that and is she still painting and what kept her from leaving and following him and pursuing her art? Oh my God, just way too much thinking going on. (Laughs)
I love "Baby, I’m Yours" because it reminds me of a boyfriend I had a hundred years ago in high school. It brings back so many memories. Is there a personal song that kind of brings back high school memories for you?
"Baby, I’m Yours"… for me too. It’s kind of funny. That song, it didn’t actually happen this way but it’s sort of about a feeling that I had in my heart when I had my first kiss. I kind of thought, Oh my God, this is what it would feel like. This is what you must say after you have that first kiss. Baby, I’m yours. I’m not going anywhere. This is for the rest of my life.
I love first kiss stories. Do you remember where you were when you got your first kiss?
Oh, yeah, absolutely… we were in 6th grade. It was a boy that I went to school with and we were walking up in the hills. There was a little area upstairs and you could kind of go up part of the stairs and then there was a landing. It was on that little landing.
You never forget your first kiss, do you? Ever.
The first time you stepped out on stage to sing with your band, how nervous were you? You’ve got the talent, you’ve got the goods, but I’m thinking when you go out on stage for the first time, it must be a little frightening.
Oh, God, yeah. I was so nervous. It was at a show in San Diego at a really wonderful club called Anthology. It was maybe three or four songs in, and I think I sang "Please Come to Boston"… and it goes from Boston to Denver to LA and I completely skipped Denver and I went straight to LA. I said to the audience, "Oh wait a minute. I’ve got to turn the plane around. I forgot a city." (Laughs) That was just pure nerves. [I was thinking] "Am I going to be able to remember the lyrics?" They have these big huge screens so I was distracted by these screens that were projecting my image. It was completely nerve wracking but actually the experience performing live was not even anything I had considered when I was making the album. Then as the album was finished and they’re saying, "You’re going to have to go on talk shows and you’re going to have to sing," and they started booking these shows. I thought: Oh my gosh. I have to get some experience. I can’t go on national TV without having sung live.
It was kind of like a crash course in live performance. I love my band and we’re all still together and we’ve done some shows recently of all the new material. I was in Nashville recently doing a show at the Bluebird Café which is a really well-known venue. I did a round at the Bluebird with some songwriters that I’ve been writing with down there. It was one of the most fabulous experiences because it’s almost like sitting in someone’s living room. You are just there, it’s elbow to elbow, and it was an extraordinary experience.
You started singing into your 50s, and that was new to you. What advice would you give to people over 50 who think they want to begin a new career but they are much too afraid?
I believe that everybody has something that they love to do and for whatever reason they think they’re too old to do it or that phase has passed. I’ve had many many people come up to me after the show and say I always loved to… and then fill in the blank. I always say the same thing. It’s never too late. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll do something publicly but if you want to act, I just say go to your community theater. Go to a community college and take classes. If you want to paint, find somewhere to paint. Find a community of people that are doing what you want to be doing because each step leads to another step of being involved.
It’s not that hard to do, you just have to do it. Time is definitely a factor but I would say you just have schedule it in just like you would schedule anything else in. You just have to make time for the things that you love to do like you do for your family.
I love supportive spouses. Your husband, Tom Hanks, seems to be so supportive of your music. I follow both of you on Twitter. I saw his sweet tweets singing your praises. How does that feel for you?
It’s great. We know each other inside and out. He’s probably one of the biggest supporters that I have for music because he knows how much I love it. He’s absolutely great about it.
I read that you were cast in "Chicago" as Roxie Hart on Broadway and you told a reporter that "’Chicago’ was life changing." How so?
Yeah, that was when I was first singing… and it was life changing because I worked with so many incredible people. There’s nothing like doing something that scares the bejesus out of you that makes you grow. It was life changing because when I look back on it now, I can’t even believe that I did it. I feel like how did I do that? How did I do those dances?
I remember going to see it after I had been offered the role and before I made my decision, at intermission, I turned to Tom and my daughter Elizabeth and I was like, "There is no way I am doing this." They said, "Are you kidding me? Why?" I said, "I can’t do this!" They said, "You can so do this. This is so you. You have to do this. We are making you do this." Sometimes people that you love know what is good for you before you do.
Is there anything on your bucket list that needs to be checked off?
I want to go on a surfing safari. (Laughs) I definitely want to do that. I want to keep on singing and keep on writing music.
Rita is currently writing original songs for her second album. She plans to tour extensively after that album is complete.
Earlier on Huff/Post50:Tags: actress, concert, director, movie, music, producer, singer, tour, tv