Scott Garfield
August 13, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

STARRING Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, Leighton Meester
WRITTEN BY Shana Feste

Last year’s Jeff Bridges vehicle Crazy Heart proved that there’s an audience for (and Oscar bait in) movies about washed-up country singers. But it took some badgering by friend and producer Jenno Topping before Gwyneth Paltrow finally picked up writer-director Shana Feste’s screenplay. Once Paltrow read the story of barely rehabbed fictional Nashville superstar Kelly Canter, the 37-year-old actress says, ”I could not get it off my brain. I was in the middle of doing Iron Man 2, which is such fun [but] not a challenge. This role presented incredible challenges for me, like learning how to play guitar and how to sing in a country style.” (We already knew she had pipes. See: Emma, Duets.)

So it was off to boot camp for Paltrow and Garrett Hedlund (TRON: Legacy), who costars as Beau Williams, Canter’s rehab sponsor and a struggling singer himself who ends up on her comeback tour along with an aspiring pop-country princess (Gossip Girl‘s Leighton Meester). The actors found the perfect on-set tutors: Tim McGraw — who plays Canter’s husband and manager — and his wife, Faith Hill, whom Paltrow drew upon for many of the character’s physical mannerisms. ”When I went to Nashville, I sat down with Tim in his studio,” recalls Hedlund, who even moved to McGraw’s Franklin, Tenn., ranch for a month. ”He said, ‘When you come out here, it’s not about the acting; it’s about the country music. You gotta sing all day long.”’ Judging by the film’s title track, on which Paltrow joins forces with legendary vocalists Vince Gill and Patty Griffin, this cast got one hell of an education.

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