Reba McEntire says her Big Sky character is unlike anything we've seen her play before
Her name might be Sunny Barnes, but she's got a dark side.
That's what Reba McEntire promises of her new character on season 3 of ABC thriller Big Sky. The country superstar has joined as a series regular, and her character, the matriarch of a family of outdoors outfitters, could spell bad news for the investigative team of Dewell and Hoyt. And it's Reba unlike we've ever seen her before.
"I didn't want to come on as Reba McEntire," she tells EW. "I wanted to play somebody else. I get to play me all the time. I wanted to be a character, and to be a dark character is even better."
Ahead of the Big Sky: Deadly Trails premiere on Wednesday night, we caught up with McEntire to talk her return to network television, working with her boyfriend Rex Linn, and just how much we should trust Sunny Barnes (hint: not much).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's been nearly a decade since we've seen you be a series regular on network television. What made you decide now was the time to return?
REBA MCENTIRE: You can say, "I want to do this," and you can say, "I want to do that." It's when it comes to you, is when you can say yes or no to that. And this is a perfect timing situation. I'm so grateful that it happened now, because the beginning of this year we had tour dates, concerts, dates, then we went to Canada to film a Lifetime movie and then we started on this. Timing is everything. Everything happens for a reason. I'm so grateful that I got asked to be a part of the third season of Big Sky, and Rex Linn, my boyfriend, got cast also as my husband. It is wonderful and we've had a blast.
Yes! Rex is playing your husband in the show and he's your partner in real life. How did that whole thing happen?
When Elwood Reid, the showrunner, was Zooming with me, telling me his idea for me being on the show, he said, "You're going to play a dark character. What do you think about that?" And Rex was sitting right over there at the kitchen table. He walked by and he said, "Elwood, that's perfect. That's exactly what she needs to be doing." And Elwood said, "Rex, well, she needs a husband on the TV show." It all worked out for Rex and I to work together. We've been having such a good time on it.
Is this the first time you've worked together extensively on camera?
No, we shot a Lifetime movie together. It's called The Hammer. It'll be out in January. And we loved working together. We had a little spark of a love interest in that movie, but to go ahead and be husband and wife in this one was a lot of fun. And the first time we worked together was in 1991. On the Kenny Rogers movie, The Gambler. That's where met. We have kept in contact with each other throughout the years, and then when he was on Young Sheldon, and I was called in to do a guest spot in January of 2020 before COVID, he texted me and said, "Let's have dinner when you get through." And we've been talking ever since.
Well, what was it about the character of Sunny Barnes that appealed to you and made you want to sign on?
Number one, it's out in the country. It's up in the mountains outside of Helena, Montana. And I play this lady with her husband and son who own Sunny Barnes excursions, where it's a glamping site where people from the city come in. I love the mountains, and then, Elwood said, "You're a nice person, but you do have a dark side." I said, "All righty then." Everything he said was, "Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes."
How are you finding playing that dark side? We rarely get to see that from you.
I love it. In the first episode, I would give these this attitude and looks and stuff. And it was just so much fun to play around with it. I don't know how much they're going to use it, but they're saving it a little bit for later on because the character develops. It gets more juicy and thicker and richer. I've just never got to do anything like this before.
Should we trust Sunny as viewers at home?
Probably not. She'll teach you how to cook a brownie or cut your carotid artery — you just never know which is going to happen.
Will we get to see you sing at all as Sunny?
Nothing yet. In the premiere, I sing a little bit, but nothing else has happened singing wise. Not to say it won't. It's just whatever they feel like if the timing is right.
There's a lot of murder on Big Sky, always has been. Do we think Sunny is more likely to be murderer or victim? Or is she an equal opportunity gal?
(Laughs) Oh, that's funny. I'd say I don't really know. I can't say on that one.
With going dark and and playing this glamping leader, was there any research or new avenues you had to dive into for research as you were preparing to take this on?
I'm a third generation rodeo brat, and I grew up on a working cattle ranch in southeastern Oklahoma. I know my way around horses and dirt and alfalfa hay and all that kind of stuff. So, I didn't do any research. I have heard that a few other folks when they come on set, and they see the beautiful tents and the hangout place and where we have our meals, they're going, "Oh the glamping place I went to was nothing like this. This is gorgeous." We're like, "Oh, I want to have that in my house. Out in the backyard."
We have already seen you be a mom on TV before, but how much of a mama bear is Sunny and how protective of her clan is she?
100 percent [a mama bear]. I would compare Sunny Barnes to a mama bear when you get in between her baby cub and her. Very protective.
You've also played Annie Oakley multiple times. Have any of those sharp shooting skills been useful?
The situation of guns hasn't come up yet. But I'd be comfortable with that. I do trap and skeet shoot. I learned that because of my role as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun and Buffalo Girls. I'm very comfortable on the set and the outdoors. I absolutely prefer the outdoors.
So, except for the dark side, you fit right in.
I'm wondering, do I fit really well in on that dark side too? Is that something underlying that I'm just now finding out about? Or have I been watching too many Bette Davis and Joan Crawford movies?
I love the idea of you channeling Bette and Joan.
I did that one day. I looked over at Rex, and I said "Oh, that was Bette Davis right there." He said, "Yeah it was."
Can you tease the premiere?
The premiere is a story about Sonny and Buck, and [their son] Cormac having this wonderful glamping business. But there also happens to be a situation happening in town that the police have been notified about — there's a a backpacker missing. Of course they come and check with Sunny because it's in the mountains and Sunny might have heard something about it. That's where the plot thickens. How much does Sunny know? Does Buck know anything? Does Cormac know anything? It's one of those ongoing things that everybody is scratching their head about, and then you're like, "Oh, well he'll show up. He'll show up." Does he?
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Big Sky: Deadly Trails premieres Sept. 21 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.
Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.
A twisty crime thriller set in the remote climes of Montana, from TV legend David E. Kelley.