It may come as a surprise to some, but the release of the new film Bennett’s War marks country superstar Trace Adkins’ thirtieth screen credit as an actor. Once considered something of a novelty in Hollywood, where thespians capable of embodying the masculinity found onscreen in decades past are few and far between, the singer has become an in demand presence on productions in recent years.
A red carpet premiere was recently held in Nashville, where Sounds Like Nashville was able to speak to many of those involved in the making of Bennett’s War (in theaters now), and perhaps no one could better explain Adkins’ importance to a film production than fellow country legend Tracy Lawrence. Lawrence, on-hand to show support for his friends involved with the movie and enjoy some post-festivities at the neighboring Cheesecake Factory (“I’m gonna get me a slice of some Raspberry Swirl, with strawberries on top, and I’m going to the house!”), believes that the “Every Light in the House” hitmaker may soon be talked about in the same breath as legends of the screen.
“I just think [Trace] is going to be a huge movie star. I mean, he’s huge anywhere he goes anyway,” Lawrence tells us with a laugh, “but I just feel he brings a real John Wayne [vibe] to all the movies he’s been in. He’s got the voice, and he’s such a presence as soon as he walks into a room.”
Bennett’s War tells the story of Marshall Bennett (played by Michael Roark), a young Army Motorcycle Unit member who must adjust to civilian life after an IED explosion sends him home from combat with a broken back and leg. Finding his father (played by Adkins) struggling to keep the family farm from being foreclosed on, Marshall must make a near-impossible return to motocross racing in order to support his family.
War is just the latest project from Forrest Films to call upon the subjects of spirituality and rural America, a pattern that is by design according to Scott Kennedy, president of worldwide marketing and distributing for Forrest. Speaking to Sounds Like Nashville, Kennedy says that it was one of the main factors that brought him to one of the hottest new distributors in Hollywood.
“When Forrest Films and I first spoke to one another about the movies we’d be making, [Forrest co-founder Forrest Lucas] was clear in wanting to make films that spoke on faith and family. He has a very successful oil company with Lucas Oil, but he wanted to make films that would speak to America, and to families full of faith. That’s what we are striving to do.”
Taking on the job of bringing a form of entertainment to a group of Americans who may feel underrepresented onscreen may seem daunting to some, but War star Roark takes it in stride. When asked by Sounds Like Nashville if portraying a soldier and Motocross athlete carried with it a higher level of anxiety than other acting gigs he’s had in the past, the young actor seems taken aback for a moment.
“You mean nervous, like ‘Oh, I hope I get this right’? It all makes you nervous, man; there’s not a single part of this job that doesn’t make you anxious, and anyone that tells you that it doesn’t is probably lying,” he laughs.
“It’s hard to say which aspect of this was the hardest for me,” Roark continues. “I’ve never served in the military, although I came close to enlisting once. I’ve been on motorbikes, but I’ve never raced motocross, and I’m not a father. A lot of the job is just imagination based, I use my life experience to draw from, and just broaden out from there. A lot of this was a challenge, and to be honest, that was probably what attracted me to the role.”
The film is balanced by Adkins’ performance as patriarch Cal Bennett, a proud man who finds himself relying on someone for support who would be looking to him for support in a perfect world. It is perhaps the strongest role of the country singer’s acting career, a side gig that he may have to make room in his schedule for after this film’s release.
“It has to fit into my schedule, unless it’s something [with a huge production budget], and then we might have to figure out a way for it to fit,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville. “That’s never happened, we’ve never had to make that decision, because this far I just haven’t taken on any [roles] that don’t fit naturally into my schedule.”
Finding room for War was made easier once Adkins read the film’s script, which touched on subjects that the singer knows well both personally as a father, and professionally through his work with the USO and Wounded Warrior Project.
“The first thing I noticed was that the character they wanted me to play was really well written,” Adkins explains. “It’s a great story, paying tribute to this guy who just wouldn’t take no for an answer; he was wounded in combat, came home and was told he’d never race again, and he just refuses to take no for an answer. Having kids, I’m well prepared to show onscreen the struggle of whether or not you should support your kid in this endeavor, this crazy dream that he’s trying to chase. Should you be supportive, or should you caution him? That’s the decision that you have to make [as a parent].”
That doesn’t mean that Adkins is letting the music side of his career rest, however. He is currently working on a followup to 2017’s Something’s Going On, a project that he is bound to make his strongest album to date.
“We’re still recording,” states Adkins. “I’ve got an album in the can, just trying to figure out when we’ll put it out. We’ve been working on it for probably literally eighteen months, so whenever I get a little time – and my voice is rested – I go into the studio and work on it a little. The finding time when my voice is rested is the real challenge.”
Of course, when it comes to making time for longtime buddy Blake Shelton, there was no question that Adkins would be able to appear on their current hit “Hell Right.” In fact, in an exclusive quote to Sounds Like Nashville, the latest pairing of the two country chart stalwarts was as close to a no-brainer for all involved as either are likely to have in their careers.
“He asked me if I would sing on a song with him, and I didn’t even think twice about it,” Adkins explains. “He asked me if I wanted to hear the song, and I told him that I didn’t need to. He knows my taste and I know his. I figured if he liked it, I would too. Besides, that’s just what friends do.”