Rocker Ryan Bingham on his 'Crazy Heart' acting debut and Golden Globe songwriting nod
"Yes, ma'am," musician Ryan Bingham drawls with what seems a mixture of pride, amusement, and humility when I ask him on the phone if he's planning on attending the Golden Globes later this month. His song, "The Weary Kind," the theme song for the film Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges, is nominated for a Golden Globe. Bingham, an Austin music mainstay with his band the Dead Horses, is a rising national star who not only composed the theme song for writer/director Scott Cooper's music-centric film, but also performs onscreen in an early pivotal scene.
Bingham, who has no previous film credits to his name, explains how this breakthrough came to pass. "It started with a friend of mine, an agent at CAA [Creative Artists Agency] named Jack Whigham. He had been sending things of mine around to different people. Scott Cooper, the director of Crazy Heart, had gotten a hold of some of my songs and called me up one day. I went and had lunch with him, and he told me about this movie he was working on and gave me a script to see if I might be interested in coming up with some music for it. I started writing songs, and we kind of went from there."
Bridges has also been racking up award nominations for his performance as the fading country music star Otis "Bad" Blake, whose boozing and profligacy have steered his career and personal life down a road of diminishing returns. Bridges, as always, creates a memorable character whose appearance and stage manner calls to mind an unholy blend of Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. He plays guitar and sings the songs himself, as does Colin Farrell, who puts in an unbilled appearance as the protégé whose success has eclipsed that of his mentor, Bad Blake. The veracity of the performances and the tunes are essential to this movie's outcome. The songs had to be good enough to make the viewer believe in Blake's musicianship, believe that he is – or, at least, once was – a songsmith of the highest caliber. Bringing aboard industry legend T Bone Burnett as the film's co-producer and music composer was a seriously smart move on the filmmakers' part.
Aside from Bingham's contributions, all the original music for Crazy Heart was written by Burnett and his old friend and Austin music luminary Stephen Bruton. As production was wrapping on the film in late May, Bruton died in Los Angeles of cancer, and Crazy Heart is inscribed with a final dedication to his memory. Says Burnett in the press notes: Stephen "was fighting a difficult battle the entire time we were working. He co-wrote most of the songs, played a lot of the score, coached the actors, and was on the set the entire shoot to make sure things were real. I think there is a lot of Stephen in Bad Blake. Stephen had lived that same life – in the extreme." Bingham, however, knew neither Burnett nor Bruton before submitting his tune for consideration. He had been invited over to their house and played them this new song he had written. "Right from the beginning, as soon as they got it, they were saying this was the one they wanted to use," recalls Bingham. "Making 'The Weary Kind' the theme song was T Bone and Stephen's decision."
Bingham's on-camera work came about almost as effortlessly. "My band was playing in Los Angeles, and Scott Cooper and a couple other people in the film came out to the show," Bingham explains. "After they heard us play, they went, 'You guys would just be perfect for that scene in the movie [when Bad plays with a pickup band in a New Mexico bowling alley],' and wanted to know if the whole band would be interested in doing it." With Oscar nominations still a few weeks off and Crazy Heart still debuting across the country, it's likely that Ryan Bingham's film career is just taking off.
Crazy Heart opens in Austin today, Jan. 8. See Film Listings for review.