JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
And if you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. And it's time now for music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALONE WITH ME")
KEITH CARRADINE: (Singing) When I was 23 and she was 17, she was a movie star out of a magazine, and I was Jimmy Dean and Steve McQueen rolled into one.
LYDEN: That's actor Keith Carradine singing "Alone with Me" from the Broadway musical "Hands on a Hardbody." Although the musical closed in April after just 56 performances, Carradine received rave reviews and a Tony nomination for Best Actor. It's not the first nomination for the 63-year-old, who's has been acting on Broadway for decades in shows like "Hair" and "Will Rogers Follies."
Keith Carradine is also part of acting royalty. His father, John, and his brother David were both famous actors. But Keith is also a musician. As a child, he fiddled with the harmonica and guitar, but it was a piano performance at his boarding school when he was 15 that first made him take music seriously.
CARRADINE: One of the dorm fathers there, Michael Hermes, sat down and played this raucous rendition of "Malaguena." And I was so impressed, I said: Oh, my gosh. She must have said--he said, I learn it by ear, and that really set me free. That's really when I started to put my playing together with piano and guitar, and then I started writing songs when I was about 17, I guess.
LYDEN: So you wrote "I'm Easy," a song that you wrote for Robert Altman's 1975 film "Nashville." You were really young then.
CARRADINE: Yup. Yeah.
LYDEN: Not that you're not a very youthful person now.
CARRADINE: Thank you so much. I was - yeah, I was a kid. I mean, I actually wrote the song, I was 19. I was living in New York City. And it was among a number of songs that Bob heard when we were filming "Thieves Like Us" in Mississippi.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M EASY")
CARRADINE: (Singing) I never cared too much for games, and this one's driving me insane. You're not half as free to wander as you claim. But I'm easy. I'm easy. Give the word I'll play your game. So that's how it ought to be because I'm easy.
LYDEN: You 46 the Oscar for writing and performing "I'm Easy." How did that change your career?
CARRADINE: Well, I was on the A list for about six months. One has to understand that in our business, that kind of bright, shining moment tends to fade rather quickly. It can be a shock to the system when you suddenly realize how quickly people might forget. But it put me in a position to be introduced to and be in the room with some extraordinary people. And some of those encounters led to a lot of what I'm proudest of about the career that I've had and the kinds of people with whom I've had the opportunity to work.
LYDEN: Let me talk about "Deadwood. You played Wild Bill Hickok on that show. Let's listen to a clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DEADWOOD")
CARRADINE: (as Wild Bill Hickok) You know the sound of thunder, don't you, Mrs. Garret?
MOLLY PARKER: (as Alma Garret) Of, of course.
CARRADINE: Can you imagine that sound if I ask you to?
PARKER: I can, Mr. Hickok.
CARRADINE: Your husband and me had this talk, and I told him to head home to avoid a dark result. But I didn't say it in thunder. Ma'am, listen to the thunder.
LYDEN: Wow. So "Deadwood" becomes a cult hit, largely in part of the use of language courtesy of the writer and creator David Milch. What it's like to play on that show and play someone like Wild Bill Hickok?
CARRADINE: It was an actor's gift. You know, it was one of these things that we actors - this is what we crave. All I want is to be able to speak words of poetry. And those occasions are rare. And when you get a chance to be involved in something like that, you soak up every second.
LYDEN: I'm speaking with actor Keith Carradine. He's nominated for a Tony for Best Actor in the musical, "Hands on a Hardbody." Keith, you made your Broadway debut inherit "The Will Rogers Follies," directed by Tony Tune, another Broadway hit, and then you went back to Broadway this year to star in the musical "Hands on a Hardbody," which takes place in Texas. Do you feel when you're performing onstage, are you somehow doing a different kind of piece of work than you are for a film or television?
CARRADINE: Well, I think the requirements are slightly different in terms of the technical aspects of the craft. You know, stage performing is somewhat different from acting for a camera. I think one of the beautiful things about the theater is the fact that there's always a possibility for a complete disaster, because it's live. And because everyone is sort of on that tightrope together - the audience and the performers - there is the possibility for really transcendent stuff to happen. And I think that's why I love getting back to it on a regular basis.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
CARRADINE: (Singing) That sign up there says Nissan. But where it's blown away, you can still read Chevrolet.
LYDEN: So "Hands on a Hardbody," not your typical Broadway musical, not very flashy. It's about a group of Texans competing over who's going to win a new truck at the local dealership. And you played J.D. Drew, one of the contestants.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CARRADINE: (Singing) Over there where the Stop 'N Go sits, was the mom and pop with the slow-cooked grits and sweet iced tea, refills free and cups of Joe and company. There used to be a sign up saying glad you came, and every little town around was as different as its name. Now, everywhere you go, it all just looks the same. Wal-Mart, Walgreen's, Wendy's, Applebee's, Starbucks, Stuckey's, Best Buy, Mickey Ds.
LYDEN: I love when that song comes out. If everything looks the same, how do you know it's home?
CARRADINE: Yes. That's the first thing I heard when I was introduced to this show. And it was written by Amanda Green. And I found out later that Amanda had actually written that song with my voice in mind because she remembered me from "Will Rogers," the show that her father had written the lyrics for with Betty Comden.
And I heard that song, and I said: I have to do this. I just have to do this. And then when I read the book, I was completely taken with it. It's an amazing piece and really different for a Broadway musical. I thought what we strove for - and frankly, I thought that what we accomplished was remarkable. I mean, every artistic aspect of that show and the audience response was fantastic.
And that song so spoke to me when I heard it because it's kind of my experience of America as I've driven across this country over the years. You know, I've watched this kind of homogenization of our culture take place. We're losing the individual feeling for places because of everything sort of becoming kind of the same everywhere you go. And there's that beautiful line: If it looks the same everywhere you go, how do you know when you've gotten home? You know, it's a great song.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CARRADINE: (Singing) Now, this town's just a collection of some old guy's memories, just a ghost upon ghost of all things used to be's. But if it looks the same everywhere you roam, tell me how do you know when you've gotten home...
LYDEN: That's actor Keith Carradine. He's nominated for a Tony for Best Actor in the musical "Hands on a Hardbody." The cast recording of the musical will be released on iTunes and other digital formats on June 25. Well, Keith, best of luck at the Tonys. It really has been a fantastic experience speaking with you.
CARRADINE: Thank you so much, Jackie.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CARRADINE: (Singing) Light from the all-night diner shining my true north star, then all the thousand other little things that make us who we are...
LYDEN: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR smartphone app. Click on Programs and scroll down. We're back on the radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening. Have a great night.