From Sunday’s Life section of The Oklahoman.
On Oklahoma time with Garth Brooks
Music megastar has executive produced a TV movie based on his 1990 hit “Unanswered Prayers.”
No matter where he goes, Garth Brooks keeps his watch on Oklahoma time.
The music megastar, who has spent much of the past decade as a stay-at-home dad, does it for his three girls, so he knows what time to call them when he’s away from their Owasso ranch.
But Brooks’ heart has always been set in Oklahoma, no matter where his increasingly diverse career has taken him.
“One of the greatest gifts is being raised there, living there. It’s real life, and it reflects in everything you do,” he said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where he was appearing on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” to promote his latest project, a TV movie based on his 1990 hit ballad “Unanswered Prayers.”
The telefilm will debut at 8 p.m. Monday on Lifetime Television. The Tulsa native and Lisa Sanderson executive produced the drama for their Red Strokes Productions. (The company also is named for one of his ‘90s singles.)
“Since the song came out, we’ve had the West Coast calling about making a movie about this thing. But every time they brought us a treatment, it changed the song dramatically,” Brooks said.
Tanya Lopez, head of Lifetime’s original-movie division, didn’t want to change a thing. She believed his country song could translate directly into a timely universal drama.
“Tanya from Day 1 assured me that she would go to whatever distance it took to make sure that this movie turned out as a good representation of the song, and she kept her word,” he said. “She fought like hell to keep this thing exactly like the song was … and so anything she wants to do in the future, I’m in.”
Filmed in Virginia, the movie centers on a contented small-town husband and father (Eric Close, “Without a Trace”) whose stable life is shaken up when his high school sweetheart (Madchen Amick, “Damages”) returns, forcing him to choose between his lost dreams and his loyal wife (Samantha Mathis, the movie “Broken Arrow”).
Telling a personal tale
The song, which Brooks co-wrote with Pat Alger and Larry Bastian, appeared on the country superstar’s blockbuster sophomore album “No Fences.”
“The thing that I loved about ‘Unanswered Prayers’ was when something big happens in your career, it’s what happens next (that) defines the rest of your career. And for us, the single right before this was ‘Friends in Low Places’ … so ‘Unanswered Prayers’ had to be something of pretty good strength to hold up. And it did. And it went to No. 1,” he said. “That was a very defining moment for me that ‘OK, I can have something like “Friends in Low Places” and then I can follow it with “Unanswered Prayers,”’ which made me start to think about the diversity in your choice of music.”
The Tulsa native, 48, has said in the past the ballad was based on a real encounter he and first wife Sandy Mahl had with his “old high school flame” in October 1989.
“I think it’s about the choices that we make in our life and looking back on those choices. You know, that hindsight’s 20/20 thing. Well, sometimes you get a real, live shot at seeing someone again. Or if it’s a job, a real, live shot at taking that job again down the line that you either didn’t get or passed up. … I think it’s just kind of (about) how we sit with our own choices,” said Brooks, who was divorced from Mahl in 2001 and married fellow country star Trisha Yearwood in 2005.
When he rehearsed “Unanswered Prayers” for “The Tonight Show” with a string ensemble, he was pleased with how enduring the song has proven.
“Thank God and Allen Reynolds, the producer … it’s as fresh as the day he cut it. It just stands up to time really well,” he said, adding, “If you’re gonna be yourself, if you’re gonna bear your soul, too personal, I’m not sure they go together. You know, an album should reveal a little bit about an artist.”
Making a movie
Brooks, who grew up in Yukon, was involved throughout the filmmaking process, from sitting down with the screenwriters and visiting the set to going to dailies and, naturally, working on the music.
“I’m amazed anybody ever makes a movie, it’s got so many ways to fall apart, you know,” he said. “If you’ll learn real quick that you really have no control over it, you’ll be a lot better. You just don’t. There’s just too many hands, too many different opinions. And you just pray and look for good karma that everything kind of runs on the same theme. And this one really did. The crew was sincere, cast was sincere, and it was wonderful.”
Actress Patty Duke, who has a supporting role in the telefilm, said the cast didn’t get to see Brooks often, but her visits with him were memorable.
“Though we had never met, has been a real hero in our family. We just love his work,” she said in a separate teleconference. “I must say, when I met him, I was delightfully surprised at how funny, witty he is. I mean, he had me laughing the whole time we spent together. And his song ‘Unanswered Prayers’ says a lot to all of us who wish for things that maybe it’s better that we didn’t have.”
With his trademark Oklahoma humor, Brooks suggested another song in his catalog that would make an intriguing film: “That Summer,” his 1993 hit about a teenager who goes to work for a lonely widow and finds romance with her.
“I’d like to see Halle Berry (in it) and I’d like to play the young boy,” he joked with a laugh “’Course, I’d have to ask Ms. Yearwood if that’s OK. I’m sure she’d be fine with it.”
Contributing: Assistant Features Editor Lillie-Beth Brinkman.
The Lifetime Original Movie “Unanswered Prayers,” executive produced by Oklahoma country music superstar Garth Brooks and based on his hit song, will debut at 8 p.m. Monday on Lifetime Television.