Rita Wilson is an accomplished actress in film (Sleepless in Seattle, That Thing You Do!, Runaway Bride) and television (Frasier, Girls, The Good Wife). She was also executive producer of the wildly successful movies My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Mama Mia!, and their sequels. But it was her time performing the role of Roxie Hart in the Broadway hit musical Chicago that nudged her career toward singing and songwriting. Wilson has since released three albums: AM/FM (Sing it Loud Records, 2010), Rita Wilson (Sing it Loud Records, 2016) and her latest, Bigger Picture (Sing it Loud Records, 2018), which shot to the No. 1 position on Amazon's Singers-Songwriters chart when it was released last fall.
Prior to her Saturday, Feb. 16, appearance at the newly opened Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum, where she'll perform selections from all of her albums, Wilson spoke with Boise Weekly about her musical inspirations, why so many of us love sad songs and her next film, the much-anticipated Gloria Bell.
I've heard you describe Bigger Picture as a musical scrapbook.
It has really only been [in] the last five years that I've been writing so many songs. I love writing ballads, but I was told that I really couldn't put too many ballads on my first album. I only had room for one or maybe two ballads. So I had all these songs, these ballads, [that were] a part of me and the different times in my life. I used to keep scrapbooks as a kid. Everything was in there: kindergarten pictures, even a corsage from the prom. Quite often, those parts of you from the past are carried forward with you and create the person that you are today. This collection of songs in Bigger Picture is like a musical scrapbook because of those connections.
And the songs on this album aren't just any ballads. They're wonderfully personal, and as I was listening, I couldn't help but think that I'd be hearing these same songs years from now, perhaps at an anniversary, a celebration of life or even a memorial for someone.
I did a thing on Instagram recently, saying how much I loved sad songs and asking people what some of their favorite sad songs were. It was quite an engaged response. I think people like sad songs more than they really admit to.
With your permission, I'd like to dive into one of your songs, "Tear by Tear."
Absolutely. Let's do it.
I wrote some of the lyrics down, and I hope I have this right: "If I have to cry an ocean, then I'll dive in deep, and find my way home." It's quite devastating.
I wrote that with Alex Reid and Lindy Robbins, both incredible songwriters. I'm Greek Orthodox and once, when I was talking with my priest, I started crying. He said, "It's okay. It's alright. It's okay to cry." In Greek, we have a word for it, "katharsis." It's cathartic, it's cleansing tears. Sometimes, you just have to cry to get through something and get on the other side of it, to where you need to be.
Let's talk about something a little bit more uptempo. I'm a lover of all things Burt Bacharach and you've just dropped a rendition of "What the World Needs Now" as a single. It's rather stunning to think that it was first recorded a half-century ago.
Yet it's a modern song, isn't it? Musically, it's so beautiful. Lyrically, it's so wonderful. I love it. There's a reason why so many singers have cut that song. It's a classic, but it's interesting that it can still resonate. Not everything makes sense today, but that song still does.
Can I assume that when you perform these songs live, as you'll do at The Argyros, some audience members make a point of sharing with you that a song of yours, which may have had a very particular backstory for you, resonates deeply in their own lives?
The audience is, quite often, an equal part of the creative process; I love that connection. It's as if sometimes I can feel exactly what they're feeling. When you're writing a lot of material, what eventually ends up on an album hopefully has a dramatic through-line, a story that's being told. Yes, sometimes I'm writing for myself, but hopefully it's also an experience that connects to somebody else. That's very satisfying when that happens.
Can we talk about movies for a second?
I've was lucky enough to have seen the premiere of your next film, Gloria Bell, at last September's Toronto International Film Festival.
Really? I haven't even seen it yet. I loved the original film that it's based on, Gloria, and was really excited to be part of the cast for Gloria Bell. Did you like it?
It's great. I loved the original as well, but you really nailed it with this one. It opens... actually, when does it open?
We haven't been told the exact release date, but sometime soon. Hopefully in March. It will be great for everyone to see it in theaters. In the meantime, come see me at The Argyros.