Thirty-six seconds into the trailer for FOX’s new, scripted country music drama Monarch finds Trace Adkins staring down the barrel of a rifle. He’s just stepped out of a beater of pickup truck that’s beneath his character’s status on the show, but in line with his pragmatism.
Viewers don’t hear the crunch of gravel beneath his heavy boots — a haunting cover of “Ring of Fire” is the soundtrack here — as he advances across a headlight-lit patch of dry land no bigger than a suburban living room. Somehow, you feel it.
“A Roman never forgets an enemy,” Adkins’ Albie Roman says before the gun cocks and the camera tightens up to find his right eye focused, if not a little angry.
The three-minute-long clip doesn’t show what happens next, but it reveals what happens after that. Adkins is spotted 20 seconds further into the trailer, and he’s digging a grave. Finally, he rolls a tarp-covered body in and — presumably — starts filling the hole.
This dark sequence portends more like it during Season 1 of the much-anticipated series. Not everyone could carry that kind of violence on screen, and even fewer could carry it home with them after each day of shooting.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” Adkins says with a punctuating nonchalance, as if he’s been preparing for this all his life. Maybe he has.
“All those years playing bars … you know it’s gonna happen,” he continues, talking to Taste of Country during a preview of Ep. 1 of Monarch (premiering Sept. 11, after NFL on FOX).
“Yeah, Albie has no problem going there. He’s not going to be the one who starts stuff, but he’s going to go there. He’s not afraid of it.”
The Romans (Albie and wife Dottie Cantrell Roman, played by Susan Sarandon) are country music royalty, and they’ve got secrets. So too do their children (Nicky Roman played by Anna Friel, Gigi Roman played by Beth Ditto and Luke Roman played by Joshua Sasse) and many of the people they keep close by. The show packs a punch — literally — and the on-screen legend and country-famous Adkins do much of the swinging early on.
Filming wasn’t easy, and in fact, Adkins says some moments were “terrifying.” Fortunately he was able to draw from his own life experiences, which leads to an authenticity and passion that’s deep and remarkable. Roles in The Lincoln Lawyer and Deepwater Horizon pegged him as just another tough guy, but on Monarch, his longtime fans watch as he grows professionally and emotionally.
Taste of Country: Take us to your first day on set with Susan Sarandon. What are you feeling? What’s the scene like, and how did it go?
Trace Adkins: I was really nervous, of course. Going into a scene, my very first scene, with an actor of that stature … it was terrifying. But she was very gracious and very giving and just — she calmed me down, and she knew exactly what to do and how to handle it.
She’s a total professional, you know, so that made it easy. Every day I realized that she’s such a pro that you don’t really have to put a lot of pressure on yourself. She’s gonna carry the scenes and she’s gonna do the heavy lifting. You just swim in her wake and try to hang on. It’ll be alright, which made it a joy to work with her.
How much time did you spend establishing that relationship before the first day of filming?
We spent some time together just visiting and talking, and then we talked about the script and different ways that we each saw what was gonna happen. And then we just went with it, and I’m glad she did that. That’s what I was saying, she was so gracious and so giving. She didn’t have to do that, but she did.
Of course you play husband and wife. Are there romantic scenes?
Yeah, there’s a couple. There’s a few, you know?
Is it awkward kissing Susan Sarandon, the star of Bull Durham, Thelma & Louise and so many great movies?
It was terribly awkward. When a lot of people are standing around and — of course, yeah. And this is Susan Sarandon. That thought never left my mind, so I was a little … yeah, you gotta be a little nervous about it.
To what extent were you able to share your expertise in the country music world with her? I’m sure that caused her some anxiety.
I was grateful that I could at least bring something to the table. So we had some discussions about a few of those kinds of issues that I think I maybe helped her out and brought a little clarity to a couple situations.
Even as long as we were shooting this stuff — we’d get an episode and somebody would say something in the script, and I would always go to the director or producer before we started shooting and say, “That’s not really what they would say.” And they would listen to me.
You mentioned earlier that basically the character of Albie Roman is you. Is there a specific scene or moment that really shows how you line up with him?
I think Albie, he loves his family, he loves his children. He might not be the sweetest — he’s not about hugging, that kind of thing, outward emotion. It’s just not his thing and he struggles with it and has troubles with it and I do, too. He’s kind of quiet, but when he says something, you probably oughta listen to what he’s got to say.
But with Albie, it’s about the music. It’s gotta be real and you’ve gotta be able really sing it with conviction or people are going to know that you’re faking. I feel that way, too.
When Tim McGraw was filming 1883 he said he drew a lot of inspiration between his character and the character of his daughter from his real life. You have daughters in this show and you have five daughters in real life. Was there a benefit of being a girl dad in real life that you were able to apply to this show?
Yeah, because you have that — you’re in protection mode. I’ve often said that with my girls, I’m working security and I’m working as a pack mule. I go to the mall with ‘em and I carry the money and I carry all the stuff they buy and I’m working double duty, working security.
So there is always that. I kind of felt that way about these young ladies in this show, too. As I got to know ‘em better, I felt very protective of them. So it served me, I think.
The music on Monarch is so important. We’ve heard your cover of Hank Williams Jr.’s “A Country Boy Can Survive” and we understand some originals are coming, too. What are you looking forward to bringing, musically, to this show in the coming episodes?
Between (Monarch music producers) Alex and Adam Anders, those guys, they’re so creative and the different styles of music that they’re bringing into this, it’s surprising to me. I go into the studio every time and go, “Whoa, where did that come from? Whose idea was that?” It’s been pretty cool.
Like I said, I just want to try to sing every song with conviction and try to keep it as real as I possibly can. Everybody else on this show is doing it, too — there are some great entertainers and some great singers. Some of that stuff, I mean, it gave me goosebumps on several occasions, just sitting and listening to some of these other folks doing this stuff. There’s some good music on this show, and it’s not mine.