Billy Ray Cyrus stars in "Christmas Comes Home to Canaan," airing December 17 on the Hallmark Channel. HP50 Contributing Editor Nina Kotick caught up with him in Los Angeles to talk about the film, his career and the perils of parenting in public.
Why did you choose this project and what's compelling about this role?
Well, this is a sequel to "Christmas in Canaan" (2009). I just loved the script on the original movie and loved doing that film. I agreed to do a sequel but only if the script was as good and raised the bar even further. I didn't want to do a sequel just for the sake of doing a sequel. It took a year and a half, but they did it. It's the story of a struggling family in Canaan, Texas. I play Daniel Burton, a widower raising three children in the late 60s, early 70s. There's a lot of racial divide, a lot of prejudice, and my character is the guy who believes we're all the same. He fights the tide by adopting a young black boy into his family and well, as you can imagine, there's a lot of controversy. And I was able to make several contributions to the direction of the film, including the title song "Home." I just love this movie.
It seems like you're a lot like Daniel Burton. Is that true?
Yeah, it is. I really believe that anyone can do anything or be anyone. Look at me. I'm just a Kentucky boy and it took me a long time to reach my dreams but persistence is the key. My father taught me that. He worked in the steel mill and it was easy to understand steel. He said that "persistence is to the quality of the character of a man...what carbon is to steel." That I could understand.
You are really a prolific artist - Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, actor, not to mention husband, father, philanthropist. How do you balance it all?
I don't really think of it as balance. The word I would use is "adjustment." There really never is a balance. I just deal with what's in front of me and then I go on to the next. Constant adjustments. There are no coincidences. I don't believe in them. Everything happens for a reason. That's what I believe.
You are very philanthropic and support several causes. What's near to your heart right now as the holidays approach?
You know I've done a lot and seen a lot. I've been around the world on tour, twice. I am really saddened by the widespread, devastating hunger. All over the world and here in our country too. I think I want to make a difference in world hunger in 2012. That will be a focus for me. I think we are all put here in the world to make it a better place. To have an impact. I have always been about giving. I want to give. My family is really all about that.
Speaking of giving, do you like the holiday season? Do you have any unique family traditions?
I love Christmas and I always have. I've always believed that the spirit of Christmas is the spirit of giving and that is what Christmas is all about. What I don't like about the holidays is how everyone seems so frantic. Traffic doubles, even triples, and it seems like people are tense and stressed when the holidays call for a little more at-ease. I really hope that this year people will be able to enjoy the spirit of the season and relax. It's really the time to embrace the light and to show our love for another.
Is Christmas a quiet day in your home - everyone hanging out around the tree?
Well, of course we do a Christmas tree. For us, the spirit of Christmas is the gift of giving and each Christmas we try to find some way to give back and make that little difference. That's my favorite thing about Christmas, that element of surprise. This year in particular, with the official end of the Iraq war, I am excited for the soldiers coming home and for their families. I have visited the troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was also involved in the TLC show "Surprise Homecoming." Each time I saw a soldier coming home, wrapping his or her arms around a family member, it felt like Christmas.
When it comes to family, I wonder - what's it like to parent in the public eye? It's hard enough as it is - no?
Well, I really believe that it's no different for anyone. I am not perfect. I just do the very best I can and try to teach my children what I know. We all make mistakes and I've made my share but hopefully we learn from them and move on. I believe in faith, in hope and in hard work.
How do you relax?
I really love playing music. I picked up a guitar when I was 20 and that's really my therapy. I write about things I love, things I want to say, things to help people. Nothing makes me happier than to know that my music has affected someone's life. I wrote a song called "Ready Set Don't Go" about Miley and the lyrics go like this: I'm at the starting line, For the rest of my life, As ready as I've ever been, Got the hunger and stars in my eyes, The prize is mine to win. She's waiting on my blessings, Before she hits that open road, Baby get ready, get set, don't go. I've heard that this song has been played at meaningful events like graduations and it means a lot to me that I can touch others' lives. I had a lot of mentors and they helped me to see that you just have to write from the heart. It doesn't matter if it's country or any other genre - it will reach people and cross over. I'm working on an album now and I am really happy with it.
You're lucky to have found success doing what you love to do.
Oh that's for sure. That's what was so fun about working with Miley on Hannah Montana. I got to watch her reach for her dreams. There's really nothing better that. And that's what I hope for everyone, that they can reach for their dreams. There's no reason why anyone can't go for what they want. You just got to give it everything you got.
Would that be your mantra?
Oh yeah for a long time. I wrote the song "Some Gave All" and that's what it's about. Soldiers, actually, who gave their all. You have to give your all to get what you want in life. Yep, some gave all.
You just turned 50 - the new 30, clearly by the looks of you. What's the best aspect of this stage of life?
Well, I'd rather be 30.
Ha! You mean, your body, right, not your mind, not your experience?
No, all of it! You know, it's all good. I have nothing to prove. I've done a lot. I've worked really hard, I still love what I do and I am lucky to have the opportunity to give back. Miley too is giving back. She partnered with Youth Service America to create "Get Ur Good On," a social network that brings kids together to help do good in their communities. She too wants to spread the word that even one person can make a difference. She also created a foundation called the "The Pappy Cyrus Family Foundation," which is in honor of my dad, who passed away in 2006. This charity is to help deprived kids across the U.S. with improved health care, education and community support. My dad always gave back.
What's next for you?
I'm really not sure. But I'm lucky, opportunities are out there and I will know my next move... when I make it.