Thanks to his hit single, "Achy Breaky Heart," Billy Ray Cyrus was a household name long before starring on TV shows like Doc and Disney's Hannah Montana, which spins off into theaters in this week's Hannah Montana: The Movie (he plays Robby Ray Stewart, father to secret superstar Miley Stewart -- played by his real-life daughter, Miley Cyrus). Below, Cyrus shares how he made the transition from country music to Hollywood, how David Lynch figures prominently in both his and Miley's career, and which fellow country icons helped him along the way.
At what point did you realize you wanted to act?
Billy Ray Cyrus: You know, it was in the mid-90s...my dad came down to ride horses with me, and we were sitting out in front of the campfire, just talking about things in my life. He said, "I always pictured you having one of those careers like Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton." And I said, "Dad, I'd love that, but you know, how do you do that? What's the key?" And he said, "You've got to get into acting! You have all of your eggs in one basket with this music thing and you need to branch out." And so the next week, I was in Los Angeles touring, and I saw in a little newspaper that David Lynch was casting for Mulholland Dr. I called my agent -- I'd never been to an audition before -- and I asked, do you think I could go in and audition for this movie? I'd seen that they were looking for a character named Gene the Pool Man, and I don't know why but something told me, surely I could go be Gene the Pool Man. I went into the audition, and lo and behold, they hired me!
During filming, David Lynch pulled me to the side and said, "I don't have any reason to blow smoke up your butt, but I just want to tell you the truth -- I think you could be a serious actor." And I said, "Really? I've never done this before." He said, "A director is looking for someone who is real, and you're very real. I love the way you're playing these scenes. If you just continue to be real, you can do anything you want to do as an actor." With that note of embracement from David Lynch, I then went on to read a script called Doc, and Doc was about hope and faith and love, a very positive show on Pax TV. I went and auditioned for Dr. Clint Cassidy and they hired me, and four years, 88 episodes later, I was a full-time actor.
You look back on it and without David Lynch, Miley wouldn't be Hannah Montana. Without Toronto, Canada, and the fact that I did that first series...that's when Miley fell in love with acting. She started taking a role on Doc -- she became this little girl named Kylie in a recurring role -- and I took her to see Mamma Mia! on the stage in Toronto. Toronto really embraced the arts and acting; at the time, it wasn't so much like that in Nashville, they didn't have acting classes. She was able to surround herself with some great coaches and some great thespians from the moment she said she was going to become a great actress. That was the turning point, when she said that's what I'm going to do. She applied herself to become an actress. So without Lynch, that wouldn't have happened.
Does he know that you credit him with Miley's Hollywood career?
BRC: No, I don't know that he knows that. I don't know, but I sure would love to tell him. Why don't you tell him for me? You put it out there, he'll read it.
Do you stay in touch with him at all?
BRC: No, I haven't seen him for quite some time. I haven't seen him since we made the movie