Alex Roe Talks Discovering Small Town America and Learning to Sing Country Music for Romantic Drama ‘Forever My Girl’
English actor Alex Roe knew little about country music or the challenge of eating a whole plate of ribs before strapping on a guitar for his role in “Forever My Girl.” A date movie in the tradition fare like “The Notebook,” it stars Roe as Liam Page, a successful country star who after nearly a decade returns to his small Louisiana hometown to reconnect with the girl he left behind, Josie (Jessica Rothe). But time changes everything and now Josie has a young daughter named Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson). It doesn’t take much to realize she’s also Liam’s daughter, which inspires Page to try and make up for lost time. “Forever My Girl” is one of those breezy romances designed to tap into audience’s yearnings for true love, while evoking the pace and lifestyle of small town America. Roe sat down with Entertainment Voice to discuss the making of “Forever My Girl” and the discoveries he made along the way.
“My preparation was, obviously as an Englishman who is not from Louisiana and who has never sung before, to try and jump into this character who is like the biggest country super star in the world,” said Roe. “It was definitely like a feat that was difficult, preparation focused on learning how to sing and play the guitar and stuff.”
In the film Roe convincingly struts and talks like a Nashville celebrity. It is a testament to his skill considering he came to the role with little to no connection to the country music world. “In England it’s not on the radio really, so I had to listen to some of the classics, like ‘Ring of Fire’ by Johnny Cash, and when I was 12 I was obsessed with Elvis Presley, who’s more kind of rock n’ roll but he does delve into country a little. When I got the part it was about research into who Liam might be similar to, figuring out what the sound is. I developed a real love for country music.” Roe was fascinated by discovering the unique culture of country music as an industry in which the artist’s connection to a fan base is so cherished. “There’s this feeling of integrity and staying true to your roots, of being homegrown, of being someone you can relate to. Pop music culture can be more of a caricature. You’ve got your Lady Ga Gas which can be a little more of a character, like ‘who’s this cool new character,’ while this is more of like ‘who is this human being that I can look up to.’”
There are several concert scenes and moments where music plays an important role in the movie. While gearing up to shoot, Roe picked up new skills. “I had never sung before so singing was a new thing and singing with a country accent was a new thing. Then learning how to play guitar was a new thing,” said Roe. “I’ve got a guitar now, a Gibson, they’ve given me a Dove which is this kind of amazing acoustic guitar so that sits in my house and I pick it up and play.”
“Forever My Girl” is a particular brand of sunny romance dropping into theaters after an intense awards season featuring movies packed with big, sometimes dark themes. “I think going to the cinema has been dominated by going to these big movies where they have these big car crashes, and super heroes, which is so much fun, but there’s this amazing shared experience of watching a drama or a romance movie and seeing what audiences laugh at and react to,” said Roe. “I think this movie is one worth going to see in the cinema for that reason.”
During filming Roe in particular enjoyed shooting his scenes with Abby Ryder Fortson, especially because of how the character of Billy is written. “She’s so outspoken and so funny and so direct. There’s a scene where we’re at dinner and Billy’s been the one with the idea as an 8-year-old to bring Liam over to dinner when she realizes I am her dad. And there’s this awkward situation where Liam’s brought her a big teddy bear and Josie a diamond necklace and he’s got it completely wrong. And she says ‘my I call you Liam, because I can’t really call you dad. That jumped out from the page because Billy is such a special creation.”
“I got really lucky with Jess,” said Roe when discussing his co-star Jessica Rothe. “We had a chance to spend a couple of weeks with each other during rehearsals. This is different to what I’ve done before. So the conversations we had were more in-depth and about love and relationships…so you develop this bond through the discussions we had. We went out to a baseball game and a blues bar, similar places where Liam and Josie would go to. There’s no behind the scenes ‘we actually hated each other’ situation.”
For Roe a particularly interesting revelation while filming was getting to know small town America and specific cuisines. “I went to Nashville and ordered a really large rack of ribs, the biggest I’ve ever eaten in my life. I went with Brett Boyett who was our music supervisor, and I kinda thought, you know like when you eat a chili, and you put the chili in your mouth and act as though it doesn’t hurt, I thought the deal was you kept eating the ribs trying to make it out as if you’re not full. It tasted really, really good.”
“Forever My Girl” opens Jan. 19 in theaters nationwide.