Country Music Icon Reba McEntire Finds Her Happy Place Embracing Her Dark Side On ‘Big Sky: Deadly Trails’

Reba McEntire may have some giant worm-like creatures to thank for her latest TV role.

“There was a movie that Reba did called Tremors.” It always stuck with me. I loved her in that movie. She [was] this rootin‑tootin’ ranch woman shooting a gun and killing monsters. I was like, ‘how come she’s not in more movies?’ So, her name just always stuck in my head when I was trying to come up with these characters, and here she is.”

This is from Elwood Reid, the showrunner and executive producer of Big Sky: Deadly Trails.

In the latest season of the series, Reid cast McEntire as a multi-dimensional, extremely layered woman, according to the country music icon.

“That’s what drew me into the whole thing, is [that], she’s an interesting person. She’s very protective and loving. She’s working really hard to hold it all together. That’s something totally different than anything I’ve ever played before, and I love the depth of it. I like that she is more than three‑dimensional. She’s very friendly and then she can get very dark. It’s so much fun for me. I absolutely am having a blast.”

In the third season of Big Sky, Private detective Cassie Dewell (Kylie Bunbury), undersheriff Jenny Hoyt (Katheryn Winnick) are working with newly appointed sheriff Beau Arlen (Jensen Ackles) maintain order in Helena, Montana. But when a local backcountry trip, led by charismatic outfitter Sunny Barnes (McEntire) goes awry, the trio faces their most formidable mystery yet – in which no camper can be trusted and where danger lurks around every corner.

Reid admits that he was quaking in his boots at the thought of even approaching McEntire about the role.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to have Reba [on the show]. I was really nervous when we were trying to convince her to take the show, because I wrote the part for her. Then these delusional people at the network said, ‘You can get Reba,’ and I was like, ‘No. I can’t get Reba. I can’t even talk to Reba.’ So, I have to say it’s just been one of those dreams come true, because she’s someone whose music I grew up with.”

When Reid finally mustered up the courage to meet with McEntire he says he took a slow approach, and found help from an unexpected ally.

“I hadn’t told her anything about the role. So, we talked and chitchatted for a couple minutes and then I slowly led into the, ‘What if you were to do something bad and not so nice?’ And I heard this voice in the background going, ‘Yes!’ And this big guy walks out and it’s Rex, her boyfriend. He’s like, ‘This is what she needs to be doing.’ I was sweating. I owe Rex for this, really.”

But, even with Sunny’s dark side, McEntire says that she and her character do have some similarities. “We are determined women. We’re very headstrong and we’re very protective when we love our family. So, what Sunny does — she goes to great depths to protect her family and keep them together, and it’s a very great mystery of who her family is and [about] their past. I’m learning each episode about that.”

For those hoping for McEntire to break into song on the show, Reid launches into a story. “One of our first nights on set with [the character] who plays her son, he was able to trick her into singing for the crew, pretending not to know the lyrics to a song that we were playing in the show. And I should also hint, when you’re talking about music, during the CMAs this year, we’re going to have hopefully some country music stars come in and cameo on the show.”

Even though she’s now in a primetime series, McEntire says she still has plenty of performing on her schedule, explaining, “So we’ve pretty much moved to Albuquerque, where we’re filming, and having a wonderful time, loving it, and now we’re gearing up, getting ready to go on tour also. So, as I said, we’ll be combining the two jobs but loving it, and so glad and grateful to get to be working after we were off for two years because of COVID. It’s really gratifying.”

McEntire feels that acting is becoming easier for her, saying, “When I first started to have to memorize lines that didn’t rhyme and there wasn’t a melody, that was really, really hard. And I would try to hum along to something and try to associate, and then I went with the first letter of that word to cut to this next word.”

She reveals that she found that pure repetition was the way for her to commit her lines to memory. “I just had to train myself like I did with singing and memorizing songs. But I think the memorization is the hardest part for me, which I’d say it’s the hardest part for everybody.”

Elwood disagrees with McEntire, saying, “I don’t believe that. She knows everybody’s lines when she comes on set. She is word perfect, word perfect.”

McEntire adds, that as for her on-screen technique, “Acting is just being a ham and trying to get attention.”

Overall, McEntire is just thrilled with the whole experience, gushing, “To get to come on this show with such wonderful characters and with great storylines and every time I get a script to see what happens, that’s when I know the audience is going to be entertained. It’s wonderfully exciting.”

‘Big Sky: Deadly Trails’ airs Wednesdays at 10e/p on ABC, and is available for streaming the next day on Hulu.

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