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Cash movie walks the line

By Brian Baker, November 2005

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"It was fun. I'd do it again," says Lynne. "I'd read for parts for years, but never did anything. This was the right thing. I'd heard through the grapevine that someone was doing a Johnny Cash film, and I wanted a piece of it somehow some way. I got somebody to start poking around and wound up with an audition. When I read for the part (of Carrie Cash), it was about the only thing left. That was what they were looking for."

It was a fascinating first movie role for Lynne, who subjected herself to make-up (or lack thereof) that would age her 30 years within the time frame of the story arc.

"There was nothing to it," says Lynne. "I just didn't wear a lot. I was kind of pale, a little bit of red lipstick and a lot of piled up hair."

Once she had the part, Lynne did as much research as possible to help her get inside the mind of the Arkansas woman who reared one of country music's most celebrated songwriters.

"I read everything there was, but there wasn't a lot of information about her, and I didn't know any of the family," says Lynne. "I just had to read the books and take from my own female experiences, women I've known, and put two and two together and kind of do her justice."

Lynne's experience of seeing herself in the finished version of "Walk the Line" at the film's premiere was nerve wracking but she's enthusiastic about the movie.

"I was really too nervous to enjoy it, but it came off pretty cool," says Lynne. "I was turned on when I read the script. It wasn't a boring script where you had to use your imagination. It was a good read, and it looks good too. Joaquin and Reese were just killer, and they ' did all their singing and playing, which is pretty impressive."

Like Shooter Jennings, Waylon Payne brought a country music pedigree to the project; he's the son of country chanteuse Sammi Smith and longtime Willie Nelson guitarist Jody Payne. In return, Payne provided a brief, but incendiary performance as a heaven-touched/hellbent Jerry Lee Lewis.

"I met (Lewis) two nights ago," says Payne by cell phone on his way to a Southern California lunch. "Me and my friend Margo went to this concert special in conjunction with the movie, and it was like going to heaven and being with all your favorite people. I walk into a room, and there's Jerry Lee Lewis on the couch - and I'd never met him before - sitting next to god himself, Kris Kristofferson. It was like being in the arms of heaven."

Payne's personal interaction with the Lewis turned out to be even better.

"You know what was so trippy? I'm sitting there, and the Killer's on stage at his piano, and we're all sitting fourth row...if I sound excited, it's because I am," says Payne with a laugh. "So the Killer is just staring holes into me and looking at me, and I'm just soaking it in because I'm like, 'Good Lord, I'm in Jerry Lee Lewis' line of fire.'"

"Now imagine if you can, on a huge movie screen right behind him, the portion of the movie where I'm playing him starts, and my hands start playing, and I start singing his song, and it's 20 miles big behind him, and then he turned around and looked at it up there, and then he turned back around and just looked at me, and it was sweet. I coulda passed out then."

Payne had originally auditioned for the part of Waylon Jennings and got a callback, but in the subsequent time he had cut off his hair and dyed it blonde. The Jerry Lee Lewis part seemed destined to be his.

"They asked me if I could play piano, and I said, 'Oddly enough...'" says Payne. "The past six months before that I had locked myself in this old Hollywood apartment and stayed up all night and played piano and watched things grow in the dark. It was a perfect match."

Payne had a personal reason to want to be involved. His initial connection to Cash was through his late mother, whose recording career was actually launched by the Man in Black, who then returned to give Payne himself the same leg up nearly four decades later.

"My mama was 19, 20 years old, singing in a honky tonk in Oklahoma City in the early '60s," says Payne. "Johnny Cash came through Oklahoma City, and Luther Perkins was a friend of mama's, and they came to the show one night, and John was knocked out by her. Two days later, she was in Nashville and signed to Columbia on John's say-so. He got her her first record deal."

"Oddly enough, I come out here to give it a shot, and my career's not going that great, and mistakes had been made, and I'll be danged if the Man in Black didn't come along again and give me the same opportunity. It was a neat spiritual journey for me to make. It's a nice thing that a man who based his life on being honest and being real is having such an impact. It's almost - if I daresay and forgive me if I offend - Christ-like. He's the only man I've ever met in my life that was exactly what he said he was...Mr. Johnny Cash."

So many films of this nature have squandered timing, talent and opportunity ("Great Balls of Fire" comes to mind) that it's great to see a similar confluence used to such magnificent effect in translating the greatest country love story ever toldSomewhere, Johnny Cash and June Carter are smiling, not because a great movie has been made about them but because they are together, just as they were in this temporal life and now for all eternity.

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