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INTERVIEW: Rita Wilson Remembers Her Radio Days With AM/FM

The multi-talented actress discusses her new CD, her memories of doing Chicago on Broadway, and advice for husband Tom Hanks. logo
Rita Wilson
Rita Wilson is celebrating her 40th year in show business by making a childhood dream come true. The accomplished star of stage (Chicago), film (Sleepless in Seattle, It's Complicated), and television (The Good Wife) has returned to the music of her youth and teamed up with pop stars such as Jackson Browne and Sheryl Crow to record some of the era's greatest standards on hew new CD AM/FM. TheaterMania recently talked to Wilson about the CD, being on Broadway, her favorite childhood memories, and her advice to her husband, Tom Hanks.

THEATERMANIA: How did performing in Chicago on Broadway motivate you to make this album?
RITA WILSON: It was the first time I was confronted with doing something I have always wanted to do, but being too afraid to admit it. I had been offered the role of Roxie, so a friend of mine suggested I go see the play again. During intermission I turned to my husband and daughter and said, "There is no way I can do this!" They both looked at me like I was crazy and said, "You absolutely can do this!" It is addicting. I cannot wait until I can come back and do another musical.

TM: So how did that experience lead to the record?
RW: The experience of doing Chicago reignited the love I have for music, singing and performing live. It had been so quietly tucked away in my heart that once it was unlocked eight shows a week at the Ambassador theater, there was no turning back! Music had to be a part of my life going forward.

TM: Why did you choose to focus on songs from the 1960s and 1970s for this CD?
RW: This period of time had so many great songs from all sorts of artists. It was a diverse period, but it also brought back so many memories of where I was when I heard each song and the stories that were being told.

TM: AM/FM isn't a term we hear a lot today - it might be a term that a lot of young people don't know. So what made you choose that title?
RW: In 1969 there was only one way to hear music on the radio. AM radio. Today we think of AM radio as "talk radio" but back then you could hear everything on AM radio from Frank Sinatra, to the Shirelles, to the Beatles, to Bobby Darin. Then FM radio came into existence, and it was the frequency for rock and singer songwriters. So I chose the title AM/FM to reflect the differences in songs on the CD.

TM: Do those decades have different meanings to you?
RW: The 1960s represented to me a very innocent time, romantic, fun with romance idealized. The 1970s represented how that innocence had shifted to more of an honest representation of love, romance and heartbreak. The singer/songwriters who were writing from their own personal experience were older themselves now and this was reflected in the material.

TM: What kind of memories came back to you while recording the album?
RW: I remember hearing so many of these songs while driving in cars, first in the backseat of my parents' car (no seat belts, mind you!) then in my own car when I got my driver's license. I can still remember the texture of the seats, the smell of the interior, the feel of the radio dial knobs.

TM: What was it like recording at Capitol Records?
I grew up in Hollywood and we would drive past Capitol Records at least once a week. It also made me think about the Beatles and all the other great artists that recorded in Studio A, where I also recorded. It was thrilling to walk down the halls in the morning to record and imagine that Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland had also made that same journey down those halls into Studio A. I even got to meet Steve Perry from Journey, who was there one day!

TM: How much did recording this album make you step out of your comfort zone?
RW: The process was about getting out of my comfort zone. I was keenly aware that it would be surprising and out of character for me to show up with an album. I had to be sure and prepare myself that I could take whatever criticism could come my way.

TM: What do you remember most fondly about your time on Broadway?
RW: The theater community in New York is astoundingly welcoming and inclusive. Lucie Arnaz arranged these dinners between shows where people from all shows who didn't have dinner plans would meet to grab a bite, get to know each other, talk about their shows and lives. That sense of community, via the people, the charities the artists support, the humor and the laughs, is something I miss every day.

TM: There's discussion of your husband, Tom Hanks, making his Broadway debut next year. Do you have any advice for him about doing Broadway?
RW: Yes. Go to Bar Centrale afterwards for a drink and a bite!

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