When I hear Shania Twain say hello to me, I nearly scream into the phone. I am suddenly aware of whom I’m speaking with: a country and pop music legend, a Canadian icon and the reason many of us received news of Brad Pitt’s Oscar win with an indifferent, “Okay, so you’re Brad Pitt.” Now, she’s plunging further into the world of movies and television, co-starring in the new romantic drama I Still Believe, the true story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp (played by K.J. Apa), who began a spiritual journey after losing his young wife to cancer.
It is impossible to keep my cool – so I don’t. “I feel like Abbi in Broad City!” I exclaim, citing Twain’s turn in the Comedy Central series, in which superfan Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) gets to train Twain at the gym. Twain jumps right in.
“Broad City was so much fun!” she tells me. “[And] an ideal introduction to acting for me. It was a chance to step out of my usual self, [and] it was a good first taste and an important first taste. And the cast was really fun, and the writing was amazing.”
So it felt like a natural evolution when she was asked to take on the role of Becca in last year’s Trading Paint, a race-car drama starring John Travolta.
“My friend calls me up – John Travolta,” she begins (you know, just her pal). “And says out of the blue, ‘Would you play my girlfriend in this movie I’m doing right now?’ And I’m thinking, ‘Wow, well, I’m definitely not going to say no.’ And I enjoyed it so much. I was so comfortable and I felt very much in my element. I thought I’d feel stage fright about it, but I didn’t feel that at all. It was a happy place for me.”
Of course, if you’re familiar with Twain’s trajectory, it should come as no surprise that her acting career, like her music, is defined by her willingness to take chances. In the 1990s, Twain quickly became a pillar of the new incarnation of country music. But as the decade came to a close, she expanded her sound into pop and successfully merged the two genres. After announcing plans to stop performing in 2004 (sparking a 13-year hiatus), she returned with much fanfare in 2017 with a new record (Now), a new tour and a Las Vegas residency. Arguably, Twain’s legacy is one that belongs entirely to her, defined by her instincts and doing what feels right.
“What surprised me about stepping into another role [as an actor] was that it was actually not difficult to play somebody so different to me,” she says. “For example, songwriting has always been a real creative outlet and an artistic outlet and escapism and therapy. And acting is the same way. It’s this place to explore.”
I remark to Twain that she’s always seemed honest about her story, about herself and in the music that gives listeners a front-row seat into her personal life. I tell her that being that honest all the time must be scary.
“Definitely!” she says. “[But] it’s also very liberating. I just think it’s too much work to not be honest and straightforward and yourself. The truth has to come through. And I think that keeping kindness in mind and if you have good intentions, there is only your truth. There is nothing else.”
“I think I just live by that innately. Courage comes more in how to deal with the response.”
And the response to Twain’s latest incarnation has certainly been enthusiastic. Now debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and her supporting tour was a critical and commercial smash. That said, decades after her self-titled debut, it’s easy to imagine falling in love with an industry that’s as celebratory as it is ruthless.
“I don’t make music for the industry,” she says. “The industry is the only way I can [access] the community of listeners. So I have to start with intention. My passion is in writing songs, creating the sentiments, creating the message that I want to relate, and I’ll never not fall in love with that. That’s my obsession – to communicate through music. That’s the best way I know how to communicate, so it’s more than love. It’s part of me. It’s an essential part of me that I think comes from somewhere that I can’t explain.”
That type of love translates into the way she sees the country genre now – a far cry from the one in which many of us first acquainted ourselves with her, and one that is growing rapidly, particularly in the wake of new artists who’ve begun disassembling the genre’s old norms.
“I love to see the genre evolving,” Twain says. “Sometimes it is a genre that gets a little bit stagnant, and you’re right: Right now is a very exciting time because there’s a shift of creativity and originality that’s finally re-entering the genre. And we can’t underestimate the country fans. They want things to stay interesting, [and] they need change, too. We need to grow with our listeners and their culture and vice versa.”
“I think we needed some leaders in country music to be brave enough to be artistically more original,” she adds. “And I think that’s what you’re sensing. Because I’m sensing that.”
Our time’s almost up, and while I’d love my last question to be more of a comment about how I once auditioned for a school play by singing Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?, I choose to cling to my last thread of professionalism and ask Twain what’s surprised her most about her storied career. She takes a pause.
“I supposed I never ...” She stops again. “Where I began and where I ended up is so far apart and so far from anything I could have imagined. I always dreamt of making it, right? [But] ‘making it’ was not where I am now. This is just beyond. I just feel gratitude. When I look at the bookends of then and now, it’s a whirlwind.”
“I didn’t realize there’d be so many chapters, I didn’t realize that there would be so much life lived in these chapters. So much experience. And so many rewards. And I certainly wasn’t expecting some of the challenges, either. But that has been a great motivation and determination.”
And with that, the call ends. And I begin playing The Woman in Me on repeat. Again.
I Still Believe opens March 13
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