By Jill Serjeant
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Despite just a handful of acting roles to date, country singer and "American Idol" winner Carrie Underwood was the first choice to play the coveted lead role of Maria in a new live version of "The Sound of Music" for television.
Since winning "Idol" in 2005, Underwood, 30, has taken the country music scene by storm with hits like "Before He Cheats," and "Jesus, Take the Wheel," winning six Grammys and more than 100 other music awards. But the singer will take on more than just singing as she plays the von Trapp's musical governess in the live NBC broadcast on Thursday.
"She is the right type, the right age, she has the right vocal quality, she is beautiful and she has massive experience doing live performing. Carrie is the perfect person to play that character," co-producer Craig Zadan told Reuters.
Underwood spoke with Reuters ahead of the December 5 broadcast about taking on a challenge like Maria.
Q: Have you always been a fan of "The Sound of Music?" Is it something you grew up with?
A: Yes! I can't even tell you first time I saw it. I feel like it's been around since birth for me. It was part of my growing up ... anytime it would come on TV, my mom and I would sit together and cuddle up in the bed and watch it together so it has a lot of very dear memories for me.
Q: After all these years, what do you think is the show's biggest appeal?
A: It really has everything. (Composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein) really knew what they were doing. You have the love story, action, suspense - there is a lot more of that in the stage version than in the movie with all the changes that are happening in Austria. You also have these unforgettable songs. That's the thing that sticks with you after you have seen it.
Q: Despite everything you have done since first winning "American Idol" in 2005, this must rank as one of the biggest challenges you have faced. Why did you decide to take it on?
A: It is just so different for me. I have never done anything quite like this. This is first time anybody has done a live musical on TV like this in a very long time. People don't take on this kind of project any more so it's really new for all of us. I love the fact that it is live. Even with award shows, it's all smoke and mirrors and this is the opposite of that.
Q: How have you coped with all the dancing, acting and learning of lines?
A: Memorizing things has been really easy for me. As soon I started, I had everything ready. I have never had this much to memorize. All the things I've had to sing (in the past) rhyme with each other, so if you get the first line you can pretty well remember what the verse is about. This is very different. I have never had choreography before. I've never had to worry too much about where I am on stage. I never really had to worry about cameras, and where they are. The whole acting challenge has been just that - a challenge - but I am surrounded by incredibly talented people and that definitely makes it easier.
Q: I heard you are working with a dialect coach. Which accent are you being taught?
A: It's really not been about adopting a new dialect. It's been about losing mine. I am from Oklahoma. I live in Tennessee. I sing country music. Sometimes words really slip out sounding like where I am from. After this is all over, I will have to go back to my hometown and spend some time with my family and get my accent back ... I am just trying to sound as un-twangy as I can sound.
Q: Have you been at all daunted by taking on a role that is so much associated with Julie Andrews in the 1965 movie?
A: It definitely has been something that has been on my mind and in my world. I don't think people would be upset if they went to a Broadway show of "The Sound of Music" (and it was someone other than Julie Andrews). We are just providing a different way to see it and fall in love with it. I really hope people cut us all some slack. I hope people realize that we are not re-creating the movie. This is not a re-make. I hear that word and it makes me cringe. The movie does not need to be re-made. I can't wait to show my kids the movie.
But I really hope people will gain an appreciation for things that are live, for live singing, for musicals. I would have just died to be able to see something like this on my TV growing up because we didn't have any great theatre nearby that I could go and see live productions. So I think of all the little me's out there watching on December 5, it will be great for them.
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Lisa Shumaker)