Mary Steenburgen is an accomplished Academy Award-winning actress for Melvyn and Howard. I first saw her in Philadelphia, but she has also starred in films like Step Brothers, Elf, and Book Club. I have admired her and her ability to bring an indomitable energy to most of her films through her acting. This year, Mary has the chance to show off her versatility in the industry with her songwriting skills.
Many years ago she underwent surgery, she would say “opened up a new door in her career.” Mary was an inspiration to speak with. Her experiences in the industry helped guide her to write music for over 12 years and led her to a place where her song “Glasgow” from the film Wild Rose is short listed for the Best Original Song category at the Oscars. We spoke about her journey, her experience building relationships in Nashville, and bringing this special song to film.
I read all about your story and your astonishing journey to writing music. Did you think it would take you to this place?
I certainly did not see this coming. There things I have fantasized about in my career, but song writing was not one of those things. In the beginning I wanted to have a peaceful mind. It felt strange and troubling. This affected my thinking and I was going to have to make the best of it. It took me a couple of weeks to get to this place, luckily I was not working at the time
My experience after my surgery was like talking to someone that had headphones on. I was even struggling to talk to Ted (husband Ted Danson). My brain was consumed with music. Luckily my experience has become more normalized and has become a part of my life. I know my experience and my story is unique, and what I want to say about my story, this is one of many, many, many songs I have written in the last twelve years. I did not expect this career. Once I started to take what I heard in my head and put it to work.
One of the interesting things with this part of my career was I was starting as a novice. It’s an interesting experience when you have been so successful in one part of your career and then you start to new avenues of the industry. I had worked as an actor for many years, but I knew when I started writing music there was going to be a period of being a student.I had to humble myself, and start from the beginning, but it has created an incredible journey for me.
Music then took me to Nashville. Nashville is everything, it’s a city of poets, and where people pull for each other. This was a space where I was able to interact with incredible musicians, and to learn about writing. I had to pull my own weight in these writing sessions. I felt the pressure, but loved the kindness.
In the end I had no idea it would become this, or so important to my life and my heart. I could write songs all day, every day. They are beautiful puzzles, and like telling a story.
I love that you requested to read the script for Wild Rose in order to help write the song. How did understanding Rose-Lynne inspire your beautiful song?
Full credit to my co-writers Caitlin Smith and Kate York. Universal sent out the ask for this song. The one thing I did know, I wanted to write this song with women. I read this script, and I saw this was a film about the relationship with a mother and her children. Caitlin and Kate came to Nashville like Rose-Lynne, they have known success and bumps in Nashville. We all were going to understand this story together. What we did know was this song was going to sing to Rose Lynne’s mother. I knew this was going to Julie Walters.
We knew what we wanted to say emotionally, and we thought about the place, Glasgow. The size of the apartment, the stones, shoe box of dreams under her bed. Everything came alive as we were writing. Just our collective imagination. This great place she grew up. A month or so after we found out our song had been chosen they sent them a video of Jesse Buckley singing. Caitlin Smith originally sang the demo, and she is a power house, and she is extraordinary. The demo is so beautiful, and I hoped it would not backfire. We got this video Tom Harper sent, and we were, it was so good. The people
To hear your hard work carried out this way, it was like hearing your wildest dreams come true. Hearing this amazing actress sing this song was amazing. I saw the movie early and it was very relaxing to see this see this movie, no pressure to do anything, since I was not in it. At the end when she sang the song I was very proud to see her sing that song. Jesse had so played that part with no apology.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. The song, and your journey to writing music has been an inspiration.
Can I add one more thing? In life it’s OK at any age to explore a new path or follow a new dream. If I had somehow refused this experience (which I could not have) if I pushed it away it would not have felt right. What does that say to someone like you who is younger than me. We encourage young people accomplish their dreams. There is a time where we stop saying that to people. We do not have to have a shelf life on our dreams, and we can’t push those dreams away.
Mary is currently working on a song she and Ted Danson are going to do for a play. She is also working with Caitlyn Smith and Troy Verges on music for an animated film called The Underneath.