NASHVILLE — “I say the words they want me to say, but I’m sure I’m not over acting,” jokes 60-year-old country superstar Trace Adkins in his growling baritone.
He chats at the Grand Ole Opry for an exclusive premiere of “Monarch,” the Fox drama in which he plays country music patriarch Albie Roman.
The show premieres — a year after several delays — Sunday (8 EDT/PDT) on Fox, immediately after the network’s NFL doubleheader, then moves into its regular timeslot on Tuesdays (9 EDT/PDT) from September 20.
The show follows in the footsteps of ABC and CMT’s “Nashville,” which aired from 2012 to 2018.
And Paramount Network’s popular “Yellowstone” and “1883” shot Kevin Costner and married country musicians Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, respectively, to rising stardom.
“Monarch” tells the fictional story of the Roman family with coarse roots – think of the Carters and the Judds meeting the Williams and the Jennings. Among them, the king and queen of country music: Albie and Dottie Cantrell Roman (Susan Sarandon), whose royal reign is threatened. Heirs to the throne are sisters Nicolette “Nicky” (Anna Friel) and Gigi (played in a breakout role by alt-punk icon Beth Ditto), along with her recording industry executive brother Luke ( Joshua Sasse).
“Albie Roman is an honest guy who gets caught up in certain situations where he first has to do what he thinks is best for his family,” says Adkins, 60. “It might not always be honorable, and it’s not driven by meanness, but overall he’s a good guy.”
“I love music,” says Ditto.
The lead singer of indie rock band Gossip has been compared to Bobbie Gentry, Etta James, Janis Joplin and Tina Turner. She notes that the “trauma” associated with her Southern roots is most evident in her portrayal of the working mother who has concealed a golden voice and magnificent stage presence all her life.
“Gigi is an outcast and an unfed underdog, like me,” she adds. “My mother wasn’t like Susan Sarandon, though. Susan is more like my grandmother, Barbie Ann. She was a redhead.”
Ditto, 41 notes small character points, like the fact that she never wears dresses or makeup and is “a working mom who wears an Apple Watch because she always has to be somewhere.”
“Every character on this show really feels connected to someone, and I love that,” Ditto says.
The performer also reveals that she was “completely unemployed” during the COVID-19 quarantines and considered taking online classes to pursue opening daycare. However, when presented with the idea of auditioning for the show – and they specifically wanted a “tall, fat lesbian country singer” – she was immediately intrigued.
Ditto’s roots in Arkansas included his father boiling squirrels’ heads and sucking the brains through their noses and his grandmother killing three squirrels with a single bullet.
“All I said when I auditioned was, ‘Find someone better, I dare you.'”
Regarding Ditto’s cheeky condemnation, her TV dad Adkins laughs, “that’s a hoot, man, that girl is crazy.”
Adkins fondly recalls starring in nearly two dozen low-budget films over the past two decades and says the experience that landed him the role of Albie Roman honors his acting skills, his years experience in the country music industry and his time in front of the cameras.
“It’s a lot of pressure, but after watching the first six episodes, I feel pretty good about my performance,” he adds.
Expanding his acting credits to include romance scenes with Oscar winner Sarandon was “unnerving” for Adkins.
“All you have to do is stand in his lake and hang on,” Adkins said. “When you realize Susan can carry the stage, you exhale and enjoy the thrill of the moment.”
Guest stars from the country music world, including Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Shania Twain and Tanya Tucker, are set to make appearances. Additionally, the show’s title theme, “The card you play”, was portrayed by Caitlyn Smith.
“I’m obsessed with (‘Monarch’),” said Smith, who performed the show’s theme alongside his ballad “High” at the Opry at the premiere.
“I’m a ’90s country girl at heart, so I’m constantly channeling those vibes every chance I get,” the singer says of her euphoric performance.
Ditto alludes to the wider spread of fan interest in the genre.
“In pop culture, there’s an idea of what country music is ‘supposed’ to be,” she says. “But like so many people, not all the country music I’ve ever liked would pass as country music right now. So for people like me, ‘Monarch’ bridges the gap.”