By Christine Romans
Tim McGraw, sans trademark cowboy hat, saunters into a Manhattan restaurant and needs to find a place to throw out his gum. Finding none, he finds a clean and shiny teaspoon at a waiter station and neatly tucks his chewed gum into it. As far as I know, no one put it on eBay.
Thus begins our 35-minute sit-down with the country music star, who has a new movie, new album, a tour starting in February, and new management.
McGraw is a country music star who is bent on a “fresh start.” He’s honing his brand for a new dynamic audience. His die-hard country music fans are most-likely to buy his records from Target.
But there is a new, digitally savvy audience online, sampling tracks from various artists and genres. He has signed with Red Light Management, the people behind Dave Mathews Band and Phish, and the tour for his album Southern Voice, will be “different” from anything we’ve ever seen from him.
Has Brand McGraw set the “reset button?”
“I don't know whether it's a reset button as much as it is just an advancement button. It's just time to take this up. We've laid a tremendous platform and it is time to expand from that platform. “
That platform is 40 million country records, three Grammy awards, 10 American Music Awards, 11 Country Music Awards. You get the picture. Where he is expanding most visibly is in movies.
He co-stars opposite Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side," opening nationwide this weekend. It’s his biggest role yet. On the red carpet at the premiere this week, Bullock told CNN about her country music co-star.
“He already has a very well-established career and he doesn’t need to butt into ours, but guess what? He's going to and he does it so beautifully.”
McGraw plays husband to Bullock’s smart, driving wife. Did he draw from personal experience for this film? McGraw easily laughs.
“Of course, absolutely. I mean look, I’m in a house with my wife and three daughters. I’m done for. I don’t have any say-so whatsoever.”
He’s talking about wife, singer Faith Hill. Their 2006 tour was the best-selling country music tour ever.
He says he’d like to do a movie with her someday, but for now, he is promoting "The Blind Side," and getting ready to start filming opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in a new film in January.
Photos by CNN Producer Ethel Bass
It’s not just the films. McGraw is stretching. 16 years after he recorded his first number one album, he chafes at being called a “grown-up” and says he is looking for new challenges.
“I think that it’s all of a sudden you sort of reached this plateau and then you could see other places to go. For so long you looked at this peak that you think you want to get to and when you get to the peak, you realize that this is just the first peak of many to come.”
He collaborated with hard rockers Def Leppard on "Nine Lives." There’s a cologne brand, and, of course, this week he was named to People’s "Sexiest Men Alive."
But one genre that does NOT fit Brand McGraw: “Someone once told me I couldn't go pop with an a** full of firecrackers.”
But that doesn't mean, he's not keen on a new savvy digital audience, people who are online and sampling new sounds.
“That's part of having new management and a sort of fresh kind of go at it is to have all those things that I don't know how to do.”
Walking down Sixth Avenue just south of Central Park, cabs whizzed by. A few bystanders gawked at our cameras, and Tim McGraw wanted to make clear what is the most important goal for the next 16 years of his career.
“I hope my kids turn out great and happy. If the kids are happy, then I think everything else will fall into place, everything else will be fine. But I want to continue to work. I want to make better records and make more movies – maybe make a movie with my wife somewhere down the road – that would be a lot of fun – you know, just be happy, that’s the main thing, be happy.”