NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Over the course of his acting career, Billy Ray Cyrus has been drawn to roles that have a personal connection, such as playing the father of real-life daughter and pop star Miley Cyrus’ character on Disney’s “Hannah Montana” series.
“In everything that I do that’s creative, there will always be a common denominator of truth, of real life,” the “Achy Breaky Heart” singer-turned-actor said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “There’s always bit of a parallel of art imitating life imitating art.”
CMT used a photo of the “Achy Breaky Heart” singer from his ’90s mullet heyday to promote his new comedy series, “Still the King,” which premieres Sunday. He plays a washed-up country singer-turned-Elvis impersonator.
Cyrus came up with the idea for the character of “Burnin'” Vernon Brown more than three years ago. After “Hannah Montana” ended in 2011, Cyrus wondered if there was still another acting role for him.
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“I was on tour playing music down in the South and I was thinking of reinventing again … do I want to do that?” he said. “Or just be a musician and not reinvent in that direction?”
While walking his dog in Louisiana where Elvis Presley used to perform on the “Louisiana Hayride” radio program, he spotted a dilapidated Pentecostal church.
“And it just clicked. There’s your reinvention right there,” the 54-year-old Cyrus said. “A dysfunctional Elvis impersonator who lies his way into that church as their preacher.”
In the series, Vernon dupes a congregation into thinking that he’s their new preacher while trying to start a relationship with a daughter born out of a one-night stand 15 years ago.
Other elements of the character are nods to Cyrus’ own background: his father was a Pentacostal preacher and one of his musical idols was Elvis Presley. Cyrus even has a letter from Johnny Cash in which the music icon compared Cyrus to Elvis because of the way he was criticized for his music.
“This whole show, at times it may not look that obvious, my performance, everything I do is actually a tip of the hat to Elvis,” Cyrus said. “He was the one and only king of rock ‘n’ roll.”
The ensemble cast includes Joey Lauren Adams, Lacey Chabert, Leslie David Baker and Kevin Farley. There are cameos by Darius Rucker, John Corbett, Erik Estrada and a special appearance by Randy Travis, who appeared in the pilot that was shot before his stroke in 2013.
Adams plays the mother of Vernon’s daughter, played by Madison Iseman. Adams said she was drawn to a show about a character that toes a fine line between the pulpit on Sunday and the jukebox on Saturday night.
“Kudos to CMT for letting him do that,” Adams said. “It’s not your typical, fun-time half-hour comedy. … He is playing a very flawed person. We all are.”
Cyrus says acting hasn’t always been an ideal career. He recalled being in the middle of filming the 2001-2004 TV series “Doc” and thinking back to Presley.
“I had traded my music career in for being an actor,” Cyrus said. “And I remember thinking about Elvis singing ‘Caught in a trap, I can’t walk out.’ And I thought, be careful what you ask for. Because you just might get it.”
But Cyrus said while he’s sworn off acting a time or two, he keeps coming back.
“As soon as you swear you’re never going to do something, you’re probably going to do it.”
Follow Kristin M. Hall at twitter.com/kmhall