Country music has a new leading family, courtesy of the FOX drama Monarch, which stars Susan Sarandon as fierce matriarch Dottie Cantrell Roman and Trace Adkins as her scrupulous husband, Albie Roman. Set in Austin, Texas, Monarch has the musical integrity of fellow country music drama Nashville, but with a darker intensity that matches the size of the Lonestar State.
The Romans created a country music empire based on authenticity, but the foundation of their success is on shaky ground with a secret. Their reign as country music’s first family is in danger, so daughter and heir to the throne Nicky Roman (played by Anna Friel) will not be stopped in her pursuit of protecting her family’s legacy and her own dreams of stardom. Her brother, Luke Roman (played by Joshua Sasse), is CEO of the family business Monarch Entertainment but can never seem to earn his father Albie’s approval, no matter how hard he tries. The youngest of the Roman children is Gigi Tucker-Roman, who has always been treated like an outcast in her own family, in spite of her enviable talent.
During a private screening of Monarch’s first episode, Trace Adkins, singer-songwriter Caitlyn Smith and the show’s vocal producer Alex Anders spoke to Country Now and other media about what fans can expect from the show, which premieres on Sept. 11 at 8pm ET on FOX.
Adkins is no stranger to acting, having starred in numerous films, such as “I Can Only Imagine” and “The Lincoln Lawyer.” He equates the experience to his best days in the music business when he’s recording in a studio surrounded by top-notch musicians.
“When you’re in the studio with those cats and you take a raw piece of material and you turn it into something that hopefully is beautiful and something that people will enjoy listening to, it’s that creative thing, it just stimulates me, I just dig it,” says Adkins. “Every day on the television set or a movie set is like that, you are surrounded by incredibly talented people. And I find that atmosphere just, I can’t get enough of it. I really enjoy it.”
Last August, Adkins received the script for Monarch and jumped at the opportunity. “I looked at it and I went, oh my God. Yeah, I can do this,” said Adkins. Within 10 days, he was on set and had to cancel all his gigs. “When I found out who some of the people were that I was gonna be working with, I knew that this had to be something that FOX was committed to and this wasn’t going to be just some little throwaway thing.” He added, “I get to sing and pretty much act as myself. Yeah, okay, I can do that. I’m glad I did.”
His co-stars include Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon and Golden Globe nominee Anna Friel, as well as Joshua Sasse of “Galavant” and singer-songwriter Beth Ditto, formerly of the indie rock band Gossip. Fans can also expect to see even more star power from the country music world with guest appearances by Shania Twain, Martina McBride, Little Big Town and Tanya Tucker throughout the season.
Although Monarch is set in Austin, vocal producer Alex Anders shared how the production came together from multiple cities. “We did most of the music here, actually all of the tracking of the music here in Nashville. Songwriting here in Nashville, that stuff. And then our cast vocals and the shooting of the show happened in Atlanta.”
The show was originally supposed to debut earlier this year, but the production hit some speed bumps due to COVID-19. Adkins shared that they started filming in the middle of September 2021 and finally wrapped April 15, 2022. “We were supposed to wrap February 15th, but ‘cause of COVID and some things that happened along the way, it really delayed.” Adkins was supposed to have two months off before hitting the road for his tour, but he hasn’t had a break yet. “I wrapped on April the 15th and got on the bus in Atlanta and went, did my first show the next day. So I haven’t stopped since we wrapped this show. I really haven’t had a lot of time to sit back and reflect on it, but it felt good to get back on stage. That’s where I feel comfortable.”
When it came to sharing the screen with legendary actress Susan Sarandon, Adkins admitted that initially, he was terrified. “Very quickly I realized that when you work with somebody like that, when you work with somebody that is as confident and as accomplished and as professional as she is, you suddenly realize, ‘Oh my God, she’s gonna carry the scene. All I have to do is swim in her wake and hang on and just hope that if I can survive this scene, it’ll probably be okay.’ And then I just exhaled… she was very gracious and giving and kind to me and made me feel comfortable.”
Adkins did end up having an unexpected scare while filming a scene with Sarandon.
The show’s production had diligent COVID-19 precautions, with the cast being tested every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and receiving the results the next day. On a Tuesday morning, Adkins was filming a scene where he was kissing Sarandon when a crew member burst into the room to announce that Adkins had tested positive for COVID-19.
“I said, oh my God, I’ve killed Susan Sarandon,” exclaimed Adkins.
Thankfully, Sarandon was fine. “She’s had like eight vaccinations, you know?,” chuckled Adkins. “So she didn’t even get sick. I got a little sick for a couple of days but oh my God, I felt so bad. I thought I killed Susan Sarandon.”
One of the show’s other main characters is the music, a combination of recognizable classics and authentic originals that are woven into the fabric of the show’s narrative. Vocal producer Alex Anders, who also worked on Glee, shared what helped make the soundtrack special. “We had a lot of great Nashville songwriters working on this show.”
Caitlyn Smith Sings The Theme Song, “The Card You Gamble”
The show’s theme song, “The Card You Gamble,” was written by songwriting trio the Love Junkies (Lori McKenna, Liz Rose, Hillary Lindsey) and performed by Caitlyn Smith. “It’s so haunting,” says Smith. “It’s got that sort of great country sound, but also that kind of mysterious vibe that fits the show so well.”
Smith filmed the forthcoming music video for the theme song at The Brambles, which is the mansion where the Romans live. “It was very exciting to wander around this massive mansion and get to shoot the video there,” said Smith. “It was before I had even seen any scenes and it was an empty set.”
As a rising female singer-songwriter in country music, Smith connected with Monarch character Nicky Roman. “I really identify with Nicky in that character where she’s in her thirties and she’s got kids and is really still hustling to try and make a name for herself and step out of the shadows… As an artist trying to make it, I was like, I feel seen, I get that.” Smith released her latest project High earlier this year and is currently wrapping up the second half of the album. “The whole album will be called High and Low coming out top of next year, but new music will be coming really soon,” revealed Smith.
In addition to original country songs, fans can also expect to hear familiar pop songs with a twist. “You’ll hear some pop stuff, some pop songs that have been turned into country songs,” says vocal producer Alex Anders. One of his favorites was a cover of “Photograph” by Ed Sheeran that Adkins sings on the show.
Adkins admitted that he wasn’t familiar with the song or the artist. “I was doing that ‘Photograph’ song and Alex said ‘This is the Ed Sheeran song,’ I said, ‘Who?’ but evidently he’s pretty hot,” Adkins joked. “But it was fun to do that kind of song.”
Monarch will make its debut with a special two-night event on FOX, beginning Sunday, Sept. 11, immediately following the FOX NFL doubleheader at 8 PM ET. It then makes its time period premiere Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 9 PM ET.