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Singer-Songwriter Ryan Bingham on Crazy Heart

In theaters today is Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart, the story of a boozy, washed-up country singer in search of new love and a new hit. The film is receiving major attention for Jeff Bridges’s scenery-eating lead performance as Otis “Bad” Blake, for which he’s considered a Best Actor front-runner. Presumably Oscar-bound too, though, is singer and songwriter Ryan Bingham, composer of “The Weary Kind,” the film’s theme song, which was nominated for a Golden Globe yesterday. We spoke with Bingham last week about acting in the film (his band, the Dead Horses, appears in an early scene); working with Heart’s music director, T-Bone Burnett; and his awards chances.

Your role in the film started out small and grew. How did that all happen?
[Director] Scott Cooper had approached me about writing music and that was it. My agent, Jack Whigham at CAA, had sent him my first record, Mescalito. A few weeks later, we had lunch and he gave me a script. I went on the road for a couple weeks and I came back and wrote “Weary Kind.” We hadn’t really talked about me playing a part or having my band in the film until afterward. Scott and T-Bone and those guys, they came out and saw us play a couple times and were like, “Man, it’d be great to have you guys be the band in the bowling alley.”

And you’d never acted before? Is it nerve-racking doing your first-ever scene opposite Jeff Bridges?
No. I was kind of nervous when they first asked me to do it. But after meeting with Jeff and going through some lines with him … that guy is just such a good-hearted soul and just such a professional that when we were doing the scene, he just kinda made everything go away. The atmosphere and the vibe were really cool. There was no bullshit. It was really a pleasurable experience.

“Weary Kind” plays a central role in the movie. How was it decided that this track would be “the one”?
Well, I wrote the song and I recorded it at home. Scott and T-Bone gave me a call and wanted me to come over and meet up with them. So I brought the tune over and we sat down and listened to it. Right off the bat, T-Bone looked at me and said, “That’s the song we want to use.”

T-Bone is actually credited as a co-writer. What did he add to it?
That line at the end of the song — “You are the man who ruined the world” — he came up with that. I can’t really remember all the little things he did. But that was the main thing, he helped on that last verse. I pretty much just had a couple of verses and the chorus, and we added a little more to it.

Jeff Bridges sings and plays guitar in the movie. As a musician, was he able to keep up with you and your band?
Yeah, he’s great. He was there every time we got in a circle of songwriters at T-Bone’s house, playing and singing tunes. I was really impressed by him and Colin Farrell. I thought Colin sang great as well. Really, with that Irish background, I think folk music is just in his blood.

There’s a lot of Oscar talk for “Weary Kind.” How much are you thinking about that right now?
It’s great. I’m happy that people like the song and that it does something for them. If it wins, great, if it doesn’t, that’s fine as well. I’m proud of the tune, I think T-Bone is. And everybody’s proud of the film, so great.

What’s up next for you?
I’m gonna go in the studio in March and I think T-Bone’s gonna produce a record for me. So I might spend the first part of the year just tightening up some songs and do another record in March. Me and the guys will get back on the road in April for the rest of the year.

Singer-Songwriter Ryan Bingham on Crazy Heart