As a high school student in Baskin, Louisiana (population 211), Lainey Wilson’s first paid showbiz gig involved performing as TV’s Hannah Montana on a flatbed trailer stage.
The country music singer-songwriter, 30, recalls the surreal feeling, years later, she had performing her song “Watermelon Moonshine” for a scene in Paramount’s “Yellowstone” – on a flatbed trailer in Montana.
“I’m on this flatbed stage singing once again, but not in my Hannah Montana wig. And I thought, dang, this is a full-circle moment for me,” says Wilson. “And I’m singing ‘Watermelon Moonshine,’ a song about young, wild and crazy love.”
The love only gets wilder and crazier for Wilson, who made her acting debut as free-spirited musician Abby on the Season 5 premiere of “Yellowstone” last month.
Sunday’s episode of TV’s No. 1 show featured the “Moonshine” performance, before Abby steps down from the flatbed stage to spark a passionate romance with hunky ranch hand Ryan (Ian Bohen), who works for Kevin Costner’s John Dutton, now Montana’s governor.
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What Wilson lacked in experience for her first screen kiss, she made up for with the same determination and enthusiasm that has sparked country music’s 2022 breakout star. The scene is smoking.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing, but you go in there head-first. I was going to give people their money’s worth,” says Wilson. “I told my mommy and daddy, ‘You might not want to watch this show.’ I don’t want to be on their prayer list.”
Wilson sends major praise to “Yellowstone” creator and executive producer Taylor Sheridan, a longtime supporter who placed her song “Working Overtime” in Season 2’s first episode before the up-and-comer even had a recording contract.
Her music was featured often in the Paramount series before Sheridan took it up a notch. He told Wilson in February he wanted to create the Abby character specifically for the bell-bottoms-loving performer.
“(Sheridan) said he wanted me to pretty much be myself, which is a dream come true, especially when you’re trying to introduce yourself to people,” says Wilson. “All I got from him at that time was that I would play a musician who would fall in love with one of the boys. He didn’t even tell me which one.”
A devastating family health saga almost derailed her dream job: Wilson nearly canceled when her father, Brian, was placed in the intensive care unit with a fungal infection. From his hospital bed, his father insisted Wilson get to work.
“He said: ‘I don’t care if it’s my funeral. If you have a job to be done, you better go do it. And don’t come back until it’s finished,'” says Wilson. “I packed my bags. That gave me the strength to do it. But I won’t lie, I’d shoot my scene, go to the corner and cry a little bit.”
Wilson’s first “Yellowstone” scene was opposite the pugnacious Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly), which only added to the pressure. But Reilly, a fan of Wilson’s music, was supportive.
“I told (Reilly) when I met her, ‘I thought you were going to put me in a headlock,'” says Wilson. “But we got along great. She even gave me some handmade bath salts.”
During that friendly scene, Abby vowed never to date a cowboy. But there have been sparks and a smile-filled dance between Abby and bunkhouse fixture Ryan in recent episodes, anyway, flirtations that turned into full-on flames Sunday.
Wilson won’t say how long the love will last, but admits she’s had to learn to kiss despite the impediment of wide-brimmed cowboy hats. “It’s definitely about leaning the head to one side; angles are so important,” says Wilson. “And there’s another kiss coming where I take my hat off. That’s when you know you’re getting down to it.”
The country star is staying busy with her skyrocketing music career. Four days before the “Yellowstone” season premiere, Wilson brought her then-recovered father as her date to the Nov. 9 CMA Awards, where she took home trophies for top new artist and female vocalist.
“Yellowstone” is a near-weekly showcase for her new album, “Bell Bottom Country,” released Oct. 28. Wilson announced a 27-city tour, starting in Jan. 4.
“The crazy part is, we’re just getting started. We’re working hard just to work harder. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves,” says Wilson. “I’m trying all these new things, even ‘Yellowstone,’ my first acting gig. I’m excited to see what the next step is.”