Into each life, some embarrassing attention must fall. Take Tim McGraw, the arena-country superstar, who was recently anointed by People magazine as "Country's Hottest Guy," in a piece that breathlessly notes his "sleepwear of choice" is "all natural."
Asked about how that feels, McGraw laughs and notes that it gave his band endless hours of fun ribbing him as "The Hot Guy." Then he glides on into a pretty decent send-up of the whole thing.
"Well, it's got to be somebody every year, doesn't it?" McGraw dead-pans, calling from his home in Nashville. "They won't have a year without that being somebody, and I guess it was just my turn. But seriously, look at the competition - Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley - it's not like there's much competition, you know? C'mon, I can't believe they didn't get to me before this.
"You know I'm joking, of course," McGraw adds, and his wink is almost audible over the phone. "Right?"
McGraw, who plays Saturday night in Raleigh, has always had a good-timey, joking side, as witnessed by "I Like It, I Love It," "Indian Outlaw" and other tunes from the lighter side of his catalog. But he has a serious side, too, which holds sway on his latest album "Southern Voice" (Curb Records). Heavy meditations on mortality dominate, including "If I Died Today," "Love You Goodbye" and "Forever Seventeen," sung in his plain-spoken every-hot-guy voice.
"I never aim for anything like that going in," McGraw says. "But I do like the heavier material, stuff that leans to the heavy side, gets inside you and stays there. I just record songs I gravitate toward. And as you get older, you have a little more life experience and can do those songs with some credibility. Whereas if you're 22, they won't quite resonate. I'm 43 now and my wife would probably tell you I've finally hit puberty. Mentally I'm around 16, according to her. Hitting puberty, the hot guy, married to the hot chick. What a life."
Two stars in the house
McGraw's "hot chick" spouse, of course, is Faith Hill. He speaks of her in glowing terms for the way she keeps the runaway trains of their respective careers running on time. And the McGraw-Hill household needs a lot of schedule management, given that they're both hugely successful recording artists - and McGraw has a thriving big-screen career on the side, too.
After making his acting debut on "The Jeff Foxworthy Show" in 1995, McGraw has done an acclaimed series of character-actor star turns in movies including "The Blind Side" and "Friday Night Lights." His next film, "Love Don't Let Me Down," opens in December and stars Gwyneth Paltrow as a fading country starlet. McGraw plays her husband/manager, who may or may not be trying to manipulate her for his own benefit rather than hers.
"I've been lucky in that I've been involved in some really good movies, which gives me the opportunity to do more," he says. "But it's tough because I'm not just an actor; I have this other 'real' job. I read a bunch of scripts, and I might like one or two out of 100. Then it has to be in production in a time frame when I'm available, and the people making the movie have to want me. So a lot of factors play into me doing a movie."
Still, McGraw wants to keep acting, and not just out of vanity. A major reason to keep at it is he thinks acting makes him a better singer.
"I do think singing and acting help each other," he says. "Expression is expression and art is art. I do movies and find that other part of myself, which helps me with music. Singing and acting are kissin' cousins, at least. In both cases, you're trying to create empathy more than anything. In the studio singing a song, I'm in the dark in this little room off to myself, and each song is a mini-movie. You could take any country song - just about any song of any kind, really - and make a two-hour movie out of it.
"So in that moment of singing a song," McGraw continues, "you're trying to create a character that people will want to walk through the song with to see what happens. Same with a movie. Whether you're the good guy, the bad guy or just a guy, you're trying to get people interested in what happens and the end result."