For singer, actress, producer Rita Wilson, “Everybody Cries,” her Oscar contender for Best Original Song, felt like a tribute to the mothers and female relatives of soldiers who were on the front line.
The soaring ballad, which was co-written by Wilson, director Rod Lurie, and Larry Groupé, comes with a tragic story behind it. As Lurie was in mid-production, his son, Hunter tragically died at the age of 27. During that time, Lurie’s daughter pleaded with him to finish the film, “For Hunter.” Lurie went back to complete the film, and on the flight back to Bulgaria, he wrote the lyrics to “Everybody Cries.”
Lurie sent the lyrics to composer and frequent collaborator Larry Groupé, who also composed the film’s score. Groupé added music to the lyrics, and the song’s evolution began. Despite having offers from people, including a famous group, to sing the song, Lurie declined. He was introduced to Wilson, who has spent over eight years working on and recording her own music. Once he heard her voice, Lurie had chosen his vocalist.
Below, Lurie, Groupé and Wilson talk with Variety about the song and the personal message behind the music.
Rod, what made you want to tell the story of “The Outpost”?
It’s based on “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” by Jake Tapper about the Battle of Kamdesh. It was one of the most heroic battles of the Afghanistan War.
I was in the service and am a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. I was in the peacetime army, I wasn’t ever actually in battle, but a lot of my classmates were, and when you go to reunions, and your classmates have had bullets fly past them, it makes you feel a bit small.
I thought about making this movie about these guys, and the people who are in battle. I wasn’t the original director, Sam Raimi was, and he bailed. Paul Merryman, the producer brought me in, and I made the film for my brothers.
Larry has been collaborating for years with Rod, how were you going to approach the score?
I did read the book, and then I read the actual script. That’s often where Rod and I start. We had some early discussions about where and what the score should be doing.
What we discovered pretty early on was that this is a war drama, and it’s not necessarily an action picture, and that steered the score to be focused on when they’re stuck in a Humvee, or in the communications building.
I don’t do much during the heavy firefighting scenes, because as Rod likes to say, “The score is the bombs and the bullets going by,” but I am everywhere else.
What was the journey of writing “Everybody Cries” song for you, Rita?
Rita Wilson: I got a wonderful call one day, asking if I’d be interested in listening to a song and possibly performing it for the end of this movie called “The Outpost.”
I knew who Jake Tapper was, and I knew who Rod was. I knew it had this great cast. When I heard the first version of it, it was very simple — I believe it was a guitar and it had a guide vocal on it — and I fell in love. They had sent some grainy footage, with the idea of where it would go in the movie.
The thing that kept coming to me was, “What if that was my son? What if that was my brother, uncle or father?” We all have a connection to somebody who has served in the armed forces and we cannot ever take for granted that these people put their lives on the line every day to protect our democracy so that we can live and have these conversations, like we’re having right now.
I also fell in love with the idea that Rod and Larry were brave enough to have a woman sing this song. To me, that represented the voice of all those mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, and aunts, who send their loved ones off to war.
When Rod shared with me the reason for the writing of the song, it was even more profoundly meaningful.
Lurie: When I was in prep on the film — I can speak about it now without crying, because I’ve spoken about it so many times — but my son Hunter died. He had a blood clot, and I got called to Michigan. When I got there, I had to decide to take my son off of his life-support system. Every organ was attached to a machine, and as he drifted away, I was told that once these machines are off, he’s got 20 minutes. My daughter told me I had to finish the film — and when he died, I realized he was the same age as all of these guys.
I always knew there was going to be a song that the soldiers would sing. On the plane ride home, I knew that song had to be about knowing the inevitability that you can go at any moment.
I had this melody in mind, and I sang it into the tape recorder, and I sent it to Larry with my terrible voice, and he put it to music. The president of Millennium is a fan of Rita’s, and he asked if I knew about her music. I listened to her music, and I fell in love with her voice. She has this beautiful voice that was just softening the blows of all the ills of my life. She got a complete song sent to her, but she is a good songwriter and knows what words would come out of her mouth better, but she finessed it to completion, and it was a full-on collaboration.
When you write a song for your son, who has just died, and you’re in a studio in Burbank, and the singer is in Greece, singing it, and that voice sings that song… I was a mess.
I was so grateful to Rita, and I will be for the rest of my life and to Larry, and the engineers, and the people who put this together. I will never, for the rest of my life, do anything as important as making this movie and create the song with the guys on both a professional and a personal level.
In the movie, the song plays twice, once around the campfire, sung by the soldiers, and again, over the end credits by then, it has a whole new meaning.
Wilson: The servicemen playing on the guitar and they’re just playing around the campfire, the way that they would do anything.
When you hear the song again, it takes on a different meaning. To me, it represented the process of grief and grieving. We have an outlet for this that’s sometimes musical for grieving.
Even in the recording of the song, there’s a certain respect that I wanted to communicate, which was exactly what Rod said. If someone has died, and it’s so deeply painful, you can’t talk about it, you have to detach from it some way so that you’re able to just get the words out. I loved the simplicity of what the production was.
I loved the idea of the drum that sounded like a bomb exploding, it’s so subtle, but war is always there.
Nothing against male vocalists, but this is hard to imagine now with a male vocalist.
Lurie: The guide track was originally done by a male. And, Rita doesn’t know this, but we had an extremely significant band that wanted to do the song. In the end, when you listen to Rita’s music, when you listen to that voice, you want what’s right for the movie and what’s right for the song and what’s right for my son. Using Rita was among the best decisions that I made for this movie.
Wilson: I kept on getting these alerts from Apple and Spotify and Shazam, they were off the charts. I guess it’s because when people were watching the movie, the song comes up and they can ask Siri what the song is. We realized that people wanted to know what the song was because who’s watching the end credits.
Rod could have had his choice of people to do this. People know me as an actor and producer, but for the last eight years, I’ve been writing music and performing.
Eight years ago, when I found out that I could be a songwriter, I have to say, I’ve never looked backward. It’s been for me one of the truest expressions of who I am as an artist. As a woman and actor, I’ve been doing it for a long time, at a certain point, if you’re over 40 you’re not getting all the greatest offers in the world. I’ve played every warm, kind, nurturing, mother, sister, friend, daughter, wife and whatever. Songwriting opened up this whole other creative expression for me that just made me feel much more connected to who I am as a creative person.