Rita Wilson shows off her musical side

Updated April 03, 2016

Rita Wilson’s credits include everything from beloved romantic comedy “Sleepless in Seattle” to HBO’s edgy “Girls,” but if she’s being totally honest, it was music, not acting, that was her “first love.”

Now, she’s funneled that love into her second album — a self-titled one released in March inspired by artists such as Janis Joplin, Carole King and James Taylor and co-written with songwriting elite such as Kara DioGuardi and Kristian Bush.

As part of her U.S. tour, she’ll make a stop at Stateside at the Paramount on Saturday to play some of her favorite tunes.

The Austin American-Statesman chatted with Wilson by phone recently about her new album, her other creative ventures, her long-lasting marriage and just what to expect from her Austin show.

Austin American-Statesman: How do you describe your new album?

Rita Wilson: I guess it’s a reflection of everything that I really love, all the music that I love. I used to listen to AM and them FM radio, and everything was multigenred. Nowadays everything is just locked into a category, and that’s so limiting. I feel like people like to listen to all sorts of things. … The consistent thing (on the album) is the storytelling. That’s always been the thing I love about songs. For me, that’s kind of been the goal, to keep consistent in the storytelling.

Most people know you as an actress. How long have you been interested in music?

It’s probably my first love. … But I didn’t play an instrument or read music, so I thought, “How could I possibly call myself a musician?” even though I love to sing. When I did (cover album) “AM/FM” I thought this is what I really love and I’m just going to go for it. I was scared to death, by the way, like you’re jumping off of a ledge. It’s hard to put yourself out there and be criticized, but that’s what you do. Hopefully people like it, but you have no control over it.

This was your songwriting debut. What was that process like?

It was an extraordinary process and a very humbling process. You can’t be fake. You have to be real. You have to be authentic. You have to open up. It’s such an intimate process. If you aren’t giving it your all, you’re kind of cheating yourself and your co-writers. I love it — every time I write I think it’s miraculous, like, “What? We just wrote a song? What?! How did that happen? Where did it come from?” It feels very mysterious and magical and satisfying and wonderful.

Last year you were diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. What kind of impact did that have on you?

When I look back that was a small part of the year — a very impactful part of the year, but it wasn’t something that took up every single bit of my being. You get through it and then you’re on the other side of it. I feel very, very blessed and very, very lucky when I look at the year, but I still did a Broadway play with Larry David (“Fish in the Dark”) and I finished my album and I’m going on tour. I hope that somebody who might be reading about this would go, great, there’s something to look forward to. I know that my life isn’t just this moment right now.

Is your experience battling cancer reflected on the album?

There are songs reflective of those experiences. “Grateful,” which I wrote with Kara DioGuardi and Jason Reeves, has a different meaning now, a deeper meaning now having gone through this past year. “Crying, Crying” is a reflection of being a very private person in a very public job. There are times when you just want to go home and collapse and cry and you can’t because you’re doing something, like you’re at a party or you’re at a premiere or you’re doing a Broadway show and you have to keep it together. I know that I’m not alone in that. I think we all do that in some way. Some people do it more publicly than others, but it’s still a human experience — you would love to say what’s really going on in your life but you don’t want to burden anybody with it.

What do you enjoy most about performing live music?

I love it so much. I love it because I love the audience, I love the connection I get from a live show. It’s different because these are songs that I’ve written, so it’s a much more personal and intimate experience as opposed to when you’re acting and you have a character.

What are you excited to do in Austin?

I haven’t been to Austin in so long, years, but I’m really excited to be there. You guys are such a big music town, that’s what I love, you just made it that way — music and film. I’m excited to be able to know that there are like minds out there.

What other things are you looking forward to doing career-wise in the next few years?

When you’re a creative person you do all sorts of things. I’m looking forward to the tour. I’m still on “Girls” and “The Good Wife,” although “The Good Wife” is ending, I’m so sad. There’s the sequel to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (Wilson is a producer. She also has a cameo and sings in the film as well.), so that’s really cool. I write, I’m editor at large on Huff/Post50, I’m a contributor to “Harper’s Bazaar.” There’s always something to be writing about and doing.

You and Tom Hanks have had one of the longest lasting marriages in Hollywood. What’s your secret?

I look at it and we’re just halfway through where my parents were. We’re coming up on 28 years. I think we just really like each other and we really want to be married to each other. I think he’s one of the most extraordinarily fabulous men on the planet, and he’s pretty damn cute, too.

What should people expect at your show?

Prepare to have a good time. If you like a good, fun show with some good songs, you’ll have a good time.