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Hold onto your cowboy hats, ladies and gents, FOX''s new drama Monarch is about to be your next guilty pleasure. The dramatic series centers around the fictional "first family of country music," the Romans and whew, it's an intense and wild ride. Just in the first episode which premiered on FOX Sunday, September 11, and is now available to stream on Hulu, the storyline touches on all of the "lying, cheating, cold dead beating, two-time and double dealing, mean, mistreating, loving heart," Patty Loveless sings about about in her country classic. And that's just the beginning!
Monarch focuses on the lives of Albie Roman played by Trace Adkins, his wife, the self-proclaimed Queen of Country, Dottie Cantrell Roman played by Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon, and their children Nicolette "Nicky" played by Anna Friel, Luke played by Joshua Sasse, and Gigi Roman, played by Arkansas native, and relative newcomer to television, Beth Ditto. The Romans have created a country music dynasty but it turns out that all that they have built stands on a foundation of secrets and lies. Y'all, the drama! Check out the trailer here.
Ditto recently spoke to Southern Living about bringing Gigi and this dynamic family to life. "Gigi was a really familiar person to me. Wasn't that different from me in real life… I really, really wanted it," she said of her desire to play this part. She also felt like she had something real to offer, more than other actors might. Ditto was born and raised in the South. She understands how to authentically portray it on screen because she lives it off screen. "It's really hard to explain Southern culture, isn't it? We definitely have our own way of doing things. And I feel like that was something I could give the show that didn't necessarily have it already there," she said.
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"It's just the nuances about it. There's a vibe about it. There's an energy about it. There's a turn of phrase about it. There's a wittiness. Southerners are so witty." The Arkansas native also talked about the deep connection we Southerners feel with our families, that we love so hard that it also makes things complicated. " There's a certain kind of Southern dysfunction," as she put it. Dysfunction is correct when it comes to the Roman family. Without giving anything away, this family loves hard, but the relationships are complex. Albie and Dottie are holding secrets and clearly have skeletons in their past, all three siblings are living lives that aren't quite what they seem.
In addition to all of the family drama, Monarch is a showcase of powerful country music. While all of the main characters actually sing, for Ditto, it's a chance to blend her two passions. While she's relatively new to acting, Ditto's musical roots run deep.
"I grew up going to the VFW with my dad. He would run sound for my brother. My brother used to play drums with my cousin's band and did the Tunica casino tour circuit as a teenager with people like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and people like that. My dad would run sound so when it was Dad's weekend, he took me to the VFW with him and it was always country music or old rock and roll. And it's just inevitable," she said, referencing her decision to become a professional musician.
Continuing Ditto said, " I definitely learned to two-step surrounded by old men who would buy me Black Jack gum at the VFW. I was like wow, they really know how to treat a seven year old around here. Getting 'em some licorice gum. I feel like I grew up around that. And yeah those were really big formative years for me. Because like that's when I was just like, that looks really fun–playing music. And also knowing that there was more than one way to be a musician. You didn' have to be super famous. There are so many kinds of musicians that just perform and play music for a living. So it was really instrumental, no pun intended."
She noted that her dad loved Patsy Cline and the Bee Gees and her mom loved rock and roll. Her whole childhood had a very well-curated soundtrack that seems to have led her right into Gigi Roman's boots. Now, she's singing shoulder to shoulder with some mighty giants. The series boasts a powerhouse list of celebrity guest stars throughout the season including Tanya Tucker and Shania Twain.
In addition to all of those guest stars, showing up every week in the full time cast? Three-time ACM Award winner Trace Adkins plays Ditto's father. "Trace is so incredible in this show. He is incredible. I never knew him as an actor and to see him as an actor it's just so amazing. He's just so good at it. It's almost like he's meant for it." Ditto added, "It's like seeing your uncle all of the sudden be like really into Chopin. Like your redneck uncle, I did not take him for a classical music fan. I did not see that coming. So it's been really great to watch him work. Because it comes so naturally to him. I think it's been really fun to watch him steal the show actually."
Adkins and Ditto share a poignant duet sitting in the bed of a pick up truck. That make believe moment depicted a real life connection the two found while working together. "I love working with Trace because we both enjoy music. One day we were doing a studio shot or a performance and there was a guitar there and he just picked it up and he started playing. And my brain, I hear that, because that's what we both do. That's our job. We make music. And so I was just like, 'oh my God that riff is really incredible.' I felt like there was this thing that I was like oh it's just me and him that do that in this job. Just us. I love that connection between me and Trace."
While Ditto now makes her home in Portland, she still feels a strong connection to her Southern roots and she's proud to get to depict it on screen. She's not afraid to nudge the writers when she feels they haven't gotten it quite right. "It's funny because for as much as I ran away from it and I needed more, there is still just so much I love and am really proud of and am really connected to."