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Brea Grant breaks down her new Nashville-set thriller ‘Torn Hearts’

Hailing from east Texas, the longtime actress is now helming more movie projects from behind the camera.
Credit: Sela Shiloni / Paramount Pictures

SAN ANTONIO — Things have had a way of repeatedly coming full circle for artistic multihyphenate Brea Grant. 

For one thing, the east Texas native who works in film, has created original comics and hosts her own podcast remembers her father pursuing multiple writing interests of his own. For another, she remembers returning to the Lone Star State for auditions after she had already moved out to Los Angeles (initially gunning to play Tyra Collette on “Friday Night Lights,” she would later nab a smaller role for Season 3). 

And, for another, her 15 years and counting of Hollywood experience helped shape how Grant would approach her latest directorial effort, the honky-tonk psychological thriller “Torn Hearts.” 

In the movie (available to rent now on digital platforms), the up-and-coming Nashville duo that gives the film its name seizes their chance to sell onceuponatime country-music megastar Harper Dutch (played by a gloriously grave Katey Sagal) on a potential collaboration. What results is a series of increasingly violent mind games; “Torn Hearts” turns into a feverish portrait of what is gained and lost on the path to stardom in an industry beset by sexism, ageism and constant evolution. 

Grant said she saw some of her own journey in the script (written by Rachel Koller Croft, who also wrote the lyrics to the movie’s handful of original songs), recognizing that the obstacles of navigating the entertainment world bleed across different industries. 

“Being told that there are ways to be a woman in the film industry and trying to compete in those ways, which always sort of leads to disaster because I feel like, for me, it led to a place of inauthenticity,” she said. “The approach ended up being looking at it through the lens of being a filmmaker and being an actress, but I feel like it was completely applicable to the country music world.”

Relative newcomers Alexxis Lemire and Abby Quinn play the ambitious young country crooners, adding another metatextual layer when they come across Dutch. In Sagal, Grant had a lead actress who is not only a TV veteran (she’s been featured in shows as light as “Futurama” and as brooding as “Sons of Anarchy”) but an entertainer with musical roots of her own. 

What really informed their collaboration in exploring the haunted Harper Dutch persona, Grant says, was a shared interest in deepening her beyond a one-dimensional antagonist. More than just an intimidating presence brought to vivid life by Segal, Harper is a has-been starlet for whom decades of isolation hasn’t proven to be enough to reckon with where her own story ended up. 

It doesn’t take long to notice how “Torn Hearts” takes after Billy Wilder's “Sunset Boulevard” and Rob Reiner's “Misery,” which Grant cited as influences when it came not only to establishing psychological torment between Harper and her two biggest fans, but examining the roots of that torment. 

“Those are the questions that really interested her and interested me, thinking about what happens if you haven't seen anybody in 20 years, and you've been living in this house with these memories of your sister on the wall who passed away—what guilt really does to a person over that amount of time,” Grant said. “She loves to dig into that stuff, and so do I.”

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Grant has been busy over the last several years, having recently starred in the gaslighting mindbender “Lucky” while also writing and directing the hospital-set dark comedy “12 Hour Shift.” 

“Torn Hearts” also represents the latest in a series of projects involving Grant centering on women characters’ relationships to the work they’re involved in; the kind of context she said she often wouldn’t find in the roles she’s considered before. 

“I think I also am just drawn to stories about women. I want to create stories about interesting women, complicated women, women who have complicated relationships with each other but also with who they are, which often comes from work and... how we identify with our jobs,” she said. 

Grant’s own identity as a filmmaker is rooted in acting in theater productions in her hometown of Marshall. The population circa the ‘90s, when she was growing up there: about 24,000. 

While she would eventually head to Austin for college, Grant said she attributes her initial experiences seeing what lies beyond her small hometown to live music. She spent some of her teen years touring the region with multiple punk and ska bands, leaning into local trends of the time. 

“Punk was really influential when it came to seeing things sort of bigger, the world in a bigger way,” she says. 

That wouldn’t be inaccurate to describe the four original tunes featured in “Torn Hearts,” which help bring the viewer into the movie’s larger country-music confines while emphasizing the emotional complexities simmering under its genre thrills. 

To put music to Croft’s lyrics, Grant turned to the only place that made sense – Nashville – and connected with a producer who would help find the mood of each song while, in certain instances, tailoring them to specific individual eras of country music. 

“But we didn't have much time,” the director said. “We prepped this whole movie in a month. He was very fast and he sent me ideas and arrangements for the songs and I would write him back, and we just got it done by kind of just doing the simplest version possible, which I think really worked for this movie.”

Of course, for the in-movie performances to be believable, the songs had to be catchy. Grant knew that box was ticked off when, at the end of a full day of shooting and one of Torn Hearts’ hits on repeat for hours, her script supervisor came up to her and asked where she could find the tune. 

It’s easy to see how Grant’s inner Texan continues to influence the direction her career; a few tweaks is all “Torn Hearts” would need to be a Lone Star State story instead of a Tennessee one, and “12 Hour Shift” was briefly set in Texas before they made the shift to Arkansas. 

That isn’t to say Texas won’t have a stronger presence in her future projects; after all, things have a way of coming full circle for Grant. She’s in the early stages of working on a Texas-set novel, and has ideas for exploring some of the darker aspects of the state’s history on film.

“Texas is such an interesting place, it's just full of weirdos kind of in the best way possible, but also this interesting sense of community,” she said. “I think Texas is just such a weird juxtaposition of all these sorts of feelings that we all grew up with. Anytime I can do anything about where I'm from, I'm always interested.”

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