Director Scott Cooper knew what he was doing when he tapped young alt-country upstart Ryan Bingham to whip up some hickory-smoked originals for Jeff Bridges’ sad-sack troubadour Bad Blake to sing in the film “Crazy Heart.”
Bingham took his assignment seriously, studied the script and arrived at a lonesome ditty called “The Weary Kind,” which would go on to win both an Oscar and a Golden Globe last year for Best Original Song. But in between? All sorts of nail-biting anxiety, Bingham says.
The pressure started when the Texas-bred, Los Angeles-based Bingham — who plays San Francisco on Friday with his backing band, the Dead Horses — informed Cooper he had a prospective track.
“I just happened to be home, and Scott said, ‘Well, we’re all over here at [music supervisor] T Bone Burnett’s house — why don’t you bring the song over and let us hear it,’” he says. “I thought I was going to just give him the CD and leave, but they invited me in and said, ‘Can you play it for us live?’ So with Jeff Bridges there, I had to sit in the living room and play it for ’em. It was quite intimidating.”
You can hear it in “The Weary Kind,” or in Bingham’s gravelly new CD, “Junky Star,” also produced by Burnett.
The guy — who began strumming guitar on the rodeo circuit to keep himself occupied between bull rides — is the real, road-seasoned deal.
Cooper sensed it and cast him in “Crazy Heart” as Tony, yet another musician that Bad Blake disappoints.
“Scott said, ‘I’ve got this scene where I need a bowling-alley backing band for Jeff,’ and I said, ‘Well, we’ve played in a few bowling alleys before — I think I can do it!’” Bingham says.
Then things got surreal. Bingham found himself at the Academy Awards, hobnobbing with George Clooney. “His character in ‘Up in the Air’ was named Ryan Bingham, so we had a good laugh about that,” he says.
At the Golden Globes, he went stag, sat with strangers and wound up knocking back brew in the bar — just as they announced his song as the winner. “I looked up at the bar’s TV screen, saw T Bone accepting the award, so I just sat down, finished my beer, and waited it out,” he says.
Now the scripts are coming in like tumbleweeds. “Mainly just singing cowboy kind of stuff,” Bingham says. “But this whole acting thing is new to me, so I firmly believe that you have to pay your dues before you jump into anything over your head.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Contact: (415) 885-0750; www.gamhtickets.com