Rita Wilson: ‘I’ve exhausted the canon of warm, nurturing wives. Give me crazy!’

There’s only one disappointment about Rita Wilson’s new album: she doesn’t rap. In March 2020, a week after her husband Tom Hanks sent shockwaves around the world by announcing the couple had come down with Covid, Wilson posted a video of herself in quarantine flawlessly rapping Naughty by Nature’s 1992 anthem “Hip Hop Hooray”. The clip has since racked up more than two million views on Instagram, earning praise from everyone from Kim Kardashian (“The best video EVER!!!!!!”) to Barack Obama (“Drop the mic, Rita!”). When news of this unlikely viral hit reached Naughty By Nature, the Grammy-winning trio released a remixed version of the single featuring Wilson on the mic to raise money for the MusiCares Covid-19 Relief Fund. Surely, then, the stage was set for Wilson to offer us her takes on Tupac and NWA? She howls with laughter. “I think that’s my next project!” she jokes. “It’s funny, Naughty by Nature said, ‘Any time you want to come up and rap that song live with us, we’ll do it!’ I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna find them one day on tour and just show up.’”

Rather than spitting bars, Wilson’s new album Now & Forever: Duets captures the 66-year-old actor and musician singing a collection of Seventies soft rock favourites. She’s joined by some of the greatest voices in music. Smokey Robinson assists in delivering an impassioned version of Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s “Where is the Love”, while Willie Nelson provides a spine-tingling counterpart on Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away”. Elsewhere there are appearances from the likes of Keith Urban, Leslie Odom Jr and Elvis Costello, with the latter lending a soulful swagger to Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire”. Today, Wilson is in London looking positively angelic in a flowing white top with a small gold crucifix around her neck. She’s in town to perform on the BBC’s Later… with Jools Holland, where she’ll be singing her duet with Jackson Browne, a beguiling version of The Everly Brothers’ classic “Let It Be Me”“Jackson is the songwriter’s songwriter,” she says. “Singing with him is heaven.”

Wilson’s first album, 2012’s AM/FM, was also a collection of covers drawn from the Seventies. She’s since released three albums featuring her own songwriting, but she found herself drawn back to a decade that means so much to her. “These songs are 50 years old, so why are we still listening to them?” she asks rhetorically, before outlining her argument that the Seventies singer-songwriter scene produced material to rival the Great American Songbook, the canon of jazz standards and show tunes from the early 20th century that have been covered and reinterpreted for decades. “There’s something special about the point of view in those songs because a lot of them were written for characters in Broadway musicals,” she says. “In the late Sixties and early Seventies, with the emergence of singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Jackson, you started to feel again that these were songs which tell a story from a first-person point of view.”

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