Country singer Pam Tillis, who appears tonight on two CBS dramas, “Promised Land” and “Diagnosis Murder,” learned that switching from the concert stage to a TV set can be humbling. “I know I am not Helen Hunt already,” says the 40-year-old performer, who plays the same character on both shows. “But I wouldn’t act if I didn’t think I have some ability. Still, to let people see you taking baby steps in a new medium makes you feel a little vulnerable.”
Actually, this isn’t the first acting gig for Tillis, the Country Music Association’s 1994 Female Vocalist of the year whose number one records include “Don’t Tell Me What to Do” and “Mi Vida Loca.” She appeared in a local production of “Jesus Christ, Superstar” a decade ago and has done an episode of “L.A. Law.” But since she played a singer in the latter, Tillis says it almost doesn’t count. “This is my second debut,” she explains.
Even so, Tillis says that her CBS costars – who include Gerald McRaney, Celeste Holm and Dick Van Dyke – didn’t look at her as “that singer who’s slumming as an actress.” “They certainly didn’t treat me like an absolute rank amateur,” she says. “They could tell if I was struggling, and they were generous with their advice. The better I do, the better they can play off of me. Like when we shot somebody else’s close-up, they told me, ‘You’ve got to get into it just as much, so it can be real for the other actor.’”
Tillis sees a natural overlap between delivering a song and appearing believable in a dramatic role. “It’s all about emoting,” she says. “It’s taking the raw material of emotion and making something out of it.”
The singer, whose new album, “Every Time,” will be released in June, hopes the current TV dramas will lead to more acting. “I got to do my own stunts, like being shot and getting slung around the room from the velocity of the bullet.” The worst part of that scene? Tillis didn’t have a squib that would shoot fake blood all over her wardrobe. “My son was real disappointed in that. He said, ‘Oh, mom, that would have been so cool.’”