KENNY ROGERS IS UP TO HIS GUT IN suds in a hot, smoky room on the Alamo Village set near Brackettville, Tex. Crouching beside the tub, Naomi Judd whispers softly in his ear. “Kenny, tell me you love me,” she implores. “Come on, it’s just you and me.”
Wait a minute. This only sounds like an outtake from Rogers’s private 800 sex-talk line. Actually, Rogers and Judd are rehearsing a G-rated love scene from Rio Diablo (CBS, Feb. 28, see review, page 11), in which Judd, 47, makes her acting debut as Flora Mae Pepper, proprietor of an 1880s “outpost of comfort.” Rogers, 54, plays bounty hunter Quinton Leech, a new (and meaner) character for the singer.
It’s Naomi’s first professional outing since she quit the Judds in 1991, a year after she was diagnosed with chronic active hepatitis, now in remission. (The other singing Judd, her older daughter, Wynonna, 28, has since successfully gone solo.) When Naomi first got the call to work with Rogers, she was apprehensive. “I’ve never even been in a high school play!” she protested. But she took the part, she says, so she could experience what her younger daughter—Ashley, 24, who plays Reed Halsey on NBC’s Sisters—does for a living. “I wanted to share her great passion,” says Naomi. Rogers, who made his own crossover to acting 13 years ago in the TV movie The Gambler, has been impressed. “Naomi is a trouper,” he says.
Diablo also marks the acting debut of country crooner Travis Tritt, 29, who plays Rogers’s partner, Benjamin Tabor. Tritt brought his girlfriend, model Malysa Wyse, 29, and his beagle, Otis, to the set, where he proved a game showman by doing some of his own stunts, including falling off a wagon. “I think he’s very good,” says Rogers. “He has come in here with excellent energy and excellent preparation. ”
Rogers, for his part, sees these star-studded TV vehicles as preparation for his own future. “If you’re one-dimensional,” he cautions, “when the music goes, you don’t have any options. I don’t have to be great at this. But if I can do a TV movie every now and then, it keeps my visual image out there.”