LOS ANGELES -- If anyone knows when to hold 'em and fold 'em, it's Kenny Rogers.
Who else could have taken one popular song, "The Gambler," and parlayed it into four successful miniseries?
The latest installment, "The Luck of the Draw: The Gambler Continues," arrives this fall on NBC and this time Mr. Rogers' is playing his biggest hand yet, bringing in Reba McEntire.
Ms. McEntire is probably the hottest country-western artist in the country right now (she will perform at the Pier Six Concert Pavilion on Friday), and she has already found critical success as actress. She starred with Kevin Bacon in the science-fiction thriller "Tremors," and she has out a number of highly acclaimed videos, among them "Whoever's In New England," "Sunday Kind of Love," "Cathy's Clown" and "Fancy."
"Acting is very easy for me," Ms. McEntire says. "I act on stage every night because I have theme songs. I have story songs that I play the character of that song each and every night."
Ms. McEntire says she has always wanted to act. She grew up in southeastern Oklahoma where her brothers and sisters were the only ranch hands available to help her father, Clark McEntire, work the cattle on his 8,000-acre ranch.
The whole family participated in rodeos together, and later she and her sisters began singing.
"I've always been a big fan of westerns," she says. "Barbara Stanwyck has always been one of my favorites. I've been a big fan of hers forever. So to get to play in a movie, a western, and to be kind of a heroine, and to get to play dramatic parts and shoot a gatling gun, ride a horse, and then dress up in real nice clothes -- yes, it's a fantasy come true."
In "Luck of the Draw," Ms. McEntire plays Burgundy Jones, a feisty ex-madam who forms an unusual alliance with Mr. Rogers' character of Brady Hawkes.
She says she grew up watching westerns on television. She liked "Cheyenne" and "The Rifleman." "Chuck Connors was OK," she says with a laugh. "But Johnny Crawford was the one I watched 'The Rifleman' for."
They are all back for this four-hour mini-series. Guest stars include Clint Walker, Mr. Connors and Mr. Crawford, Gene Barry, David Carradine, James Drury, Doug McClure, Hugh O'Brian and Jack Kelly. There are even a couple of veteran actors who weren't associated with TV westerns: Patrick MacNee and Mickey Rooney.
It's obvious that this movie was a welcom diversion from Ms. McEntire's normal musical routine.
It is something she would like to do more of, but not necessarily at the expense of her music.
"Leaving the music career is not in my plans," she says. "I love to tour. I love the aspect of being on stage and performing live. Doing a movie is totally different from anything involved in music, because you do have a second chance or a third chance. I would like to do more in the future."
But both Ms. McEntire and Mr. Rogers know there is a danger in drifting too far away from their music. They both enjoy a loyalty from their country music fans that is one of the strongest bonds in the entertainment business. Their fans appreciate their acting talents, but they demand the music too.
"It kind of perpetuates itself over years," Mr. Rogers says, "that same family closeness. I will tell you that there is a kind of an unspoken thing in country music, though, and a lot of us have suffered, and I'm one of them, that if you get too far away from country music, you no longer belong to their club.
"And they will drop you. I mean you have to be very careful that you have an unspoken allegiance that you have to adhere to. Because there's an honesty factor that comes with country music. And either you are country at the core or you're not.
"It's tough to get in that select group. And when you do, you
have to protect it very carefully."