Henry S. Dziekan III, Getty Images
Henry S. Dziekan III, Getty Images

With a greatest hits compilation due in stores November 30 and his latest major movie set to hit theaters on December 22, Tim McGraw is closing out 2010 with a bang. 'Number One Hits,' featuring 24 tracks ranging from his first No. 1 song to his latest hit, 'Felt Good on My Lips,' is a double-disc celebrating his illustrious musical career. His second career as an actor is on fire, as his new film, 'Country Strong,' puts Tim in arguably his biggest role ever, playing the husband of Oscar-winning actress and newly-minted country singer herself, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Just as close to Tim's heart is his partnership with Show Your Helping Hand and Feeding America, the country's leading hunger-relief organization, which brought him to New York this week. The singer/actor is working to spread the word to his fans and beyond, to help the one in six Americans who struggle to find food to eat. "There's a lot of people that through the years of my career have really sort of followed us along, and hopefully we can reach those people and encourage them to help in their local food shelters and everywhere they can," Tim says.

To promote the new cause, he gathered friends and reporters at Manhattan's BLT Market restaurant, where The Boot got a chance to ask him about working with Gwyneth and 'Gossip Girl' star Leighton Meester in 'Country Strong,' what's next on his musical agenda and why he's joined the campaign to fight hunger.

Why were you compelled to join Show Your Helping Hand?

I grew up in a rural, poor area. I grew up as a kid from a low-income family. When you see that, and you see that in a country as wealthy as ours -- when one out of six people wake up every morning and don't know if they're gonna get a meal that day, they don't know if they're gonna eat, they don't know how they're gonna feed their children. And having three daughters, I'm blessed that I don't have to lay awake at night and think about how my kids are gonna get fed. I don't have to think about if they're going to ever go hungry. I can't imagine, as a parent, having that worry. There's no need. There's plenty of people around to help. There's plenty of food, plenty of money in this country to help feed people who can't feed themselves.

Why do think it's important for celebrities to be involved in philanthropic causes?

You sort of build up this celebrity cache that you have. You can use it for a lot of things. You use it to sell it a record, you use it to sell concert tickets, you use it for all these things. But the best thing that you can use it for is to help people. I grew up thinking that that's what everyone's obligation is, especially if you've been lucky enough ... For me, to be able to use that celebrity cache to help people, that's what it's all about. That's what I've been lucky enough to be able to do, and I've been given a voice. People in our culture pay attention to celebrities because we have a platform, we have a voice and we have the cameras shooting at us.

What was the biggest challenge for you while filming 'Country Strong'?

The biggest challenge was to be on the screen with Gwyneth Paltrow -- she's fantastic. But, that being said, it's a challenge but at the same time it's sort of like playing tennis with somebody. You play to the level of the person you're playing against. She's so fantastic and such a professional that [all] eyes [are on her] when she's in a scene. It certainly made me a better actor to be in it with her.

How do you think 'Country Strong' is going to show your growth as an actor?

I try to find a character. I try to figure my way into the character's head. I try to create empathy. The best thing I can do is to make the audience want to go along with it.

Did the actors in this movie rise to your level, vocally?

Well, the great part about it is I'm the only singer in the movie, and I don't sing. I like that aspect. I do sing a duet, actually, in the closing credits -- Gwyneth and I. But honestly, I was completely blown away by the talent. When I heard Gwyneth sing, I knew she was a fantastic actor and I knew she was a great girl, because I'd gotten to know her, but when she sang, there was nothing but pure honesty. Either she was so into her character and so good at finding her character, or she's a great country singer. When it came out, it was just pure honesty and pure believability. There was even a touch of Appalachian soul. I was blown away by that. And all the singers -- Leighton Meester, she did a fantastic job on her music. It was perfect for her. It fit her character perfectly. And I tell ya, people are gonna be really blown away by Garrett [Hedlund]. His music is so soulful. It's sort of singer-songwriter sounding. I would kill for his voice, to tell you the truth.

Speaking of Leighton, do you or your girls watch 'Gossip Girl'?

I'll be honest, I didn't know who she was [laughs]. 'Gossip Girl,' my daughters let me in on it. And she was just a delight to work with.

Gwyneth is going to appear on 'Glee.' How would you feel about a Tim McGraw 'Glee' episode?

I think they would get bored with that very quickly. I'm not a triple threat. You wouldn't see me dancing [laughs]. I mean, I would try, but you wouldn't like it.

Gwyneth says that you make the best mashed potatoes. Can you share your secret ingredient?

Lots of butter, lots of cream and lots of salt. I love cooking. My daughters love it. Like any house, that's sort of the hub of activity for us, which brings us right back to what we're here for today: the kitchen, America's kitchen, and feeding people. It's such a sort of soulful experience, and it's a shame that some people don't have that.

As a dad, how have you taught your daughters to give back?

We hope that we lead by example. They see the things that we try to do ... We're not foolish enough to not realize that our daughters are very privileged to grow up in a world that as parents we can't imagine -- we had nothing like this growing up in my lifetime. But I think what we try to do with our kids is really let them have a sense of humility and understand that we don't deserve this. This is not something that is our birthright. This is something that's worked hard for.

When can we expect your next album?

The record's doing great -- the new album probably will be out some time in the spring. For me, it's been a long career and I'm very fortunate to still be here, to still be doing it, to still be relevant. I still think there's a lot more ahead of me than behind me. I really think that I'm just starting to sort of grasp an idea of what I'm doing. I can get better.

What's next for Tim McGraw?

I say this all the time: I want to keep getting better in everything that I do. Life, for me, is school. Every time I go out, every time I try something new, I want to learn and experience and figure out how do it, and then I want to figure out how to get better at it. Whether it's something I do recreationally, whether it's something I do professionally or whether it's something I do with my family, I want to get better. That's the mission that I'm on, to improve myself personally and to get better professionally.