A Christmas Gift from Billy Ray Cyrus and Hallmark

Billy Ray Cyrus says he’s more than satisfied with 2011, and he’s looking forward to achieving the goals he’s set for 2012.

But before the new year arrives, he has one more project to promote – a new holiday-themed TV movie on Hallmark Channel: “Christmas Comes Home to Canaan,” premiering Saturday (Dec. 17) at 8/7c.

It’s a sequel to a movie he made two years ago that scored high ratings on Hallmark – “Christmas in Canaan” (that’s Canaan, Texas, by the way, not the Holy Land) – and it brings the characters from the 1960s to the ’70s – 1976 to be exact. The original movie was based on a novel by Kenny Rogers – yes, that Kenny Rogers – and this new one, while it’s a sequel, is not a Rogers book.

This new one – for which Billy Ray composed and recorded an original song – depicts the further adventures of the Burton family of tiny Canaan as they deal with family issues – in their case, son Bobber’s spinal injury sustained in an accident some years before. In the new movie, Bobber (Liam James) is seeking new, radical medical treatment in California, in the process of which his widowed dad (Cyrus) falls for a comely physical therapist (Gina Holden).

Billy Ray Cyrus in "Christmas Comes Home to Canaan," Saturday on Hallmark Channel (Photo: Hallmark)

In a phone interview the other day, Billy Ray was soft-spoken, forthright and quietly but forcefully ambitious. We liked him, and he wished us a Merry Christmas.

Here’s what he had to say:

Xfinity: Why was the name “Canaan” chosen for the movie’s location – because of its connection to the Holy Land?

Billy Ray: You’ll have to ask Kenny Rogers – he wrote the original book!

How do you like doing these Hallmark movies? I love Hallmark. I love the whole team there. This script’s got this nice story and heart and soul and passion and, quite frankly, on this one, Hallmark perhaps went a little outside their own comfort zone [with a storyline about racism], which was all the more reason why this film had to be made and I was proud to be a part of it.

What about your own family, Billy Ray – does your own family get together for Christmas? Yeah, we’ll all get together and have a great Christmas. We’ll give back to our community and the world. Miley just recently got back from Haiti passing out hearing aids to kids that had never been able to hear before. We’ve always been really focused on giving back – we kind of see that as what the holidays – Christmas – is all about. And you may have seen this past summer I did a series on TLC called ‘Homecoming’ where we surprised troops and their families by reuniting them. And everyday was like Christmas filming that show, just to see those families light up with smiles and tears of joy. It was kind of that element of surprise that I look for in a great Christmas.

How was 2011 for you? [It] was absolutely a great year. It was a great place to make some adjustments, to just kind of clarify my vision of where I’ve been, where I am and where I’m going. I really like what’s going on in my life and my world right now and the vision of some things that I’m truly passionate about – a new album that I’m getting ready to record is a body of work that, in of itself, it’s going full circle for me as a singer/songwriter/entertainer.

How so, Billy Ray? These songs come from a depth that quite frankly I really haven’t written from in quite some time. It’s a really unique body of work reminiscent a bit of an album I did years ago called ‘Trail of Tears’ so I’m looking forward to that.

So that’s the main focus for you in 2012? I’m really looking forward to the new year. You know, ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ came out in 1992 on the album ‘Some Gave All,’ so 20 years later, I’m still here and still rockin’, so I’m looking forward to 2012.

And a Merry Christmas to you and yours, Billy Ray.

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