Country-rock kingpin and part-time thespian Steve Earle truly delights in the depravity of his character in David Burris’ upcoming film, “The World Made Straight.”
“I’m the villain, a hillbilly drug dealer, and I love that guy,” he says from the movie’s North Carolina set. “I’ve played the bad guy in this other movie that Tim Blake-Nelson made, ‘Leaves of Grass,’ but that was a comedy. This is not a comedy.”
Earle — who will perform material from his new album, “The Low Highway,” at San Francisco’s Amoeba Music store this week — had just taped his wickedest “World” footage.
Alongside Jeremy Irvine and Haley Joel Osment as the young protagonists, he wallowed in Carlton, his character, confronting his criminal nemesis Leonard, played by Noah Wyle.
“We shot it really hot, with me jumping up and down and screaming,” he says. “But then David pulled me aside and said ‘Why don’t you dial it down a bit?’ So we dialed it down, it’s much quieter, and I ended up half an inch away from Noah’s face.”
The HBO veteran — who appeared in “The Wire” and “Treme” and was nominated for a 2010 Emmy for the latter’s song “The City” — is quick to downplay his screen skills.
“I’ve got really, really limited range. I can only play guys that talk like me,” he says in his smoky Southern drawl. “But this is the biggest role I’ve ever had, so we’re going to find out whether I can act at all.”
It should be a cakewalk for the Renaissance man, who kick-started the alt-country movement with his 1986 debut “Guitar Town,” and won three Grammys after.
He also penned the short-story book “Doghouse Roses,” wrote and produced an off-Broadway play about the late Karla Faye Tucker, and published his first novel in 2011, “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” with a companion album of the same name.
“The Low Highway” features three “Treme”-spawned tracks: “After Mardi Gras,” “That All You Got?” and “Love’s Gonna Blow My Way.”
But much of it was inspired by the Depression-grim American poverty Earle witnessed from his tour bus window.
“This job is to travel around a lot, and you’ve got to sing about what you see,” he says.
Earle, 58, almost had a role on FX’s “Justified,” but a crazy concert schedule precluded it. “And I put the word out that I would [perform a sex act on] somebody to be on ‘Girls,’” he says. “But again, I’m going to be touring through their entire filming. I’m sure there’s not a part for a hillbilly on that show, but I love ‘Girls’ anyway!”