The new ABC drama series Nashville, premiering on October 10th, tells the story of music legend and entertainment icon Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton), who has been one of the industry’s top female vocalists for two decades. Now, she is forced to compete with the new generation of talent lighting up the charts, putting her in direct contention with the sexy and sassy Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), currently the hottest act in country music. With a pilot written by Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise), the show also stars Powers Boothe, Eric Close, Jonathan Jackson and Robert Wisdom.
While at the ABC portion of the TCA Press Tour, co-stars Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere talked about what it’s like to do all of their own singing, mastering the archetype of the Southern woman, how this show compares to their previous television experiences, what inspired their performances, portraying the generational divide, and whether they’re fans of country music themselves. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
CONNIE BRITTON: Hayden is a great singer. She’s a legitimately great singer.
HAYDEN PANETTIERE: What Connie’s not saying is that she’s been amazing since the beginning. But, I just recently heard some of the newer tracks that she’s recorded, and they’re pretty unbelievable. She’s going to be schooling us all.
BRITTON: It’s an exciting journey because it’s a journey with T-Bone Burnett.
PANETTIERE: Exactly! I recorded an album when I was younger, from about 15 to 19, and in that period of time, I just was so ever-changing, as a person. And I think music really reflects who you are, as a person, so you’re really putting yourself out there. I quit after about four or five years of recording and said, “This is not me.” But I also said that, if I was ever going to do music again, I would do country music. So, for this to come along, and to get both of the things I love combined in one show, it’s a dream come true, really. I don’t mean that in a cliche way.
BRITTON: I would actually say it’s a dream come true, for me too, as an actor, to have the opportunity to stretch my muscles in this way. I have sung my whole life, but not professionally, at all. So, as an actor, to be able to work with the best writer and the best music producer, that’s also a dream come true.
Connie, you mastered this archetype of the Southern woman on Friday Night Lights, and now you’re doing it with this show. What was it like for you, as a Northerner moving down to Virginia, when you were a kid? Have you gotten to know this Southern persona now?
BRITTON: There’s something about Southern women that is so unique and yet so universal. I think that’s why people really respond to strong Southern women. They are allowed to be soft and feminine and have a sense of humor, and there’s something that I really love about that. But, what I love about it, in particular, is actually the universality of it. My family did spend time in the North, and then I ultimately grew up in Virginia, so I feel that I’ve had a lot of different backgrounds. This character is actually incredibly different from Tami Taylor of Friday Night Lights. Even her accent is gonna be different. There probably won’t be as many y’alls.
When you first got down to Virginia, as a kid, what struck you about it?
BRITTON: I went pretty young. I was born in Boston, but then I went down to Virginia. We spent a little time in Maryland, and then were in Virginia by the time I was seven. What struck me the most was that my mother thought that she had gone to the middle of nowhere, and we would still drive four hours for her to get her hair cut in Washington, D.C.
PANETTIERE: Our previous shows were not the same, but they were in the same vein of sci-fi, in a way. They both were grounded, different stories. I was dealing with CGI for four years of my life, 10 months out of the year. It was a very large part of my life, for years. You can’t really compare that. That’s the great thing about this industry, and what I love about being an actor. Every project, you hope, is different and every character, you hope, is different, along with everywhere you get to go and the people you meet and get to work with. That’s what keeps me interested in what I do.
BRITTON: In terms of American Horror Story and Nashville, what attracted me to those, and Friday Night Lights, for that matter, is that they felt like something innovative and something that we hadn’t seen before. As an actor, that’s exciting. And my hope is that Nashville will be that, too. I think it will. As an actor, I always want to stretch myself and do something that I haven’t done before. So, from American Horror Story to Nashville is a plenty big stretch.
BRITTON: I ran into Reba McEntire on a plane and she said, “Did you hear that they’re saying that you’re playing me in your show?” And I said, “No, I had no idea.” For me, at least, it’s an amalgam of a lot of different people. I think it’s really fun to take from that palette, and then just really let this lone character emerge. So, I don’t really have any one person that I’m basing the character on.
PANETTIERE: I’ve heard the Taylor Swift thing quite a bit. But, aside from being around the same age and blonde, they’re very different. Once you see her and get to know Juliette, my character, a little bit better, you’ll see that. I really think Taylor would disagree, wholeheartedly, as well. She’s much nicer than my character.
One of the central ideas in this show is this generational divide between your two characters. How much fun it is to play that?
PANETTIERE: I’ve grown up doing this, my whole life. One thing that my parents instilled in me was respect for other people. So, when I have to go on set and completely go against the grain and disrespect somebody so wholeheartedly, it’s definitely something new to me. I even get a little bit shy sometimes. They’ll call, “Cut!,” and I’ll be like, “I’m so sorry! You know I adore and respect you!” But, it’s interesting and it does make it fun. I think that, the more we explore it and the more people understand the depths of our characters, then it will get more interesting and more fun.
BRITTON: Yeah, I think some of the most fun scenes that we shot were those scenes that we had at the Opry because they were so kooky. It’s just two people behaving in such bizarre ways. I think that we have a real opportunity to show the complexities of these two people in show business, and particularly women. I, for one, feel a really strong responsibility to do that, in a way that is true and dignified. My whole mantra, from the beginning, is that this is not a catfight. I’m not doing a catfight, and I don’t think anybody is interested in that. I think we’re much more interested in just showing these two people, at different places in their lives, and what their journeys will be.
PANETTIERE: One of the intriguing things about this is that you get the question all the time of, “What if you don’t like country music?” And one thing that we’ve all learned, especially being down in Nashville and working with such talented singers and songwriters, is just how broad the term country music is. You don’t have to be a fan of country music. There’s soul, there’s blues and there’s bluegrass. It really is a wide variety. It’s American. And I think people will realize that they can come to like this kind of music.
BRITTON: I think our characters actually cover that variation, too. All of our characters have a different style, which is very representative of Nashville. There’s every kind of music in Nashville.