Connie Britton finds a true voice in ‘Nashville’
After the indelible impression Connie Britton made as Tami Taylor, the über-capable and compassionate high school counselor and wife to a football coach on “Friday Night Lights,” Britton ventured into the outlandish fun house of FX’s “American Horror Story” — and received Emmy nominations for her work on both shows. This season, she’s the pivot around which ABC’s hit new drama “Nashville” revolves, playing Rayna James, a mid-career country music star battling to remake her place in a changing industry. Regardless of what role she plays, Britton comes across as strong and relatable; she’s us, but with a hotter body. She took time out to speak with The Envelope by phone as she was pulling into work in Nashville on a recent afternoon.
ABC just gave “Nashville” a full-season pickup, which means you’ll be doing 24 episodes. Is this the most demanding schedule you’ve ever faced?
Without question. Not only because of the number of episodes but because of the music aspect, which adds a whole other level of production to our schedule. It’s incredibly ambitious. We were here last night until 4:30 a.m.
What appealed to you about playing Rayna James?
I’m fascinated by characters who are re-inventing themselves. When we meet Rayna in the pilot, she is reluctantly being presented with an opportunity to have to do that. That’s how it happens in life. As human beings, we’d rather be really comfortable and have things go along the way they were, but my experience is that is not usually how life works. We have to rethink who we are and what our values are, sometimes when we don’t want to. And this is about the ways we’re buffeted around by the world as we try to do that. I think it’s a situation that is incredibly resonant to anybody.
Has there been an episode or scene you can point to and say, ‘That’s what I had in mind when I took this role’?
It would have to be a musical performance on stage — that’s really new territory for me as an actor, and those have all been just beyond exciting to do. I mean, you’re performing music in these sacred places, like Ryman Auditorium, and you’re working with [music producer] T Bone Burnett, who’s such a visionary. But I also love scenes like the one in the pilot where she and Deacon [Charles Esten] are walking across a bridge in Nashville and talking about their lives, and you get a sense of all the history that’s gone down between them. There’s a lot of storytelling in that scene.
You’ve paired up with some TV writers who have really strong voices in the last few years — Peter Berg and Jason Katims (“Friday Night Lights”), Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story”) and now Callie Khouri, who created this show. How do you know when a project is right for you?
I look for inspiration. Callie really knows this world, and she felt such a strong commitment to telling the story in an authentic way. There’s a passion and integrity in the storytelling, and that’s not as common as you might think. So when I run across it, I want to check it out. Peter Berg is also an incredibly inspired storyteller. Believe it or not, I didn’t want to do “Friday Night Lights,” the TV show, because almost everything I had done in the movie version had ended up on the cutting room floor. But Pete was so committed to bringing the voices of the women in that Texas town to the story. He made it sound like it would be a really exciting journey, and it was.
You’re spending a lot of time in Nashville to make this show. How does Nashville compare to L.A.?
It’s a much more accessible and welcoming world, and the people are a lot nicer [laughs]. I just presented at the Country Music Awards, and I was sick as a dog that night, and Martina McBride was backstage texting her doctor then and there to help me. Another interesting thing is that the whole business here revolves around the songwriters, who are like scriptwriters in L.A. I just went and saw Bonnie Raitt perform at the Ryman. She’s my idol; she always has been. The whole night, she was dedicating things to her songwriters, and she was genuinely thrilled to be in Nashville because half of them were there in the audience. It was a great education for me on how this business works.
When Rayna’s trying to get a new record producer to work with her, she tells him, “I got into this business so I could share my truth.” What does she mean by that?
So many country songs are written around a true and unpretentious experience of the writer, and that’s the tradition Rayna comes from as a storyteller. It’s not flashy; it’s not grandstanding; it’s coming from a place of integrity and authenticity. As an actor, that’s been kind of it for me too — at the end of the day, if you’re telling the truth, that’s what people appreciate.
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