Actress Connie Britton

Britton talks about singing for her supper as country music superstar Rayna James in ABC’s Nashville.

A versatile actress, Connie Britton has had stand-out roles on several series, including 24, The West Wing and Friday Night Lights, one of TV's best reviewed shows and for which she received two of her four Emmy nominations. (She starred in the film of the same name.) She's also earned Golden Globe and Emmy nods for her portrayal of a country music star in ABC's Nashville. Britton's body of work includes such indie films as The Brothers McMullen, regional and off-Broadway theater productions and producing and directing a documentary on the orphans of Ethiopia. She attended Dartmouth and studied Chinese in Beijing and was recently named a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Program.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Four-time Emmy nominee Connie Britton has carved out an exceptional career on television, playing smart, independent women in critically acclaimed series like “Friday Night Lights,” which ran for five seasons on NBC and DirecTV, and now she stars in “Nashville,” just wrapping up its second season on ABC.

In that series she plays a country music superstar named Rayna Jaymes who’s at a crossroads in her career. Let’s take a look.

[Clip]

Tavis: I leaned in to Connie and said to her, “Rayna had a tough year this year.” (Laughter) You almost died -

Connie Britton: Always.

Tavis: – divorce. (Laughter)

Britton: Listen.

Tavis: It’s like a good soap opera here. You had a rough year.

Britton: Exactly. Always the drama. Drama, drama, drama.

Tavis: Yeah. I assume, though, as an actor, though, you must enjoy the complexity and the opportunity to just go in so many different directions with a character.

Britton: I do, and for me, it’s always about the challenge. So every role that I play, there’s a different challenge involved. This one, for me, the biggest challenge was the singing, hands-down.

That was the most exciting part to try to tackle and conquer, and it’s been really rewarding and exciting. But also for this on this show, yeah, it’s true we have a lot of drama and high stakes and all that kind of thing.

I think that’s the nature of what the tone of this show is. But I’m always trying to – it’s a show called “Nashville,” and we are shooting in Nashville and that is a very rich world in reality.

So I’m always fighting to try to keep the show as true to the storytelling of what that town is as possible.

Tavis: It seems to me that the city of Nashville and the music that you reference earlier, those two things are as significant a character or characters in this series as anybody else.

Britton: Yeah.

Tavis: The city is a character.

Britton: Absolutely.

Tavis: The music obviously is a character.

Britton: Absolutely. It’s funny, I spent five years shooting “Friday Night Lights” in Austin, and we always said that show had to be done there; it had to be done in Texas. There was no way we could do it anyplace else.

I remember the first year there were rumblings of we’re going to move it to New Mexico or North Carolina or whatever. All lovely towns with great tax rebates, but it was so important because that was such a huge character in the show.

So when “Nashville” came along, I had just adopted my son and I was in no place in my life to just pick up everything and move to a town that I knew nothing about and where I knew not a soul, but -

Tavis: So you actually moved to Nashville then.

Britton: – but we did it, because I – they wanted to shoot it in Nashville, and I thought listen, we’re doing a show about Nashville. For me, it’s all about the authenticity and the integrity of the show.

If we’re doing a show in Nashville, we’ve got to shoot it in Nashville. It’s been so important and so rewarding, because it’s a wonderful town and they have been so welcoming to us there.

Certainly for me, because I really was a newbie when it came to the world of country music and that business, because the business side of so much music is there.

To be in it and surrounded by it all the time and get to meet the greatest there all the time is amazing.

Tavis: What’s great about Nashville, and I know from your perspective, you’re talking about country music, what’s great about Nashville though, as those in the music industry know, a lot of music is produced out of Nashville, and it’s not just country.

Britton: That’s right.

Tavis: You got R&B, gospel music, there’s so much music now that’s produced and distributed from Nashville that a lot of great artists who I know have moved to Nashville over the years because it’s where everything is being done these days.

But when you mentioned Austin, that’s the venue where you all shot, the city where you shot “Friday Night Lights,” and now this “Nashville” series being shot, of course, in Nashville, it occurs to me that you’ve had – and I could think of some similarities between Austin and Nashville.

Some similarities, but they’re obviously very different cities, two different states. But you’ve spent a lot of time in the South of late.

Britton: Yes, yes.

Tavis: What have you learned living in the South? (Laughter)

Britton: Well I actually grew up in the South. I grew up in Virginia and -

Tavis: Virginia ain’t South like Tennessee and Texas, though.

Britton: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah, it is.

Tavis: All right, all right, all right. (Laughter)

Britton: No, no, no, no, no. Don’t you mess with me on that.

Tavis: All right, all right.

Britton: I come from Lynchburg, Virginia, and it is the South.

Tavis: All right.

Britton: And -

Tavis: Lynchburg is a little Southern – a little further south than Arlington, so I’ll give you that, okay. (Laughter)

Britton: We live very close to Appomattox, where a great deal happened during the Civil War.

Tavis: Fair enough, fair enough, fair enough.

Britton: But that was always, that’s such a very important part of my life and a very specific world. A lot of my greatest influences came out of the South or out of Virginia.

My dad’s side of the family actually was from Tennessee, so I definitely – and then my mom was a Yankee from Connecticut. So I definitely had a lot of Southern influence in my life.

It’s been really fun, because I have played now two – two of the most fun roles that I’ve played have been Southern. But the first thing that I did that was my big break was actually a movie called “The Brothers McMullen,” and we shot that thing in Long Island, and we were playing New Yorkers.

I did a whole – then I did “Spin City” with Michael J. Fox where we shot in New York, and -

Tavis: I love that series, yeah.

Britton: – we were, I was doing New York for quite a while there before the Southern thing came along. So I’m sure I’m going to flip-flop back and forth and go do something completely different too.

But there’s something about the South that I just love so much, and it’s such a great world.

Tavis: For those who have not as yet in these first two seasons had a chance to see “Nashville,” I should ask you to tell us about the character, for those who haven’t seen it.

Britton: Okay. Well the character is, Rayna Jaymes is the queen of country music, as we like to say, and she has had a very illustrious career which – and that’s so much fun to play too, to try to play somebody the likes of, I don’t know, I think of Bruce Springsteen or somebody like that, who’s really kind of legendary.

She’s kind of self-made, but she’s now moving into, still very, very beloved and very successful, but the music industry has changed so much. She came from a very strong, specific tradition of making music and the way that business worked and all that.

So when we find her in our show, she’s kind of dealing with how the music industry has changed, and it’s not necessarily working to her advantage. Then of course we have the great character of Juliette Barnes, played by Hayden Panettiere, which is a great foil to that, because she’s sort of a product of the way the music industry is now, which is very much about the Internet and multimedia and all that.

So it’s a really great, the character of Rayna is a really great representation of somebody who has worked hard to find her own voice and put it out into the world, and is now having to find different ways of doing that.

Tavis: I mentioned these two characters, the city and the music, and you guys put out, the show puts out a soundtrack every year of all the stuff heard during that season. It’s a delicious thing to listen to.

Britton: I know.

Tavis: But the fact that you guys had this connection to T-Bone in the first season, (laughter) how lucky can you be?

Britton: Listen, it was always, I’ve been such a huge fan of his for so long, and Callie Khouri, who created the show – and by the way, how lucky to be able to work with her as well when she came to me with this role and talked to me about it. She said that T-Bone was going to be really involved.

Tavis: Did you know he was her husband?

Britton: Yeah, I did.

Tavis: (Overlapping) Yeah (unintelligible) okay.

Britton: As an actor, toying with the idea of playing a character who is singing and that the voice is such an important part of the character, I thought if I’m ever going to do it, if I’m ever going to do it, to have the opportunity to do it with T-Bone Burnett would be the most amazing thing.

Tavis: You can’t do much better than that in Nashville. (Laughter)

Britton: I know, so that was a big, a big part of it for me. He was with us for the whole first season, and I’ll tell you what, I owe him so much in terms of being able to create – really, the creation of the character, because we spent so much time talking about music and history and the music that she would have listened to throughout her life.

He’s so just genius at being able to so specifically hone in on a character from a musical standpoint. I just started to, the character just started to emerge and evolve as we worked together. It was really an incredible experience.

Tavis: (Overlapping) Yeah, it’s hard to do much better than T-Bone Burnett.

Britton: No.

Tavis: So every actor wants to sing, every singer wants to act. So how much longer are we waiting for the Connie Britton CD? (Laughter) Now that you’ve been coached by T-Bone.

Britton: Listen – I know. Listen, I still can’t believe whenever anybody even asks me that. I’m sort of like, “Are you kidding me?” but it actually has gotten – every day and every week and every month and even every year now because we’ve been doing this for a couple of years, it gets easier and I get more confident, and I’ve grown to just really, really love the music and the performing.

We’ve got, a lot of our cast is out right now doing these amazing, this amazing concert tour that’s sold out across the country.

Tavis: And you’re singing for the troops.

Britton: And singing for the troops, which was probably one of the best days I’ve had on the show. It was just incredible. But I don’t know, putting out an album is tempting.

Tavis: “I don’t know” is not a “no,” (laughter) so I’m going to keep this seat warm.

Britton: About a year ago this time -

Tavis: (Overlapping) I’m going to keep the seat warm in case you -

Britton: – it would have been a no, so who knows? (Laughter) Maybe in another year -

Tavis: (Overlapping) See, that’s – I told you -

Britton: – who knows where it’s going to be?

Tavis: – every actor wants to sing, every singer wants to act, and you’re going to fuse the two.

Britton: Well, we’ll see.

Tavis: You’ll be back, I’m sure, with your new album.

Britton: Yes, we’ll see.

Tavis: So we’ll hold a seat till you get back.

Britton: Okay.

Tavis: Connie Britton stars on “Nashville” on ABC. Tomorrow night is the season finale of season two, and it’s a good show. We’re glad to have you on the program.

Britton: Thank you.

Tavis: Good to see you. That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.

“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.

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“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: May 14, 2014 at 3:13 pm