For our Fall TV Preview issue, we spoke with the cast of ABC’s new drama Nashville about the question that’s on everyone’s minds: Can Connie Britton really sing?
When ABC first started casting for the show, its creator, Callie Khouri, knew she wanted Britton for the role of country superstar Rayna Jaymes, even before she knew whether or not Britton could carry a tune. “I said, if we can’t get Connie Britton, let’s just not do the show,” Khouri tells EW. “Everybody thought I was nuts!” But Khouri held out for her first choice. “She’s a woman that other women really relate to,” she explains, “and I felt that was exactly the right way to go with this character.”
There was only one problem: Britton’s real voice would be used on the show. And that made the actress very nervous. “I grew up singing,” Britton reveals. “My mother was a music teacher and I trained for [musicals] in drama school. But when I started pounding the pavement in New York, I realized that people there have these majestic voices. I’m a perfectionist, so I let that go by the wayside.”
Still, the idea of singing country music appealed to her. “It’s so much about storytelling and truth-telling,” she says. “As an actor, those are things that I always want to be doing, so I thought it would be interesting to try.”
To prepare for the role, she spoke with the show’s executive music producer, T-Bone Burnett, about Rayna’s back story. “We talked about how this young woman from a wealthy family in Nashville came to be the queen of country music,” he remembers. “What were the first songs she heard? What were her influences? We imagined her getting her dad’s chauffeur to the Station Inn when she was 12, and going to see Doc Watson. And then maybe she got into Memphis Minnie.”
When Britton finally started recording, she admits, she was “terrified.” “I was so nervous that I would not let anybody listen to me sing until we had recorded the song,” she says. “Everyone was definitely on pins and needles, like, What’s going to happen?” Listening to those recordings now, Burnett raves that Britton sounds like Lucinda Williams, a great storyteller who sings with real emotion rather than trying to get by on vocal pyrotechnics. But Britton says her stage fright hasn’t been cured. “When I listen to a recording, I still sit hunched over with my head in my hands, cringing,” she admits. “It’s gonna take a long time for me to feel comfortable with that.”
For more on Nashville and other new and returning shows, check out our Fall TV Preview issue, on stands now.