Lynette Rice
April 26, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Connie Britton’s star may have launched Nashville, but it’s Charles Esten who keeps moony-eyed fans coming back with his achy-breaky portrayal of Deacon Claybourne, a talented recovering alcoholic who just can’t quit the love of his life, Britton’s Rayna. It’s a breakout role for Esten, 47, a journeyman actor who has supported his L.A.-based wife and three kids with work on shows like Enlightened, Big Love, and ER. ”I’m one of those guys you’ve seen in a million things,” he admits, ”but can’t remember from where.” While acting has come first, music has always been Esten’s second passion. See: Esten performing in a college band and taking the title role in a touring production of BuddyThe Buddy Holly Story in the ’90s. ”Half the reason you go into acting is you want to move people,” Esten says. ”You can do that with your music, too. I hadn’t been able to quite do that yet, so [Nashville] is multiple dreams come true.” What he didn’t expect was the sudden adoration from female fans, which he credits to Deacon’s bad-boy demeanor — and sexy stubble. ”That part’s very funny, and strange,” Esten says. ”I’ve walked around on this earth for 47 years now and haven’t had anybody throw themselves at me.” Until now.

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