Q&A: Hayden Panettiere On Nashville

Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

Hayden Panettiere, 23, began her career as a child actor on the soaps One Life to Live and Guiding Light, and met an untimely death as Kirby Reed in Scream 4. But she is perhaps best known as Claire Bennet, the high-school cheerleader with supernatural powers on NBC’s Heroes. She’s trying to change that girl-next-door image in ABC’s Nashville, portraying ambitious, conniving country-pop diva Juliette Barnes, youthful nemesis of old-school country star Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton). Apparently the catfight chemistry is working: ABC recently handed the freshman series created by Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) a full-season order. And both Panettiere and Britton scored big at the Golden Globe nominations: Panettiere netted a nom for best supporting actress in a TV series, miniseries, or motion picture, and Britton is up for best actress in a TV drama.

AwardsLine: This role was a lot to take on with singing. What led you to accept the part of Juliette?
Hayden Panettiere: I love the fact that this character that Callie Khouri created is so multidimensional; there’s so many layers to her. But this was a big deal for me because I really wanted to break away from my character in Heroes. I’m so deeply blessed that I got to play that character, don’t get me wrong, but I knew after that character it would be an uphill battle for people to see me as anything besides the all-American cheerleader.

AwardsLine: As the episodes unfold, we find out Juliette has a dark past that influences her character, but it’s got to be sort of fun to play the bad girl.
Panettiere: Absolutely. But it’s more interesting when you get to play the bad girl with a heart, that back story, that thing that people can find sympathy for.

AwardsLine: What kind of relationship do you and Connie Britton share off camera? Do you try to maintain the tension by staying away from each other?

Panettiere: We definitely are close friends. I feel like the closer you are to somebody, the easier it is to really go after them (on camera) because nobody’s going to take it personally. It may sound silly, because you are acting, but some people are so Method that they won’t develop a relationship with the person they are acting across from. If this show goes on for years, that would be a very difficult person to try not to get along with. We get along brilliantly, and the closer we become, the more fun we have.

AwardsLine: Do you have any favorite “meow” moments?
Panettiere: What we have to say comes off so snarky sometimes! I mean, when they yell, “Cut,” we don’t exactly call each other names, but it cracks me up when Rayna calls me Miss Sparkly Pants.

AwardsLine: If this show lasts for multiple seasons, wouldn’t these two women eventually make peace with each other?
Panettiere: I think you’d be surprised as to the reasoning behind why people don’t get along. I’m not saying I know anything specific, but I have a feeling that there’s something personal, some nerve that Rayna has in her, and at some point people might see that and understand it. But the show does not revolve around this catfight. You cannot survive on a show where the entire thing is revolving around one catfight. You have to bring in something else to sink your teeth into. We have a lot more going on.

AwardsLine: You mention taking on the role because of the multifaceted character Callie Khouri created. What is your impression of her?

Panettiere: She is unbelievable. She is by far one of the coolest but most talented people that I’ve ever come across. I just remember seeing her for the first time, and she was just this long, lean, statuesque woman with the beautiful hair and cream-colored pants and top, these brown riding boots. I just remember being in awe of her, and just how beautiful she was. She has made this show everything that it is. It’s so grounded, and this reality and this world, because Callie has lived in it. She’s experienced it; she’s not somebody who has only heard about it in books and movies.

AwardsLine: With its look at showbiz behind the scenes, does Nashville take its cue from NBC’s Smash?
Panettiere: All of our songs are incorporated into these characters’ daily lives. We don’t break out in song midscene.

AwardsLine: Has anything been said or written about the show that you disagree with?
Panettiere: The only thing that ever kind of drove me crazy was in the beginning there was a lot of speculation that Juliette was completely untalented—it was almost like what was going on behind the scenes of our press was also going on behind the scenes of Juliette’s press. People don’t see her as a true artist, somebody who is talented, they see her as this big moneymaking machine, and she wants so desperately to be respected, for people to know that she is an amazing songwriter and that she can sing. I don’t feel like she would be as interesting a character if she had no talent. She would just be annoying.

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