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.

Q&A: Connie Britton On Nashville

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

Connie Britton, 45, is a multiple Emmy Award nominee for her roles on Friday Night Lights and American Horror Story. But during one of her typical 16-hour workdays for ABC’s freshman drama Nashville, she says of her first Golden Globe nomination—for best actress in a TV drama series—that it never gets old: “I’m far from jaded about awards nominations.” Britton shares the honor with costar and fellow Golden Globe nominee Hayden Panettiere, 23, and talks about why their onscreen duet seems to work.

AWARDSLINE: What is the appeal of the uneasy relationship between your character, Rayna Jaymes, and her young competitor, Hayden Panettiere’s Juliette Barnes?
CONNIE BRITTON: I was talking to (Nashville creator) Callie Khouri last night, and we were both talking about just how much fun it is, particularly now that Hayden’s character and my character are really engaging. What’s funny to me is, in the first five or six episodes, we didn’t really engage that much. There is something really interesting about these two women in very different places in their lives who are fighting for their lives in different ways.

AWARDSLINE: We hear stories about actors who go to unusual lengths to stay in character on set—fellow Golden Globe nominee Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln is a good example. What about you two?
BRITTON: No. (Laughs.) I think Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors that we have amongst us right now, but I don’t think if Daniel Day-Lewis was doing television, he could sustain that. We have 22 episodes.

AWARDSLINE: Before the show aired, everyone hailed it as a new Dallas. Is Nashville a soap opera or close to reality?
BRITTON: At first, I resisted the over-the-top elements of the show, and I was really pushing for complex storytelling because I think Nashville deserves that. That being said, there are some big stories in Nashville. Having a spent a little time in Nashville, hearing some of the lore of this town, I’m saying: “We’re playing it safe.”

AWARDSLINE: And yet it’s not the big platinum hair, Dolly Parton, “Rhinestone Cowboy” world.
BRITTON: I really wanted Rayna to be coming from that more simplified core storytelling place of a Bonnie Raitt or a Lucinda Williams. Such amazing women.

AWARDSLINE: How does Nashville compare with another heightened reality you are familiar with, Hollywood?
BRITTON: A friend of mine here, we were talking about the Country Music Awards, and she was saying, “It’s just like an awards ceremony in Hollywood, but everybody’s nice.” I sort of love that. Nashville is where the business is; there are more parallels with Hollywood than I originally thought. But it feels less cutthroat than Hollywood. And frankly, it’s a much smaller town where people have to live together. In Hollywood you can kind of screw somebody over and not really have to see them for a while.

AWARDSLINE: Callie Khouri has been involved in many projects, but I think many women associate her with writing Thelma & Louise, about two women literally on the road to self-empowerment. Are there any parallels here?
BRITTON: I am, and was, and always will be an enormous fan of Thelma & Louise. I really grew up with that being a seminal movie for me. So I’ve always known who Callie Khouri was; that’s why I was so excited when I got this script. Hers is an interesting kind of feminism. It’s not in your face. (In Nashville), it’s dealing with the complexities of being a woman in a society that really isn’t built for feminism. That’s what I’ve always liked about playing Southern women; some of the most fierce women I’ve known were women from the South, yet they are coming from a world that is not very welcoming to their fierceness. I think Callie really confronts those aspects of feminism in a really unique way. It’s a little subversive, actually.

AWARDSLINE: As Hayden Panettiere has said, the show wouldn’t be believable if her character were a truly bad singer. She has to be good or your character would not feel so threatened.
BRITTON: Yeah, completely. It’s not about good voice, bad voice; it’s about style and values and really the culture. Rayna comes from a tradition of country music, and Juliette is feeding into a sort of a pop-culture frenzy, she is representing this new way that people listen to things and look at things based on new media—there’s a lot less storytelling and a lot more bling. Rayna doesn’t really understand it or respect it, but she’s kind of getting knocked on her ass by it, because basically everybody’s saying, “You’ve got to pick up these new ways or you are going to be left behind.”

AWARDSLINE: Did you have any trepidation about not only taking on a singing role, but the role of someone who is supposed to be one of the great country voices of our time?
BRITTON: Terror. It was horrifying. Because I am the least-trained singer in the show, it was really important to me to be really specific about the type of music Rayna sings. It had to be more about the heart and the soul that she brings to the songs than about having the best voice in the world. Honestly, I would never have taken the role if I thought that it would be any other way.