In NBC’s dearly departed Texas high-school soap Friday Night Lights, Connie Britton scored two Emmy nominations for her part as Tami Taylor, wife to Kyle Chandler’s demigod football coach. On ABC’s new show Nashville, created by Thelma and Louise writer Callie Khouri, she plays the superstar—Rayna James, a fading country-music legend who gets a sobering wake-up call when her record company demands that she open for a younger, questionably talented ingénue (Hayden Panettiere). Eating brains on Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story recently earned Britton her third consecutive Emmy nod, but learning to sing for her new role may have been even scarier. She spoke with Denise Martin.
You’re playing another tough-talking southern woman. Were you concerned about doing that again?
Rayna is so different from Tami Taylor. She’s a self-made, empowered, successful woman—and a country-music star. Her accent is going to be subtly different than Tami’s. There probably won’t be as many y’alls.
When we first meet Rayna, her popularity is waning. Please tell us this won’t be as depressing as Country Strong.
No, we’re definitely going to watch her negotiate what the music business is now. She’s been doing this for twenty years, but so much in the industry has changed, and we’ll see her figure out how she fits into it. That’s always my hope, that whenever someone goes through these transitions, it deepens their resolve and love for what they do.
How’s the singing going?
It’s been hard. I’ve been working with T Bone Burnett for months. I’m the remedial student in our cast of singers—everyone else has great voices, and I’m the one who only did it back in drama school. We’ll spend days just sitting around and listening to the music Rayna would have grown up with. I started singing this Bonnie Raitt song with my vocal coach the other day, and I literally burst into tears because I’ll never sound as good as Bonnie Raitt.
Are you a fan of country music?
Ironically, I would say country is the one type of music I’ve spent the least amount of time with in my life. I grew up in Virginia, where there was a lot of it, but I was more interested in rock and roll. Southern rock.