In the hours after “Nashville” made its debut on ABC last Wednesday night, “If I Didn’t Know Better,” the dreamy Bluebird Cafe duet between doe-eyed waitress Scarlett and sound board operator Gunnar, had already become a real life chart hit.
It’s something Sam Palladio, the English actor and musician, who plays the earnest country hopeful on the drama, wasn’t actually expecting.
“I think it was probably two hours after the premiere that a friend of mine – we were just having a celebratory drink – and she goes, ‘You know you’re at No. 30 on the iTunes country music chart with that song?’” Sam told AccessHollywood.com during a break from filming in the city. “[I said], ‘What are you talking about?’ I thought she was just joking.”
It was no joke at all. By Thursday morning, Sam’s duet with Australian actress and songbird Clare Bowen (Scarlett) leapt into the Top 20 on the all-genres iTunes chart and to No. 5 on the country chart — in both lists alongside cuts from another Bluebird Cafe discovery – Taylor Swift.
“It just hadn’t occurred to me — the power and the whole buzz that it suddenly created and of course, the byproduct of that was people downloading the track,” he said. “That just hadn’t come into my brain that [something like that] was gonna happen.”
Like the chart success, finding out he and co-star Clare (who Sam met for the first time not long after landing in Nashville to begin shooting the premiere) were a magical musical match was a surprise too.
“Our first meeting really was in the lobby of [a] hotel in Nashville right before we met [singer, songwriter and producer] Buddy Miller upstairs to sing through the song for the first time. Having never sung with Clare and [because the scene is] such an important thru-line for the piece – that was really daunting,” Sam explained. “It wasn’t until we sat in the room and Buddy sort of gritted his teeth – ‘cause it’s a tricky song — that we kind of both started singing and the harmonies crept in and [it was like], ‘Oh, wow, this is working. This is good!’ Something about the tone of our voices together just instantly worked, so we were both kind of looking at each other going, ‘Oh!’”
Also going “Oh!” was JD Souther’s character, Watty White, a record producer and mentor to Connie Britton’s Rayna James. In the season premiere, not long after the exiting country queen told her label to stuff its idea that she open for Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), Rayna got a call from Watty, who clearly believed he’d discovered the next big thing to come out of the Bluebird Cafe, something she just might need on her side.
“In [an upcoming episode], the two of us are in a recording studio recording that song,” Sam explained of what comes next for the pair (the song is actually a cover of a tune by The Civil Wars). “The scene very much imitates life, in terms of — I hadn’t really been in a proper studio before, Clare hadn’t and the whole scene is about the two of us sort of being in this world of awe.
“We’re in Ben Folds’ studio here in Nashville… just going, ‘Wow, Oh, look at this,’ just looking around the walls going, ‘What’s the history of this place?’ [It’s formerly] RCA Studio A, where Elvis recorded and Everly Brothers did their thing. The scene pretty much just mirrors exactly what we were feeling as actors,” he said.
And with Scarlett and Gunnar the potential buzzy young act a woman like Rayna could pair up with to reignite her flailing career, the young musical hopefuls will continue to figure prominently in the drama.
“I mean, Gunnar is a passionate, aspiring songwriter — talented guy [and] he finds this fantastic connection with Clare’s character, but suddenly it’s all kind of real and it’s in their face,” Sam explained. “That situation does put [pressure] on what has been a relatively normal sort of friendship, a close friendship and of course you throw the fact that Gunnar’s got a mad crush on her as well into the mix (laughs) and yeah, it gets a little bit messy.”
And, Access points out – Scarlett has that boyfriend.
“Jonathan Jackson’s character Avery is the struggling songwriter as well. He’s trying to make it. He’s trying desperately to get his band off the ground,” Sam said, hinting at another spoke in the “Nashville” wheel of drama ready to roll out.
While Sam is a musician in his own right (with a band back home – Salt Water Thief), and an actor who had a memorable role as the boy-band coiffed Stoke in Showtime’s “Episodes,” Season 1, “Nashville” is the first stateside role that allows him to combine both his loves in front of a primetime network television audience.
Fully immersed in shooting “Nashville,” a show he was cast in based on the strength of his transatlantic audition tape, Sam said it’s all feeling quite “surreal.”
“I’d been working hard with British shows and my connections back there, so being offered this job [and] suddenly being uprooted, it was great because I didn’t come here with this kind of, ‘I’m gonna go and crack America, like this is my plan’ I was sort of uprooted and placed here,” he said. “I wasn’t sort of hungry and chasing that down, so it’s kind of [been a] surreal experience the last six months.”
“Nashville” continues Wednesday at 10/9c on ABC.
-- Jolie Lash