You could be forgiven for thinking “Nashville” is a drama simply about the battle between two big-haired, and big talent country divas – Connie Britton’s Rayna James and Hayden Panettiere’s Juliette Barnes. But there’s much, much more to the must-watch new show.
While Rayna and Juliette engage in catfights, backstabbing and backroom dealings, “Nashville” is also introducing a wild card to the mix — doe-eyed ingenue Scarlett O’Connor – played by AccessHollywood.com’s latest Fresh Face of Fall TV, Clare Bowen.
“I asked to come in for Scarlett just because I loved her so much,” Clare told Access of auditioning during pilot season for the character, a lovesick Bluebird Cafe waitress, who — at first — is blissfully unaware of her musical prowess. “I thought she was a really beautiful creature.”
Playing Scarlett is actually Clare’s first gig as a regular cast member in a stateside television series and the Australian-bred actress fits snugly in the drama as the niece of Rayna’s bandleader Deacon (Charles Esten). She’s also the girlfriend of Avery (Jonathan Jackson), whose beauty, budding musical genius and genuineness have left local musician Gunnar Scott (British newcomer Sam Palladio) with a full blown crush.
In fact, it’s Gunnar who convinces Scarlett in the premiere episode to take the stage for the first time ever, and the two perform a number – “If I Didn’t Know Better” — that sounds like a fantasy Tennessee jam between Mazzy Star and Mumford and Sons. The moment was filmed in Nashville’s real life Bluebird Cafe and Clare is still marveling at the experience.
“I’ve never been anywhere like Bluebird. It’s got so much lovely history… The energy in there is something really special,” the actress, who grew up in not only Sydney, but internationally, thanks to parents who worked for Qantas, said. “When somebody’s in there telling their story, everyone just stops and it’s a place for you to do that, so we’re very lucky to [shoot] in there.”
However, the magical moment almost never happened. While Clare asked to read for the part, she nearly missed her audition thanks to the heavy traffic spurred by a rain Southern California rain storm.
“I was about two hours late,” Clare said, noting she offered to come in the next day, only to be told they would wait for her arrival. “I got up there looking like a drowned rat and I didn’t know a country song to sing, so I sang an Australian folk song.
“They asked me back and it was… just a really welcoming atmosphere when I met [Executive Producers] Callie [Khouri] and R.J. [Cutler]… We just sat and talked and sort of made friends, actually. I don’t know. I think that characters find you as an actor. I’m not sure. I don’t know how it all works yet.”
In a movie, there would have been the end of the rain, and a rainbow when Clare got the call she hoped for about landing the role of Scarlett. In real life, it involved canine saliva and a migraine.
“I was minding my friend’s two little dogs in a beautiful place in Studio City and they have absolutely no mobile reception in their house except in this one spot, on a table, in a little corner of the house. So, I left my phone there so that I could get the call if it came through,” she laughs, recalling the not-quite-magical moment. “I was sitting on the floor with my phone plugged in, trying to get aerial, with two dogs trying to lick my face, with a terrible headache, and my agents rang and they told me I was moving to Nashville… If somebody had of taken a photograph, it would have been really funny, but here was no one else there. It was just me and these two little rescued dogs.”
After relocating to Nashville, Clare actually got to know her knew city with her premiere episode duet partner, Sam, a transplant from the UK. The two first met in the lobby of a local hotel, took their first “Nashville” singing lesson in one of the boardrooms, and then, hit the town.
“We ended up exploring Nashville together. So we kind of got to know this place [by] being completely foreign to the area and with no preconception of what it was. We’re both walkers so we walked all over Nashville. It was lots of fun,” she said.
Now settled into her life in the home of country music, Clare said she hasn’t had a chance to experience what it’s like to be a star on the rise stateside.
“I’m on the inside of all that,” she said. “I don’t have a television. Hayden was having a go at me. She’s like, ‘You have to have a TV.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t have room for one. I’d have to move the longhorn if I have to put a television on the wall.
“I’ve got a white…” she pauses, and laughs. “It’s a longhorn, like a bull’s head. Not a real one. It’s ceramic. It’s got one of my straw hats sitting on one of the horns at the moment, which is a really good look, but it’s sort of the centerpiece in my living room at the moment… So I don’t know where I’m going to put a television. I’d have to take the longhorn down and I don’t really want to.”
For now, the longhorn is staying. Clare said she plans to watch “Nashville” with friends.
And as the show continues its first season, Clare is happy to enjoy the ride.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, but my life has been interesting thus far,” she said of finding a job that combines her acting with her heavenly pipes. “I’ve just sort of let go and [I’m] quite fond of the phrase, ‘Anything’s possible,’ because it is and it has been.”
“Nashville” premieres Wednesday night at 10/9c on ABC.
-- Jolie Lash