Connie Britton: Gone Country
Finding her voice in Nashville
Anyone who tuned in for the five seasons of Friday Night Lights knows that actress (and now singer) Connie Britton plays Southern women like no one else. She gets the details right. The cut of the eyes. The swallowed sigh. The iron spine beneath the fabulous hair. Britton, who is forty-five, delivers substance with style, no more so than in her latest role as veteran country music star Rayna Jaymes on Nashville.
Tell me a bit about your Southern upbringing.
My dad’s family was from Tennessee. I grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia, where we lived at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a kid I was totally into Southern rock. Lynyrd Skynyrd. ZZ Top. It was so part of who I was.
What do you think you took away from your past? Besides the shame of loving Skynyrd?
Ha! The South was influential in my life. It helped form who I am. I went to New York out of drama school and I lived in California. But when the character of Tami Taylor in Friday Night Lights came along, it jogged something in me, like, I know this woman. It clicked. She felt very familiar.
In what way?
Growing up in the South, there is that character of Southern women that I find to be so specific and unique. Going north for college, it was such a remarkable difference. In many ways, the South can be very traditional and confining. And what is interesting to me is how women find their way around it. Those obstacles create an amazing sense of humor, of fun, and, ultimately, of integrity. The fiercest and savviest women I have ever known are the women I grew up with. I love that and have carried those lessons throughout my life.
The sense of humor is key.
Yes. The funniest women I’ve known are Southern. It is such a vital way to get what you want. Charm and grace and a sense of humor will take you a long way.
How has it been living in Nashville?
I’ll tell you what, it has been strange being here with my brand-new adopted Ethiopian baby as a single mom and not knowing a soul. And yet everyone in this town has been so genuinely kind and welcoming. But that is the Southern way. If you go away for a while, and you come back, you can’t quite believe it.
Do you find yourself wanting to raise your son in the South?
I’m still figuring it out. I want a diverse environment for my son. But I had a conversation with a local mom the other day, and she said the thing that is so great about raising a child down here is that there isn’t that pretentiousness. The kids don’t come out feeling entitled. That’s the thing I have concerns about, raising a kid in a bigger city. I didn’t grow up that way, and I don’t want my son to grow up that way.
If you had to live as Tami Taylor or Rayna Jaymes, which would you choose? Small-town Texas obscurity or glamarama Nashvegas?
Poor Rayna has been so buffeted in her life. It has been a rough ride. My character Vivien in American Horror Story [who died during childbirth after spawning a demon] had an easier time [laughs]. I used to say if I didn’t make it acting, I would become a teacher. Because at the end of the day, I really like community and family. I think I would be happy to be Tami.
Yeah. Let me tell you, I am on such a learning curve. Every single time I sing, I literally learn something new. And it is exciting. It is all you can hope for—to get more life under your belt.
You are not only singing, you are singing as a character. That sounds difficult.
It’s actually easier! Funny story: The first song I recorded was not with [Nashville’s executive music producer] T Bone Burnett but with another wonderful producer named Ross. And I was so scared. I can’t even tell you how scared I was. And he was like, “Drink whiskey, drink whiskey.” And I hate whiskey. But I drank it from these little bottles like you get on a plane. So, we’d gone through the song a couple times and finally he said, “Why don’t you country it up a little bit?” And it clicked for me—Oh, yeah, I’m playing a character! And since then, every time I record, I think of him saying, “Why don’t you country it up a little bit?” It makes the whole thing much less terrifying. After a season or two, I may actually know what I am doing.
What do you love most about country music?
The authenticity is something I really relate to. I find when country music is done well, it tells the story better than anything else. One amazing thing being in Nashville is the abundance of songwriters. We have had the rare opportunity to see the actual writers singing their songs, before they are snapped up by the big stars and turned into hits. They’ll tell me where the song came from. And it is like, “Whoa, man, that is so honest.”
Do you cry? Live music always makes me cry. It’s so intimate.
I do cry. When it is done right and someone is baring their soul to you…it just breaks you open.
Is it true that you have taken up songwriting?
I used to write poetry. I have journals filled with poetry that I hope no one will ever read. For some reason, I just stopped writing. Anyway, I have a dear friend, songwriter Amy Cook from Austin, Texas, and she was like, come on, we are going to write a song together.
Verses are verses…
Exactly. I guess I’m trying to shake up some poetry again. You know, let my voice be freer and freer.