'Nashville' Star Charles Esten Isn't Messing Around: 'If Songs Don't Further the Scene, We Don't Sing Them'


Charles Esten and Hayden Panettiere of ABC's "Nashville."

Things are heating up on ABC's "Nashville," as the Wednesday night drama heads toward its' second season finale in May. For Charles Esten, who plays the rugged Deacon on the series, the series has turned out to be a blessing in more ways than one.

"When the script came into my hands, and there was this character named Deacon Claybourne, I let my wife read it," Esten told Billboard. "When she finished it, she looked up, and all she had to do was wave goodbye to me. She knew very well that the role was the type that any actor would sink their teeth into, but she knew that I had been playing music since I met her in college, and had been writing music all along."

Esten has been a part of all of the Nashville soundtracks (with the Season Two, Volume Two edition will be released on May 6). Being affiliated with Scott Borchetta and his team at Big Machine has been very rewarding.

"When I saw that Big Machine was involved, I knew that was going to be as good as it gets," he says, adding that the creative behind the show has also been crucial. "The first season, we had the great T Bone Burnett, and then we go strength to strength with Buddy Miller this season. He has really carried the mantle so well. People hear these songs on the show, and some they are able to buy immediately," he said of the availability of the tracks on iTunes. 

"But, some they're not, and they don't like it. In the early days of music video, I imagine there was a similar type of quantum leap in hearing a song and then you see the performer, and they're acting out the meaning of the song. We have the opportunity to take these characters that you fall for and care about their lives, and the songs that we do are not parenthetical to the show. It's not like 'Oh, by the way, here's a song.' They are absolutely integral to the show. Whatever scene they are in, if they don't further the scene, we don't sing them. They take the scene and advance them. In some cases, they are the monologue. People will care about not just the song or the characters, and they want the song. We love that. That's thrilling to see. With social media, you get that immediate response of 'I want that. I want to play that.' But, when they're told they can't because they're saving it for the soundtrack, it's a good wait for them sometimes," he said with a laugh.

"Nashville" will present a special edition on April 23 entitled "Nashville: On The Record," which will feature the actors and performers talking about the songs they have performed on the series, and three days later, Esten and the show's Clare Bowen will headline a concert at the city's Bridgestone Arena for participants in the St. Jude Country Music Marathon & ½ Marathon. He told Billboard that the reception he and the cast have gotten from the city means a lot.

"I've loved this place for a long time, and wanted to come here. Those were my feelings about the town before I got here, but the thing that is so rewarding is how the town has embraced the show. I don't really have words for it. Beginning with the pilot, the show has been a love letter to this town. We wanted to do our very best for Nashville. They say it all begins with a song. With acting, it all begins with the script, and I could tell that there was something special about that script. (Show producer) Callie Khouri has spent some time here, and knows the place from the inside. We still hear from people who ask 'Are you spying on people?' You're telling my story? It's so rewarding to be a part of this town. It overlaps left and right."

Esten will also be participating in a tour with some of the show's cast this spring. Between that and the continued success of the series, he's enjoying the moment.

"I have thought of the whole 'cup runneth over' thing a couple of times," he said. "When your cup might be a little bit more empty, at times, I feel like right now, I'm sticking my cup under a waterfall. It's pouring out. It's such an amazing ride."

"Nashville" cast tour dates: 

April 25 – Joe's Bar, Chicago, IL
May 4 – Lincoln Theatre, Washington, DC
May 6 – Best Buy Theater, New York, NY