Weeks before the real CMA Awards aired on ABC, the cast of that network's musical drama, Nashville, was playing out all the onstage and behind-the-scenes drama of a fictional version of the CMAs on their Music City soundstages. Rolling Stone Country was there for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the episode directed by Eric Close, who also plays Teddy Conrad on the series. The cast and crew, along with guest artists Trisha Yearwood, the Band Perry and Joe Nichols, did their best to lend some authenticity to the episode, right down to a spectacular version of the awards-show stage. Decked out in their best awards-show finery, the cast, special guests and some 1,130 extras who played CMA Awards audience members, spent several days capturing all the glitz, glamour, and, of course, drama of the CMAs. Tune in to see who wins, who loses, and what it means for the characters going forward, especially for country super-couple Ruke: Rayna, with her six nominations, and Luke with five. This special episode of Nashville airs Wednesday, November 19, at 10:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
"A lot of artists my age probably do [relate to her]," Yearwood says of Connie Britton's "Rayna" character. "It's TV, so a lot of it is dramatized but it's the music business. There are a lot of shenanigans, a lot of politics, a lot of games to be played. It's not just about making great music and putting it out there, and I think the show portrays that really well."
"Award show nights are a lot of work," says Kimberly Perry. "We've watched the CMA's and other award shows since we were kids and we would always say, 'Whatever we have to do, we have to get to those shows!' Now, being a part of them it's a true honor. Not only to sit out in the crowd, but anytime you get to the award-show stage is special. But I definitely misjudged the amount of work that goes into it."
"It's helpful to me as a director to know what it's like to be in front of the camera. Actors have a certain language we speak," Eric Close, who also directed a few episodes of CBS' Without a Trace, says of his dual roles."In everything I've directed, I've always been in it, as well as behind the camera. I've actually found that I like it."
"I always try to have a clear head about what it all means and keep it in perspective," says Connie Britton. "But being in an actual awards show there is something very fun and thrilling about being surrounded by all your peers. Everybody's feeling very festive and very self-congratulatory. It's got all of those trappings."
"I have to remind myself I'm the biggest country star in the world," says Will Chase ("Luke Wheeler"). "The performance dates are my favorite days. I miss the Broadway days, but I get to do that here, too. I mean, you add the rock star/country star element. I don't know if I want to be a country star but I like those days."
"We were talking to the crew and they even took some cues from the real [CMA Awards] for the stage design," says Kimberly Perry. "So it's really exciting, it makes Nashville look really good. What I love about the show is that it's pulling the curtain back and showing a little bit of Nashville."
"Quite honestly, it's murder," Connie Britton says of the shooting schedule, especially when wearing an evening gown for days in a row. "This dress is put together with a series of cranes and pulleys and spackle. These dresses are made to be worn for maybe a couple of hours at a time, so 14-hour days… it gets a little brutal."
"It's actually very similar," Trisha Yearwood says of the fictional CMA Awards show depicted in the episode. "The only difference is I'm not in a gown and full hair and makeup at 10 o'clock in the morning. But you look at the Teleprompter and you rehearse what you're going to say. If you're presenting [an award], it's a pretty easy gig."
"The CMA's are really fun, because they really make it a party," says Connie Britton. "I've actually been to the CMA's the last couple of years and been able to present and it's a blast. Last year, Chip Esten ("Deacon Claybourne") and I presented. We walked out on stage and got the most raucously insane round of applause. I was almost a little bit mystified. We both sort of stood there feeling a little bit like, 'What's happening?'"
"This was the biggest call sheet I've ever seen in my life," Will Chase says of the actor's shooting schedule for the episode. "It's pretty trippy. As soon as we started filming, I got butterflies. We've got the Band Perry sitting over there, Trisha Yearwood, it's pretty cool."
"Award shows are definitely organized chaos," says Neil Perry. "Because you do the red carpet, you sit and then you've got to get up for your performance and you're just running into a ton of people backstage. But at the end you want to get a good night's rest."
"We joke around at the wardrobe fitting that we get to try out all these beautiful gowns," says Connie Britton. "We land on the thing that we love and we're just so excited, we love the dress so much. Then we speculate how quickly we're going to end up hating the dress because it's just so uncomfortable!"
"I like the fast pace of directing for television," says Eric Close, who directed this episode — his first time doing so for Nashville. "It doesn't allow a lot of time to get in your own way. We're trying to honor the Country Music Awards and what it's about, and trying to keep that as authentic as possible."
"Usually we get to rehearse our performances," says the Band Perry's Reid Perry of the actual CMA Awards show. "Now we're getting to rehearse for everything else that goes on with an awards show: dressing up, smiling, stuff like that."
"It's definitely a team effort and a collaborative effort," says actor/director Eric Close, who worked with the 1,130 extras on this episode, some of whom are pictured here. "It's the biggest episode yet, since we started this thing. It's fun doing the CMA's. We've done a good job of making it look really authentic."
"On Friday Night Lights, I went for many years and never had any nominations," says Connie Britton. "You go through all that and it's no big deal because you can never, ever have any sense of expectation or entitlement about it. So then, when you're actually nominated there is just this exhilaration that's a little undeniable." [Britton was eventually nominated for an Emmy award for Friday Night Lights in 2010 and again in 2011. She also has Emmy nods for her roles on American Horror Story and Nashville.]
"Now that I know a little bit ahead about what's happening, I've got to have some conversations with the script writers," Trisha Yearwood says with a laugh. "I've got some changes that need to be made."
"It made us realize how much the folks in Nashville have really embraced and support and really love the show," Connie Britton says of her experience at the real CMA Awards show. "It was really, really gratifying to have that kind of welcome from the folks here who we're trying to honor with our show."
This is going to be a really strong episode," says actor-director Eric Close. "It's fun doing the CMA's. We've done a really good job of making it look really authentic. One of my favorite things as a director is seeing the musical pieces all come together. It's so exciting to watch all the elements, the lighting, the music coming together, the audience screaming and cheering."
"I have to admit there's something that's a little addictive," Connie Britton says with regard to real awards shows. "I have the experience so many artists do. I worked for many, many years and never was acknowledged by any awards show or anything like that."
"The way the format here works is you have the writer on set, so you're talking with them on story points and the tone of the scenes," explains actor-director Eric Close. "What's great about the performance scenes is our performances often encompass the drama. Our characters may have some serious issues going on between the two of them and yet they're up there singing their hearts out together, but you can still play whatever is going on between them in the song. It's a dramatic scene within a performance. That's a lot of fun to do."