During its three seasons on ABC, Nashville has seen its cast of fictional characters interacting with country stars, musicians and others industry insiders in the real Music City. But for one of the most elaborately staged (and, of course, wildly dramatic) episodes of the series thus far, the show set its sights on the biggest night in country music. On November 19th, Nashville viewers will see the worlds of real and make-believe collide in a star-studded episode focused on the CMA Awards.
Rolling Stone Country was on the Nashville set during the filming of the episode and while we can’t reveal which of the show’s country stars is up for what awards (and we’re absolutely sworn to secrecy about who wins), it’s a safe bet that the results will set off some fireworks for a few of the show’s key characters.
In addition to cast members Connie Britton (Rayna Jaymes) and Will Chase (Luke Wheeler), Eric Close, who plays Mayor Teddy Conrad, was working behind the scenes, directing the episode. To lend an air of authenticity to the whole thing (which is one of Nashville‘s great strengths), several bona fide country stars were on hand to take part in the filming, including Trisha Yearwood, the Band Perry and Joe Nichols.
The episode also utilized 1,130 extras, glammed up just as they would be if they were attending the CMAs, the biggest difference being that the three hours of the real CMA telecast is nothing compared to the number of hours (and days) the cast, crew and extras spent recreating the spectacle for this one-hour episode.
For Connie Britton, who was required to don gown and high heels (not to mention her perfectly coiffed hair and requisite TV makeup) for five straight days, the whole experience was less than ideal.
“Quite honestly, it’s murder,” she told Rolling Stone Country with a laugh that suggested in spite of that it was really just another day at the office. “I like to joke that 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.
Britton also revealed that the wardrobe fitting usually consists of finding a dress that she loves, then speculating how quickly she’s going to end up hating it because it’s just so uncomfortable.
For Trisha Yearwood, who presented an award during the fictional show, it was good practice for the actual CMA Awards (which will air on ABC on November 5th). Unaccustomed as she was, however, to being in full gown, hair and makeup (not to mention high heels) at 10 o’clock in the morning, the singer quickly changed into a pair of comfortable sneakers after filming her scene, noting that she should have worn the sneakers onstage. “Diane Keaton would totally do that,” she said before leaving the set.
The Band Perry, siblings Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry, arrived dressed for their scene, which basically required them to read the Teleprompter, just as they would for the actual CMA telecast. But, Kimberly explained, prepping for real awards shows is more than just showing up and looking good.
“Award show nights are a lot of work,” she said. “We’ve watched the CMAs and other awards 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.
“Awards shows are definitely organized chaos,” added Neil. “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. At the end, you want to get a good night’s rest.”
Because they spend so much time on tour, the chance to see fellow artists and friends is something Kimberly says she looks forward to about the CMAs, even if there’s still a bit of a competitive nature to the whole thing.
“There’s that moment of potentially losing an award to a friend, but still being happy for them,” she said.
Will Chase, who earned a 2013 Tony nomination for his work on Broadway in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, revealed that this episode required “the biggest call sheet I’ve ever seen in my life.” The call sheet informs the actors and crew where and when they’re needed for various setups throughout the day. But one thing the call sheet didn’t tell Chase, who plays Rayna’s fiancé, country superstar Luke Wheeler, was that the awards-show scenario would give him a little taste of déjà vu.
“It’s pretty trippy,” Chase said. “As soon as we started filming, I got butterflies. We’ve got the Band Perry sitting over there; Trisha Yearwood. It’s pretty cool. I have to remind myself I’m the biggest country star in the world.”
This season, Chase also has fellow Broadway alum Laura Benanti as a castmate, playing singer Sadie Stone, who recently signed with Rayna’s Highway 65 label.
“The way the roads intertwine is crazy,” he said. “Having Laura on the show, it’s like my friends are here. It’s a little surreal but it’s pretty awesome.”
For Eric Close, the fast pace of directing for a television series is ideal since “it doesn’t allow a lot of time to get in your own way,” he noted. The actor, who also directed episodes of another series in which he starred, Without a Trace, said one of his favorite things as a director of Nashville episodes is seeing all the musical pieces come together.
“It’s so exciting to watch all the elements, the lighting, the music coming together, the audience screaming and cheering,” he said. “Throughout the day, you have these little moments of celebration. I find myself shaking my fist at the screen in celebration because I love a performance. That’s very rewarding as a director, when a scene comes off as you hoped it would or even better.”
Adding that the music performances are often intercut with dramatic scenes between the characters, Close says, “A lot of these characters have been involved with each other in various aspects throughout the show. There’s way more than love triangles; it’s love octagons.”