ABC's Nashville returns from its mid-season break on February 4th, having left with a few jaw-droppers before the holidays. The musical drama's cast has kept busy in the show's namesake city during the pause, filming the inevitable trials, tribulations and tunes awaiting their characters. Will Chase (who plays "Luke Wheeler"), Jonathan Jackson ("Avery Barkley"), Sam Palladio ("Gunnar Scott") and Clare Bowen ("Scarlett O'Connor") were among several actor-musicians who participated in a special Nashville: On the Record taping at the Grand Ole Opry this past weekend, where they stopped to give Rolling Stone Country a little preview of Season Three's second half.
"I always like the back end of seasons because that's where the real meaty and emotional writing happens," Chase says. "Every season, in the beginning you have to set it up. The back end is the most interesting because you're starting to write emotions. You've grown to know and love characters, and you want to see how all that turns out."
How that turns out for his country superstar character is, he hints, an unleashing of his introspective side. "This half of the season, it's fun that I'm not doing the bro country stuff anymore, even though I love doing that stuff," says Chase. "We get to go inside Luke a little bit; I appreciate the writers doing that."
This season, the Broadway-gone-Nashville star will perform "If I Drink This Beer," a song in which Luke debates having just one more and then telling his ex-fiancée, Rayna Jaymes, exactly how he feels.
"I don't think Rayna is completely innocent in all this, and there's a couple of scenes where he lets her know that," Chase says of the aftermath of Rayna calling off their wedding with just a few hours to go. "The fun part for me is that now Luke's not afraid to show his feelings. That's a little departure for Luke."
Luke is not the only character who'll throw himself a pity party this season. Sam Palladio urges fans to "have a little sympathy for Gunnar" Scott, his character, who, when we last left him, learned that Micah was not really his son. In fact, the little boy's biological father is Gunnar's deceased brother. That means the songwriter is dealing with the fact that his ex, Kylie, cheated on him with his beloved sibling. (That also means, if there was any doubt, that the show takes cues from soap operas.)
"Gunnar's life has really been full of loss," says Palladio, in the understatement of the season. "It always seems that whenever he's just feeling comfortable — be it Scarlett and the rejection of the marriage proposal, losing a record deal with Rayna, or Zoey leaving him because she wasn’t ready to handle being a family — there is loss. It's quite a journey."
Unexpected fatherhood may be working out better for Avery Barkley. Before the break, Avery, played by Jonathan Jackson, tied the knot with megastar Juliette Barnes (played by Hayden Panettiere), who is carrying their child. "I think [becoming a father] is going to change him a lot. I relate it to my own life; I'm a father of three and it is life-changing. You can't just think about life as being about you anymore," Jackson says. "It changes perspective, priorities and everything. That's going to be cool."
Avery's ballad, "How You Learn to Live Alone," was a pivotal moment in his character's development. "He went from being an ambitious narcissist to hitting rock bottom and realizing that he wanted to change his life," Jackson says, and promises that evolution will continue with the season. "There's some beautiful upcoming stuff in terms of how Avery and Juliet process becoming parents."
Change may be more bitter than sweet for Clare Bowen's on-screen persona. Ingenue Scarlett O'Connor will care for her uncle Deacon Claybourne (played by Charles Esten), who was felled with a possible diagnosis of liver cancer before the break. "She's a workhorse and she was built to take care of people. It's a huge amount of stress on her," Bowen says. "I've been on the other side of the cancer thing. [Bowen is a real-life cancer survivor.] But watching somebody go through it and not be able to do anything, I think that's one of the most helpless feelings in the world. She's going through a lot at the moment, and it's coming out in her music."
Nashville airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC. The Nashville: On the Record special from the Grand Ole Opry airs during the show's regular time slot on March 25th.