Life in the closet is about to get even more complicated for Nashville's gay country heartthrob Will Lexington, thanks to the arrival of one Kevin Bicks. As Rolling Stone Country revealed last month, actor Kyle Dean Massey has joined the ABC drama, playing an openly gay singer-songwriter who collaborates on songs with Will, played by Chris Carmack.
In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone Country, just ahead of his first appearance on Nashville Wednesday night (March 4th), Massey explains that, unlike Will, who continues to hide to protect his burgeoning career, his Nashville character is out and proud — but at a considerable cost. "The whole idea behind him is he very well could have been a huge country star," says the actor. "But rather than hide behind a false front of his sexuality, he decided to be open and honest about it, which can ruin his career."
With his work on the show beginning around the same time country hitmakers Ty Herndon and Billy Gilman both came out last November, Massey notes that the storyline is "definitely art imitating life." He himself is an openly gay entertainer, as well, having appeared in several Broadway and television shows. A New Yorker by way of Jonesboro, Arkansas, he identifies with Will's hesitance to be his true self.
"Just knowing that part of the country [Arkansas] well, it's not really fully embraced yet. Even living in New York City, where it really is [accepted] as far as being an actor, I know a lot of gay people who are not openly gay because of the stigma, or the preconceived idea that may come along with that label," says Massey. "[The show] takes place in the South, but then it's an issue with somebody in the public eye. A lot of people are OK with their brother or their uncle or their best friend being gay, but they don't really want their country star to be gay."
For the character of Kevin, being thrown together with Will to write songs for a new album forces both men to confront their feelings about their respective career paths and the choices they made in pursuit of their dreams. Whether the alliance means romantic sparks will fly between the two remains to be seen (and Massey's not telling), but this is Nashville, after all. What he will confirm is that as of now he's signed on to do five or six episodes, during which Kevin will obviously find out Will's big secret.
"[Will] is quite tormented about it and has found a lot of unhappiness in trying to cover it up," Massey says. "Then to be around my character, who is totally chill about it, completely open about it and successful while still being openly gay, I think the storyline addresses a lot of things. It asks a lot of questions: Can people accept this [person who] creates something that is masculine, and does being gay mean that you're suddenly not? I think it also tries to expose people to both sides of that coin, as far as the person who is struggling with it."
Like his Nashville co-stars Will Chase ("Luke Wheeler") and Laura Benanti ("Sadie Stone"), Massey has a long list of Broadway credits in musicals such as Wicked, Pippin and Next to Normal, so it's not surprising that the musical segments are what first drew him to Nashville as a viewer.
"I was a fan of the show from the beginning," says the actor, who grew up listening to country music. "The way that they found these beautiful songs that they've integrated so well into the show is really appealing. I love how music can enhance emotion and a storyline. It's like those slideshows that they do at award shows for the people that have passed away. They add the music to it and suddenly you're crying and you don't know any of these people. [Laughs] Music obviously has a very strong effect on our emotions. You get a good lyric in there, and it can tell the story better than any written dialogue can."
Although Massey acknowledges that it's "unfortunate that somebody like my character on the show had to give up his aspirations of being a recording artist because of his sexuality," he's hopeful that being an "out" artist in the country music industry is becoming less of an issue. And while he doesn't have to imagine what it's like for his character to be openly gay, he does have to work to properly portray another of Kevin's traits, confessing that he has no personal aptitude for songwriting.
"I wish I did," Massey says with a sigh. "I find it a magical talent. When I was in college, I had a songwriting class and found it really difficult. The fact that these people can churn out songs like they do, it's an amazing talent to me. I'm happy to play a fake one on TV."
Nashville airs Wednesday nights at 10:00 p.m. ET on ABC.