In American Horror Story, Connie Britton had to eat brains, have sex with a dead teen in a gimp suit, and give birth to a demon baby. But she says having to sing in ABC’s new fall drama Nashville is even scarier, and the actress has been training for months to pull off her role as country grande dame Rayna James, a legend who finds herself in sudden competition with a hot young upstart with a Carly Rae Jepsen–size hit. Britton met up with Vulture to talk about her new show, the status of that Friday Night Lights movie, and why it was really difficult choosing an episode of American Horror Story to submit for Emmy consideration.
How did Nashville become your next project?
I’m obsessed with Thelma and Louise, and therefore obsessed with Callie Khouri who wrote that movie and created this show. She really wanted me to do this part. She basically said, “You’re the only person I can see in the role.” But I remember I kept pushing: What is it that’s going to make this not a soap? Agents send you scripts that just say, “This is a soap,” and I wasn’t interested in that. We had a good conversation about it. Callie said it’s a show about people creating their destinies, and I think that’s cool, and doing it in Nashville is really cool. That’s how she got me.
What was performing at the Grand Ole Opry like?
First, I have to say the music has been challenging for me. It’s a lot of work. I’ve had to do so much training. But those moments, the moments performing onstage, the moments when I record and feel like we actually got something, those moments are so incredibly rewarding. It’s good to be using a completely different set of muscles at this stage of the game.
There are a handful of original songs in the pilot. How is the music on the show going to work?
We’re actually very far along with the music. I recorded a song yesterday and I’m going to do another one today. I have been working for the last two months on vocal training and have done at least five songs already. T-Bone Burnett is producing all the music, which we’re getting from amazing writers. I’m probably going to be singing a Lucinda Williams song, and we’re getting a song from Gillian Welch.
Do you mean covers?
No, everything is original. The only covers we’re doing are of really classic or obscure songs, but other than that, everything’s original. The Civil Wars have also written a bunch of songs for us. There’s going to be an album that goes out. It’s so nuts. My friends keep teasing me like, “You might get to go to the Grammys this year.”
You just moved to Nashville with your son, Eyob, whom you adopted last year. How has being a mom changed the way you work?
Quite frankly, I’m very conflicted. Every day that I have to go to work and I don’t get a lot of time with him, I cry. That’s hard. But I also think that there is a whole other dimension that I’ve never had before. I can only imagine that that’s going to do something else to me as an actor. I don’t know what it is yet, but that’s irrefutable.
You sound very busy. Meanwhile, Zach Gilford’s on The Mob Doctor and Kyle Chandler and Taylor Kitsch are making movies. Does anyone even have the time to make the Friday Night Lights movie happen?
I’ve seen an outline, and I know there’s a script that Pete Berg and his producing partner Sarah Aubrey are excited about. Everybody’s really busy but, you know, people have hiatuses. It’s just about focusing on it and pinning down when it would happen, and then everyone has to make it a priority.
Do you miss Tami Taylor?
Listen, I will always love Tami Taylor.
Do you keep in touch with any of the actors from the show?
I talk to Kyle all the time, still really great friends with Annie Palicki. Taylor I talk to a lot.
It was unfortunate that John Carter and Battleship came out back to back.
But by the way, he was great in them. That’s all business. That has nothing to do with him. I think he was phenomenal in all of it. He was so good in Battleship.
Did you also see him in Savages?
I did, yes. I, um … I had to close my eyes a lot. Actually, I couldn’t watch a lot of American Horror Story either.
You haven’t watched it all?
I know, I know. I’m not proud of it. And I just had to pick an episode to submit for the Emmys. I was scrambling.
What did you end up choosing?
I picked “Rubber Man.” I couldn’t decide between “Birth” and “Rubber Man.” I loved “Birth” so much, but I felt like it really is just me lying there and screaming and crying and ultimately dying. I texted [executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk] and said, “I’m really sorry, guys, I haven’t really seen this show, so can you give me some guidance?” They helped me choose. That’s when I watched it.
So you watched “Rubber Man” for the first time this week?
Yeah. It was scary! I said to Brad, “I just watched ‘Rubber Man.’ Our show was really good!” They knew. They knew what they were dealing with.
I remember being on set covering the filming of “Birth.” Lots of screaming that day.
I remember, too. I was grilling Jessica Lange on exactly what the pain is like in child birth. She was trying to describe exactly what the pain was, the level of pain. It’s just awful, basically. I wanted to be so specific, though. I didn’t want to be cliché like [rolls her eyes back and makes a grunting noise]. I figured she knows. Jessica knows all.
American Horror Story tied with Mad Men for most Emmy nominations this year. Murphy told us you thanked him for “forcing” you to do the show.
[Laughs.] I did say that. He harasses you. I also told him that he was my hero, which he may or may not have mentioned. He sat down with me and he would not take no for an answer. But here’s the thing about Ryan: he’s a true visionary. He creates these incredibly unique visions and then he has an amazing way of manifesting them. You know, show business is a lot like politics. When you’re thinking about doing something, people can make you a lot of promises about what it’s going to be and then it can go in a very different direction. “Oh, well now I can’t help it, now there’s a whole network … ” Ryan stayed true to his word.
What was your biggest concern?
What Tami Taylor fans were going to think about Vivien Harmon having sex with a rubber man. I was just coming off of Friday Night Lights and people really held that character in really high regard. This is kind of silly, but I was concerned about being a character in a marriage, playing a marriage, and in some way not living up to whatever those expectations were. At the same time, that’s what drew me to do it — wanting to do exactly the opposite of what I’d been doing, which is exactly what Ryan promised.