For seven years, Eric Close played FBI agent Martin Fitzgerald in Without a Trace — though, if you’re an American Horror Story fan, you also know him as Jessica Lange’s maid-schtupping husband from season one. He now joins the cast of Nashville, playing husband to country-music star Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton). His character, Teddy Conrad, is a fallen businessman who decides to run for Nashville mayor at the prodding of his scheming father-in-law (Powers Boothe). He’s also clearly destined for heartache, since Rayna and Deacon, her bandleader and ex-lover, were last seen singing a very sexually charged duet. We spoke to Close about country music, playing the second-choice husband, and watching just a little bit of Britton's Friday Night Lights.
Has shooting in Nashville been a good bonding experience for the cast? Did it feel like a big group vacation at first?
It’s funny you say vacation, because I had been communicating with my brother back home in L.A. and telling him all the different things I was up to. He texted me back and said, "Be careful. People are gonna start thinking you’re on vacation." I texted him back, “I am.” I mean, no, we’re working really hard. Late hours. The actors on the show who are singing and playing music — when they have days off from shooting, they’re in the studio recording songs, taking voice lessons, guitar lessons.
How far along in the season are you?
We are on episode seven. To allude back to the question of whether we get together, we do. The entire cast, if a couple of us have a day off or an evening off, we’ll call each other. And a number of us like to run, so we’ll go for a run. We go hiking. You just kind of send out a quick text and say, “Hey, whoever’s up.”
Is there anyone on the cast who’s a crazy country-music fan? Or maybe it’s you?
It’s me. [Laughs.] Yeah. I like all kinds of music. If you looked at my iPod, you would get a trip out of all the different music, from the real heavy metal to bluegrass to classical. But I just have loved country music. I really got into it when Garth Brooks was on the scene. I guess you can even go back to John Denver, if you wanna call him country. John Denver I listened to when I was in elementary school.
Are there plans to bring any country-music stars on the show?
I know there are singers, guys like Tim McGraw and Trace Adkins — they’re good actors and enjoy getting in front of the camera. I think at this point, what we’re really trying to do, I think Callie [Khouri, the creator] would confirm this, is we really wanna legitimize the main cast and the fact that they really are singing and playing the music and recording these songs, so that if and when we bring on people who really sing and perform for a living, it will seem real. It’ll just feel like our characters are part of that world as opposed to the viewer going, Oh, okay, now we’re getting the real guys, Alan Jackson or Tim McGraw or Faith Hill, or whoever. If you stunt cast too early, it takes you out of the reality of the show.
You and Connie were both on American Horror Story, but your stories never overlapped. Did you ever cross paths with her, or was Nashville the first time you met?
We crossed paths very briefly on that show. I was laying dead on a bed, and she walked into a scene, and that was it. So we talked briefly, but she was focused on her scene, and I was focused on looking dead.
Did you watch Friday Night Lights? I feel like everyone who watched the show finds it hard to separate Connie Britton from Mrs. Coach.
I watched a bit, and I really was enjoying it, but then I kind of started to feel like exactly what you just said. I started thinking I don’t wanna get too into her character on that show because I wanna keep it fresh and build a relationship based on just the Connie Britton that I know and spend time with on set. I was curious to see how her interaction with Kyle [Chandler] was, because I think one of the biggest comments I heard was that they play such a great couple, such a real couple dealing with real-life issues. However, from what I gathered, our relationship on this show is quite different from what was going on in Friday Night Lights. This is a couple dealing with some major financial issues and career choices and setbacks and failures — a marriage that’s definitely on the rocks. They’re struggling to figure out a way to hold it together, especially with two young kids in the picture.
In last week’s episode, the duet between Rayna and Deacon at the end was so powerful. It’s kind of amazing how erotic some of the singing and songwriting scenes have been. Have you been in the room to witness any of that chemistry?
No. I didn’t see that scene, but a couple people commented to me that it was almost like Rayna was going behind Teddy’s back. I did not see it, but that apparently was the message that was coming across.
There’s a candid moment where Teddy tells Rayna he knows he was her second choice. How do you explain the psychology behind that — marrying someone when you feel deep down that you were a second choice?
Well, you know, I think love is blind. I hate to use that clichéd statement, but people, when they love somebody, they seem to be able to somehow to put aside red flags. I think maybe Teddy just believes that Rayna will come around in his heart of hearts. They have a family together; they’ve built a life together. They’re just going through struggles. I’ve met a lot of people also who said, "I knew I shouldn’t have married that person or got together with that person, but I just couldn’t help myself because I was head over heels for them." There’s a great line coming up in one of the episodes. Rayna says to him, “Well, why did you marry me?” And Teddy says, “Because you dazzle me, always have.” So I think that’s very telling. I think he just loves Rayna, and Rayna was exciting for him at a time that his life had been kind of falling apart. And I think on the other side, Rayna probably married Teddy because she thought he was safe. She knew he’d be a good dad and a faithful husband.
Nashville is airing in the same time slot as American Horror Story. I take it you were watching your show instead of that one last Wednesday?
Yeah, I don’t watch that show. Too scary, too scary.