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Nashville’s Sam Palladio on the Music, Avoiding TMZ, and Gunnar and Scarlett

Sam Palladio. Photo: Getty Images

He plays the all-American singer-songwriter Gunnar on Nashville, but did you know that Sam Palladio is actually British? And Clare Bowen, who plays his love interest Scarlett, is actually Australian. (Trivia!) The two didn’t meet — let alone harmonize together — until their first day of shooting. And yet, of all the will-they-or-won’t-they pairings on Nashville, Gunnar and Scarlett are the easiest to root for. (Scarlett: Please get over Avery. He’s the worst.) Palladino called us from his Nashville apartment, where he’s surrounded by “guitars and drum kits and lots of music,” to drop some hints about how Gunnar will fare when the show returns to ABC January 9.

Nashville is unique in that so many people involved are musicians. How does that affect the dynamic of the show?
I think it gives it an authenticity. As a musician myself, it annoys the hell out of me to watch an actor trying to play a guitar out of time with the music. [Laughs] And of course, the decision to cast musicians was hugely influential in me getting cast, because that was really my background. If they’d just been going for any young American-looking dude, I think I might have lost out to some of the talent over here.

What’s the timeline between you guys getting the songs, recording them, and filming them?
It varies between song to song. I mean, the initial song, “If I Didn’t Know Better” from the pilot episode, I got that a couple weeks before flying out here. I’d been listening to the Civil Wars a lot, because a friend had introduced me to them, and when I got the demo, I went, This sounds like the Civil Wars. And it was! So in that case, I had some time to freak out about how I’d ever sound like John Paul White and sing those high notes. Other songs, we get a bit more last-minute, like “Loving You Is the Only Way to Fly” — the script had just been finished, and the song had just been decided and was thrown in there at the last second. And then you don’t have all this time to overthink it; it’s just like, Okay, let’s just get in the studio and get it done.

Let’s talk about your love triangle. At this point in the season, what do you think is really keeping Scarlett and Gunnar apart? Is she really not over Avery?
If you break up with a girlfriend or a boyfriend, you’re in this vulnerable state where you’re still kind of half in the relationship with them, but you’re single, and it takes a while to feel solid in yourself again. So I think Scarlett’s in that kind of state with the Avery thing. She’s still harboring all these feelings for him, whether it’s “I hate you” or “Actually, I love you a little bit.” Gunnar is just the epitome of confusion, I think. [Laughs] He’s obviously got these feelings for Scarlett, and that’s very apparent from the first time they ever sing together. But in the first few episodes, we see him chasing her and not really getting anywhere, so he ends up going, “You know what? I’m my own man, I can get myself a girlfriend, I’ll be fine.” But it’s a means to an end, just to show Scarlett, “I can be cool and I’ve got a girlfriend, and does that make you want me?”

How do you feel about Gunnar’s approach? I’m rooting for him, but he’s been pretty passive-aggressive.
[Laughs] I think he is a bit. Actually, in the next few episodes, we get introduced to Gunnar’s backstory, which isn’t quite as Little House on the Prairie as he comes across. We get introduced to one of his family members who’s got a darker history, and we actually see some darker sides of Gunnar; we see him sort of shutting down to Scarlett a little bit more, and putting up some defenses. So he’s been through some difficult things, and that’s always going to make relationships go on the backburner, when you have to deal with your own crap.

Given how incestuous the entertainment industry can be, is it even possible to have a purely professional relationship?
Absolutely, I think you can. With a songwriting relationship like Gunnar and Scarlett have, you have to be so open and invested in somebody else; I’m thinking that’s where the confusion lies for those characters. I think great art comes from being open and creative with somebody, and of course, if feelings start getting involved in that, it can either make things fantastic or really messy … I always try and keep the two well separate. Because for me, I’m absolutely married to my work, and I love that. And I think that’s where my heart lies at the moment. And I get way too easily distracted, so I think if I was dating someone I was working with, it would just be a recipe for disaster. So I try and keep an eye on the game. [Nashville] is really important to me, because I’ve done a lot of great work back home in the U.K., but this is an opportunity for me to really prove myself over here. So, yeah, the last thing I want is to be in TMZ with some relationship scandal.

You’ve been on an American show before, though: You’re Stoke, “the guy with the hair,” on Episodes.
Yes, and that’s how I got my American management, and that’s how everything kind of started for me. Stoke, the character I played — there were some really nice little comedic scenes that got left on the cutting room floor, because it wasn’t necessary driving the [main] story. There’s this scene I’m still trying to dig up where Stoke, my character, comes in asking Matt for advice; he’s like, “Michael Bay keeps calling me up and he’s got this stupid movie that he wants to do. I need some advice. I just don’t want to end up like you doing sitcoms at 50.” And Matt is like [perfect Matt LeBlanc impression]:”I’m not fifty! Get the fuck out of my dressing room!”

Do you know if you’re coming back to Episodes?
I know season three has been greenlit. Whether the storyline for the Pucks kids stays, I’m not sure. I’d love to go back and do some scenes. Or I might be kind of signing my life away to Nashville for the next few years. But, hey.

Nashville’s Sam Palladio on Gunnar and Scarlett