When I sat down with Clare Bowen on Friday (April 25) at Joe’s Bar in Chicago during the very first show of the Nashville in Concert tour, I never thought we’d analyze Scarlett O’Connor the way we did.
But this character Bowen plays on the TV series is worthy of intense analysis. Because, Bowen told me, she is much deeper than you think.
“Scarlett was not a singer. She was a poet. But she was not aware of herself, which is something I found very endearing about her,” Bowen said before she took the stage to perform the music of the TV show live. “So many people out there are very aware of themselves, and that gets a little tiring. But with Scarlett, she’s really a deer in the headlights. Yet, along with that, there’s this depth you don’t expect.”
Bowen also said she fell in love with Scarlett the minute she read the script. After she’d read it and started becoming Scarlett, she had to find her inner Southern accent for the role. And it was a 1989 film that helped the Australian actress nail the dialect.
“When I was little, my dad used to bring me home films for us to watch, and one of my favorites was Steel Magnolias,” Bowen said. “I watched that until the tape wore out. It was my favorite accent. So when I read this role of Scarlett — thinking there’s no way I’m gonna get this because they don’t know who the hell I am — I just went in and tried to be Scarlett with that accent.”
Later in the night, when Bowen took the Joe’s Bar stage in a navy blue sequined tank dress, she captivated the sold-out crowd in a way that would’ve made Miranda Lambert or Carrie Underwood proud. The fans of the show and of the music went crazy for her “Crazy Tonight,” “Black Roses” and her duets with Sam Palladio on “Fade Into You” and “If I Didn’t Know Better.”
And while she seems to have mastered the art of singing like a country singer, when Bowen’s not on the Nashville set, she seems to have a taste for big voices no matter what the genre.
“I don’t listen to radio much,” she said. “I listen to albums like Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Táta Vega, Édith Piaf and Stephen Sondheim.”
Bowen’s transitions from the theater stage to the television stage — and then to the honky-tonk stage — appear to have been seamless. She says there’s an allure that’s always pulling her on to the next project.
“After all I’ve been able to do, I’ve just recently had the wonderful experience of singing my own song to a crowd, and now I’m putting an album together,” she said. “I’m getting there because of Nashville. I think there’s that gleam of starlight that people get drawn toward, and you’ll do anything to get it.”
In addition to Bowen and Palladio, the Chicago concert also featured Chip Esten , Chris Carmack and Jonathan Jackson . The tour continues with shows Sunday (May 4) in Washington, D.C., and Tuesday (May 6) in New York City.Listen to a live stream of The Music of Nashville Original Soundtrack Season 2, Vol. 2.