Nashville Cast Reflect on How the TV Series Changed Their Lives

Show’s Current Hiatus Makes a Lot of Us Feel Its Influence

Oh, Nashville. Every time you go away for winter break, you take a piece of me with you.

And I’m not the only person longing for the hit ABC series to return. The show has made a tremendous impact on audiences all over the world. Last month, CMT honored the cast with the International Impact Award during the CMT Artists of the Year ceremony. When I caught up with several cast members that night, they talked of what the series and the city have meant to them.

“One of the main things is just bringing us here [to Nashville],” Jonathan Jackson, who plays Avery Barkley, told me recently. “I have three kids, and to come to a city like this and be here has been amazing for my family, so I’m really thankful for that.

“On a personal level, just having so many friends on the show and the cast, it’s such a tight-knit group. Just the love and gratitude I have for Callie Khouri (the show’s creator), it’s really become like a family in many ways.”

Charles Esten, aka Deacon Claybourne, also told me the show has also created a “family” and sense of community among fans and has definitely changed his life.

“It’s seismic. It’s life changing. It’s really hard to overstate it,” he said. “Really. I’ve been an actor for a long, long time, and I’ve had a lot of roles that I really enjoyed and was really been able to sink my teeth into whether they were comedies or dramas. I’ve played music my whole life and written music for a long, long time, so I was always doing these things.

“I never imagined I’d get the opportunity to do them all together on one beautiful project like this that just means so much to me. To get to be a part of this show and to get to play a character that just goes through so much and is so very human — and to get to move people who are going through some of the things that characters are going through or just entertain them and make them smile and laugh and take them away for a little bit during a hard time — to know that not only is out show out there for them to watch, but the music is out there for them to listen to along their journey and the things they’re going through, it kinda blows me away.”

For actor-singer Chris Carmack, playing Will Lexington, the country star who came out in season three, has had a massive impact on him personally and opened his eyes to a bigger, very important issue.

“I’ve always been a supporter of LGBT causes, and I have lots of gay friends who, of course, I support,” Carmack said.

“But I think stepping into the shoes of Will Lexington has enlightened me to the necessity of having a loud voice and the ‘now’ factor. It’s easy to sit back and be complacent and say, ‘I don’t have a problem with it. Why does everyone have a problem with it?’ and just throw up your hands and say, ‘Oh, progress is being made!’

“But when you really step into those shoes of someone, you realize progress is being made, but it’s too slow. And while we’re waiting for progress to be made, people’s lives can be ruined. There’s the need of a loud voice and there’s need of a high flag being waved and there’s a need of individual liberties and respect now. I think playing Will Lexington has helped me understand that.”

For Aubrey Peeples, who plays Layla Grant, the show simply means everything.

“I mean, it’s made every impact,” she said. “I started the show when I was 19. Now I’m 22. I know I’m still very young, but those are prime growing years emotionally. So I’ve really grown up a lot already on the show, so it’s had a lot of personal impact. But on top of that, it’s been the one big thing to really start my acting career and my music career, so I owe everything to the show. It means the world to me.”

Sadly, we must wait several more Wednesday nights before we see our beloved characters back in action. Nashville returns March 16. But it’s good to know that in the meantime, we’re all feeling the impact.

Samantha is a country radio insider with a deep love for the music and its stars. She can often be found on a red carpet or at a late-night guitar pull.