During his first trip to Nashville in early February, actor Steve Kazee cruised the Lower Broadway honky-tonks, caught a few concerts and stopped by CMT to chat about his role as Nick, the slacker brother on Working Class, the network's successful first sitcom.
"I'm on a little bit of a songwriting vagabond journey," Kazee tells CMT.com. "I had some time off, and I've been wanting to get started on my album, so I decided to take some time to travel."
This won't be his last trip to Nashville. Kazee (pronounced ka-ZEE) hopes to write some songs in the spring, record a project over the summer and release his debut album in the fall. Asked about his musical influences, he replies, "Everything from Jay-Z to Jason Aldean," while citing Jamey Johnson, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson as his favorite country artists.
The Ashland, Ky., native has appeared in numerous network TV dramas, such as NCIS, Numb3rs, Medium, Conviction and As the World Turns. He also starred in several Broadway productions, including 110 in the Shade, Spamalot and Seascape. In this interview, Kazee talks about what sets Working Class apart, his camaraderie with series star Melissa Peterman and growing up with country music.
CMT: Why do you think Working Class is connecting with our audience?
Kazee: I think it's the lack of this kind of program on television right now. When my friends and I grew up, we had Full House, Growing Pains and Roseanne. These sitcoms were about something, about real people in a sense. They sort of super-sized real life where things aren't necessarily exactly how you go through them in daily life, but you can relate to something and you can pull something out of it. I think people are responding to that. As much I like a lot of the stuff out there -- I'm a huge fan of Modern Family and shows like that -- what we're doing is a little more classic and reaching for people who are nostalgic for those old shows. It's a good market to tap into at this point.
What are your own musical ambitions?
For me, I was a musician long before I was an actor. I've been playing guitar for about 18 years now. And I've always wanted to write and perform, so I started singing long before I was an actor. Because of being a singer, I got cast in a couple of musicals, and things started to snowball from there. Then I started doing more straight drama. So when I got to New York, I did a lot of Broadway, which is not my first passion, so this is a nice chance for me to branch out.
What is the best part of working on a comedy?
First of all, I just love being able to be funny. Usually, I get to be the bad guy that you don't know is the bad guy until the end. It's like, "That guy's too nice, he wouldn't ... ," and I end up being the murderer. Sometimes in Los Angeles, you get put into a box, and people can't really see outside of that box, so for me it's a great opportunity to just be funny and to have some moments that are a little more serious. The interesting thing about Nick is that he's in between those two places. He's in between Peter Pan and being a man, and that's a nice contrast to play as an actor.
What is it like working with Melissa Peterman?
Listen, there's nothing I can say right now that can do justice to the amazing human being that Melissa Peterman is. From day one, she has been so open and so loving and so nurturing. This being my first sitcom, and with all her experience from Reba, she was just a leader for that whole set. She showed us all exactly how it's done. I told some of the kids on set, "Just watch her. You watch her, and you'll never have any problems in this business because she is doing everything exactly right." She says a lot that she learned everything from Reba, which I think speaks volumes to the kind of character Reba is, too. She came on the set, of course, and was a wonderful, wonderful human being, as well.
The day Reba was there, how did that affect the atmosphere on the set?
It was great. Melissa was nervous, I think. As Melissa said, it's like showing your best friend your new house. It's like, "So, hey, isn't my house awesome?" It was a good time, but it was a sad time for us because it was the final episode that we shot [for the first season]. Having her there was really nice.
Coming from Ashland, Ky., do you remember watching the Judds' rise to success?
Oh, of course! Yeah, the Judds are like religious figures where we're from. We have Judd Plaza. Also, Billy Ray Cyrus is from Flatwoods, which is basically Ashland. They're right next to each other. We have quite a history of country music coming out of there. I definitely remember those days. I was there my whole life until 2000, when I moved to New York. That is home for me, born and raised, and I still go back as much as I can.
What do you look forward to the most when you go back home?
Connecting back with reality a little bit. When you're on set with Ed Asner or Melissa Peterman, you start to sort of exist in a different realm sometimes. You try not to let that get in your head and you try not to let that overtake you. Then you get home and see your friends and people you grew up with, and you remember what it was like to be you. That's always a really refreshing thing for me.
It's nice being on this network, too, because this is the network I sort of grew up on. At my high school, it was the first time they had TV monitors up, and before class would start, they would have CMT and the music videos playing. It's really ironic. The joke that I tell is that I spent my whole life running from Ashland and everything, only to be drawn right back in. It's amazing how that happens.