EXCLUSIVE: Classicalite Q&A with Laura Benanti on Joining the Cast of TV's 'Nashville'
Laura Benanti, Broadway's "Queen of All Media," has had a substantial television career along with her celebrated Broadway roles (Nine, Gypsy, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) and popular cabaret act. Roles on Nurse Jackie, The Good Wife, Elementary and Law and Order: SVU among others have made hers a familiar on-screen face.
She's slated to return to TV tonight in ABC's country-music drama Nashville. Beginning with Season 3's second episode, Benanti will play country singer and songwriter "Sadie Stone," joining Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere in a tense coterie of country musicians going through the painful twists, turns and triumphs of stardom and life in Music City. She took some time to speak with us about her new role.
Classicalite: As a singer, you're mostly known for musical theater and cabaret, not country music. Is there country music in your background?
Laura Benanti: I wouldn't say in my background. I've always enjoyed it, I've always had an affinity for it, I listen to it, I'm certainly a fan of it. I wouldn't say that it's something that I grew up singing, but it's certainly something that I grew up listening to.
CL: You've done a lot of Broadway over the years and a lot of TV, but is the first time you're playing a singer on a TV show?
LB: I actually played a songwriter on a television show for FX called Starved. That was my first TV show. And then I sang on a TV show called Eli Stone, and then of course The Sound of Music Live!. So I've had good fortune to sing on television.
Was the role of Sadie Stone in Nashville written for you, or was it a part that was already conceived that you stepped into?
LB: I'm not really sure. They told me they had me in mind for it from her inception. The actor's ego says "Oh yeah, they wrote that for me!" I doubt they did, but that's what I tell myself. [laughs]
Vocally, have you had to do any special preparation for Sadie's style of singing or for the material she sings?
LB: Yes. I've done a lot of listening to country artists and Americana artists, not trying to mimic them but to feel out and digest the difference between what makes their sound authentic and what makes, say, a "Broadway sound" authentic. I've done that to the best of my ability, so I'm hoping that it comes through, that I do them justice. I certainly don't want to come in and upset anybody!
Are there any particular singers you're listening to or being inspired by as part of that process?
LB: Kacey Musgraves. And Patti Griffin for me always, she's my favorite. And Emmylou Harris. I listen to Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, but their voices are just so different from mine that that's not a realistic model for me. Patti Griffin is probably the person that I've been listening to the most.
Can you give us any clues about what kinds of songs Sadie's going to be singing once she makes her stage debut on the show in a couple of weeks?
LB: I'm actually singing a song called "Gasoline and Matches" that Buddy Miller wrote. Connie Britton and I sing that as a duet, which is pretty exciting for me because I'm a huge fan of hers.
And what can you tell us about Sadie as a person? Where did she come from, what's she like?
LB: She's from Virginia, and I think of her as a down-to-earth hardworking woman. She's been a respected songwriter for a while but never really had a breakout hit of her own. And now she has this new album that has brought her more mainstream success, which is something that she's not used to. I think she's pretty practical and down-to-earth in a way that is fun to play and that I appreciate, and that I also think is a nice thing to have on the show.
Will we see you in Nashville for the whole rest of Season 3?
LB: As of right now I've only not been in two episodes, 1 and 7. Episodes 4 and 8 are my biggest episodes so far, and right now they have me slated for 9, 10 and 11. So far so good!
And are you in the midst of shooting now?
LB: Yes, I go back to Nashville at the end of this week. It's a really cool city, it's everything you'd want from the South and also from a metropolitan area. You have all sorts of culture, but you also have the sweet down-home feel. The city of Nashville really has become a character in its own right, which I think is great.
Is it a tough shooting schedule?
LB: No, it's probably the easiest job I've ever had. It's a fantastic thing for me. I haven't ever had a [shooting] day where I'm like, "Oh, my gosh I can't do this, it's too hard." And I have felt that way in the past!
Is there any theater on your upcoming schedule, and do you have any plans to take your cabaret show on the road in the near future?
LB: I'm going to do a New Year's Eve show at 54 Below, and I have concert dates all over the country. And there's something very exciting for February that I can't really talk about, a stage production (but not a long-running show). And then for 2016 there is the potential for a long-running show that I hope we can work out schedule-wise.
Catch Laura Benanti in Nashville on ABC beginning tonight, Wednesday Oct. 1, 2014.