'Nashville' Star Charles Esten on the Cast Hitting the Road and Recording His Own Album

You might not be able to tell it from his portrayal of the rough and ragged Deacon Claybourne from ABC’s Nashville, but Charles Esten’s acting career actually began across the pond with a role where he mixed his thespian and musical talents playing Buddy Holly.

“I began my acting career in London, for all intents and purposes. The first major job that I had was playing Buddy Holly in the musical Buddy,” Esten told Billboard,adding that he and his wife spent close to two years there for the role. It was his first taste of how much the audiences there love music.

“We just fell in love with the area, and saw the reaction -- rock'n'roll is Americana. We’re so used to it in the states -- it’s just the water we swim in. There’s almost something paralleling that when it comes to country music. It’s almost the lay of the land for us because we are so used to it, but they are really country-smart there.” Esten will get a chance to return to his former home later his year as members of the cast of the Wednesday night small-screen staple will tour the United Kingdom.

“I was just there for the C2C Festival, and we played for some audiences, and they knew the writers and the players, as well as some of the acts that might not be so well known here in the States. They even know some of the deeper cuts on the albums. Because they have to dig in to learn about it, and the fact that it’s not just pumping through their radio stations on any given day, you get a certain kind of audience member or fan," says Esten. "You definitely get that with Nashville. The fact that it’s become popular there blows me away because I got my start over there. So, to go back over there and play for them is beyond a dream come true.”

The five-night U.K. run will cap off a tour that will begin in San Jose on Thursday. The cast members will play 22 dates this spring, and getting to work with Clare BowenChris Carmack, and Sam Palladio (as they have done on previous tours) is something he loves doing -- partly because the actors don’t share a lot of screen time.

“We don’t necessarily get to play together all the time. Some of our characters might -- like Sam and Clare as Gunnar and Scarlett, or the couple of episodes that Scarlett and Deacon have done together. On an ensemble show, you don’t shoot together as much. So, that does make it different, and I love the vibe. I really like the chemistry between all of us. I played one of my originals on last year’s tour, and Sam Palladio came out on drums, and Chris Carmack played electric guitar. We had never played it before. We just rehearsed it that day. For the audience to see us playing together is a lot of fun, but just for us to get to do it, that was really the thrill.”

Esten admitted that the fans’ reaction to the show -- and the tours the cast members have gone on over the years has been overwhelming. “That’s the part I feel guilty about. There’s so many people who work so hard on the show, and are so integral on making it what it is -- from the crew to the writers to hair and makeup. They all contribute more than anyone will ever know. But, we’re the ones who stand there on that stage and feel the love pouring out. I do the best I can when I get back to share that with them.”

Though the series is set in Tennessee, Esten says the appeal of the show stretches worldwide. “You could do a diagram of all of the different components of that fan base. There’s many people that might watch a show called Nashville because they are such big fans of country music, and they wanted to check it out. I think there’s definitely a good percentage of that. But, I’m always amazed at the number of people who will tell me that they hadn’t always been country fans, but they started watching the show and fell for it from there. Then, they find out they actually are fans of the music. They didn’t know all the pieces of it. They get just the obvious version of it…..but if you delve into it, you find that it’s such a broad genre.”

Helping him get comfortable with live musical performers is his frequent appearances at the Grand Ole Opry, where he admits he is very humbled to get to play. “It is really more special than I can impart. Generally, I’m pretty good with words, but I fall short when I talk about the Grand Ole Opry," says Esten. "None of that is lost on me at all. I understand what a special place the Opry is. I remember clearly when I first did it -- I’m one who loves to be present in the moment. I knew as I walked toward the circle, I needed to forget where I was because it’s so overwhelming. I understand very well this unusual side door that allows me to be on the stage, and I don’t take that for granted.”

And Esten has his own musical project in motion. “It’s deep in the works,” he admits. “I’m kind of slow when it comes to that thing. I’ve been writing so much and recording a lot. I wanted the focus to be on the show, and when it was time, I’d do it -- but it’s way past time. We are in the process of organizing and doing such a thing,"

Of course, fans of the series were elated with the March 16 episode, which featured the long-awaited nuptials between Deacon and Rayna (Connie Britton). But will the romance last? “I think that anyone that knows anything about marriage knows that it’s not exactly a ticket to eternal bliss,” Esten says. “Instead, it’s a commitment to weathering the good and the bad together. For Deacon and Rayna, they’ve never been together in a committed way. It’s always been about handling whatever life throws at you individually, and being there for each other when they could. But, at times, that has been difficult. So, the fact they are now united in holy matrimony does not mean that trouble will not come. Hopefully, what it means is they will be together to fight through the trouble and hang on to each other in a more committed way.”

Nashville Cast Tour Dates

4/14 San Jose, CA @ City National Civic
4/15 Las Vegas, NV @ The Venetian Theatre at The Venetian 
4/16 Los Angeles, CA @ Microsoft Theater
4/17 Phoenix, AZ @ Comerica Theatre
4/19 Denver, CO @ Paramount Theatre
4/21 Tulsa, OK @ Brady Theater
4/23 Grand Prairie, TX @ Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie
4/24 Austin, TX @ The Moody Theater*
4/25 Houston, TX @ Revention Music Center
4/27 Atlanta, GA @ Fox Theatre
4/28 Clearwater, FL @ Ruth Eckerd Hall
4/30 Rosemont, IL @ Rosemont Theatre
5/1 Detroit, MI @ Fox Theatre
5/3 Washington, DC @ DAR Constitution Hall
5/5 New York, NY @ The Theater at MSG
5/6 Boston, MA @ Wang Theatre
5/7 Uncasville, CT @ Mohegan Sun Arena
6/13 Manchester @ Bridgewater Hall
6/14 Birmingham @ Birmingham Symphony 
6/16 Glasgow @ Glasgow Clyde Auditorium
6/17 Bristol @ Bristol Colston Hall  
6/18 London @ London Eventim Apollo Hammersmith

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