Women and Hollywood is a big fan of Nashville (we love Connie Britton) and Callie Khouri. We were excited to get an opportunity to talk with Ms. Khouri as the show returns with a new episode tonight at 10pm on ABC.
Women and Hollywood: So, firstly, congratulations on the great show I love it! Now that you have settled in a little bit can you talk about what surprised you most about working on TV?
Callie Khouri: What surprised me most is how it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also so fun. I’m just surprised about how much time I needed to write a script and honestly it’s like I’m just getting used to the pace. It makes you say “God Almighty.” I remember when I used to have actual time to write and now you don’t have time and you just do it. I think it explains a lot about television.
WaH: How many of the scripts that have been on the air have you written?
CK: Just two. But I’m in the writer’s room. I write a little bit on almost everything.
WaH: My friend Theresa Rebeck who created Smash and I talk about being in charge and being in the writer’s room. So while you’ve just talked about the writer’s room and working together in a group setting, what is your writer’s room like on Nashville? How many women and men are there?
CK: Four guys and five women.
WaH: That’s amazing. It doesn’t happen all the time, but happens more so when there are women in charge of shows. Is that your experience?
CK: I don’t know about other people’s show. It’s my first experience, so I have no idea.
WaH: Well, I can tell you from the data when women are in charge they bring in women.
CK: We’ve had more women directors than I think—we’ve had four women directors this season. We don’t really think about it, we just literally think about getting the best people.
WaH: You mentioned Dee Johnson (Dee took over the showrunning duties from the original showrunner). What was it like when she came to be the showrunner and how did that change the show when she arrived?
CK: Well she’s just really, really great and really smart and had a tremendous amount of experience in doing this and so everything just runs so much smoother.
WaH: One of the things I’ve read you talk about is the challenge of writing two female characters, who had conflicts with each other, but not having it deteriorate into a “cat fight.” Can you elaborate further on that?
CK: None of us, including Hayden and Connie, none of us, are interested at all in that particular slant. We just don’t think there’s anything to do in that. In my mind, that’s what network television has evolved into. It’s just not the kind of thing that appeals to me. But we are interested in having a show that talks about where women are at different points in their career, what’s expected of them, what the obstacles are for them, what the problems are with each other, and the competition in a field that has a limited number of spaces. How do you compete in the market place, how you stay relevant after many years of being in the public eye — all of that. Their approach, their differences are based on how they feel about their work. One of the characters, she’s all about artistic integrity, while the other is a character who is driven to make it. We’ve started her in the pursuit for credibility as an artist. To me, that’s interesting and that’s real. But women who just don’t like each other because the other one is a woman and “women don’t like each other” myth—that’s not interesting to me at all.
WaH: You’ve created two prototypes in some way, Rayna and Juliette, and you have these great actresses taking on these parts. Talk about the casting of Connie and Hayden.
CK: Well, Connie I knew I wanted when I started writing the script. Every so often, when I’m writing a character might actually be a distinct person in my head often not an actor or a face, literally a person who just seems to exist in my imagination. Then the challenge is finding somebody who is close enough to that to make me feel like I’ve ended up where I wanted to be. In this particular case, when I’m trying to think: who is Rayna Jaymes? What does she look like? Connie Britton just popped into my head. I just realized from the very beginning that it was going to be Connie. That Connie was going to be Rayna Jaymes. I didn’t know if she could sing, I didn’t know anything. But I knew, she had all the qualities that I wanted this character to present. She could act all the qualities I wanted this character to present. So, the challenge was just making sure I could get her, because I literally couldn’t figure out how I was going to ever see it if it wasn’t her. With Hayden, Hayden just came in, auditioned, and is so intense. Hayden is just, I hate to say, I’m surprised but I’m not. I knew she was a good actress, but she’s mind-blowingly good. The stuff that she does every week is so amazing. She’s so accomplished. It’s incredible that somebody that young to have the acting chops that she does; it’s really something.
WaH: The music is such an important part of it, and people have been talking about Les Miserables and their live singing. How do you guys make your singing happen?
CK: We do pre-record because we have to match different angels. First of all, getting somebody to do the same song over and over all day would wear out a normal person, even if you were a good singer.
WaH: Do they work with vocal coaches?
CK: Yes, we have a vocal coach that they work with; then they record with either T-Bone (Burnett)or Buddy Miller.
WaH: Are you surprised that the songs have become so popular?
CK: No, I’m not actually. They’re really good songs and one of the things that’s fun for me was doing songs that you wouldn’t necessarily get to hear anywhere besides Nashville. We have some songs that would likely be played on the radio, but there are others that you just wouldn’t necessarily ever get a chance to hear unless you came to Nashville or unless you’re at a club. So that part makes me really happy.
WaH: Would you say that this is a feminist show?
CK: I guess. That’s not how I think of it. I didn’t think of Thelma and Louise as a feminist movie. They think I’m a feminist and I’m making a show, so if that makes it a feminist show then ok. I don’t know what you mean exactly?
WaH: I don’t mean it as an agenda. What I mean is that it has strong women and it has great female opinions and it’s different than a lot of other shows. That makes it feminist to me.
CK: I would say it’s a show by women about woman. It hopefully shows something more about what their side of the story is that you might be able to see somewhere else. But all the things that I care about are going to be covered. I’m just trying to think of some reason that makes it more feminist than anything else I’ve done. To me, feminism is such a simple description: it’s equal rights, economic rights, political rights, and social rights.
WaH: It is part of who you are so that’s what you are going to write. There are many people who rather die than do that.
CK: Well, that’s a shame. What I’m not about is exploiting women. I’m trying to show what the real situations are and what they’re really dealing with.
WaH: Do you feel creatively that you can accomplish things on television now that aren’t able to be done in films?
CK: Well I think just in terms of being able to have female lead protagonists puts you in a different thing right there. You certainly don’t see that in today’s films, certainly not multiple female protagonists in American films.
WaH: Your show comes back in January. Can you give us a little teaser about some of the things that are coming up in the challenges for the ladies?
CK: They do find that there are benefits of being together. As much as their differences might make them both feel like they would rather not spend enormous amount of time in each other’s company — they are kind of stronger together.
WaH: Have you plotted out the rest of the season in your head, or on paper?
CK: We’re working on that now.
WaH: Hopefully you will have many more seasons.
CK: I hope so, it’s really fun.
Nashville airs Wednesdays at 10pm on ABC. You can catch up on Hulu.