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Interview: Callie Khouri on Female Likability and Nashville’s Upcoming Guest Stars

Interview: Callie Khouri on Female Likability and Nashville's Upcoming Guest Stars

Nashville creator Callie Khouri first came into prominence as the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Thelma and LouiseShe is also the director of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Mad MoneyBelow, she speaks with Melissa Silverstein about what to expect in the second half of Nashville‘s sophomore year, the demand for female likability, and the one women-directed film that’s been shut out of Oscar season this year.

What should we look
forward to in the second half of the second season?

Musically,
we have a lot of combinations of people singing that are a little more
unexpected. We have a cast that is so unbelievably talented, and we have them
all singing together in different combinations a lot more in the second half of
the season. It’s really, really great.

And I see you have all these guest
stars?

Yeah. I
say this with all humility: people want to be on the show. It’s not like we have
to go out and dig. It’s been really great. It’s kind of like, “Well, why would
we say no?” I mean, yes, obviously there are reasons you could say no, but at
the same time, they want to do it. When we started this show, I had some
trepidation about whether or not we wanted to cross into the real world, but we
are such a part of Nashville in reality. You can go to The Grand Ole Opry on the
weekend and you’re going to see Jonathan Jackson [Avery Barkley] or Chip Esten
[Deacon Claybourne] or Claire Bowen [Scarlett O’Connor] or Sam [Palladio,
Gunnar Scott] — they’re going to be there performing. I felt like the fact that
they’re actually integrated into the Nashville world made me feel better about
the Nashville world become more integrated into the show.

Kelly Clarkson, though — that’s big
news.

Yeah,
that’s big for me. She is so wonderful, so game.

Well, she’s just a great role model for
the show. She actually epitomizes what I think the show is about.

Exactly.
She’s very natural and it was really fun having her.

You directed the episode coming up this
week. This will be your second of the season — is that correct?

Yes.

And you’re directing another one this
season?

Yes, I am.

Amazing. So you’re doing the directing,
and you’re doing the writing — you have the whole thing going on.

It’s so
much fun. I’m really having a blast. The first season was the steepest learning
curve I think I’ve ever been on in my life, with the exception of Thelma and Louise. [Before Thelma and
Louise] I’d never written a script. That was sort of like getting shot out of a
cannon. To walk into a world where 21 scripts have got to be out the door was
so overwhelming. This season has just been so much more fun because I’m used to
the pace, and I’m getting to direct more. For me, the show feels like it has
hit its stride. The cast has settled in. They all know their characters. It’s
fun.

Let’s talk a little bit about Hayden’s
character, Juliette. There’s an ongoing conversation in the culture about women
and unlikeability and likeability, and what we “want” to see or let women be. I
think what you’ve created in that young woman is a young woman who doesn’t need
people to like her.

I think
she wants people to like her, but ultimately she doesn’t know how to get people
to like her because she cannot not be
herself. That’s the price of being yourself sometimes. It’s like, yeah, the
difference between “she’s a strong leader and knows what she’s doing” and “she’s a
bitch.” I don’t think of her as a bitch. First of all, she’s playing a young girl who’s had to fend for herself
for most of her life with a horrible parental situation. She is somewhat made
of steel. And then she’s young, and she makes really bad decisions sometime
too. Someone sent me this sign: “Everything happens for a reason and sometimes
that reason is that you’re stupid and you make bad decisions.” What I’m mainly
interested in is not having women characters that have to be perfect,
obviously. That’s something I feel strongly about and have that in every single
thing I’ve ever done. None of these women are obligated to be saintly.

Do you think that this conversation has
progressed at all? Is the fact that we’re having this conversation about it
good or is it just ridiculous that we still have expectations of women that we
don’t have of men?

I just
think that we don’t have these kinds of conversations about male characters.
The fact that we have to discuss that there are female characters doing
something that female characters don’t get to do is a little bit galling. It’s
2014. There’s still so far to go.

I’ll come back to that. I want to touch
on the redemption of Avery as part of the arc that I felt was a really big part
of the first part of the season. I think he was pretty hated last year; he was
pretty much a dick. He’s one of my favorite characters now. Talk a little bit
about how you were able to redeem him.

Well,
this is one of the great things to me about television. If you were trying to
do a character like that in a movie it would be totally unbelievable that he
would change as much as we’ve had this character do so. You just wouldn’t have
time. The decision to do this with him came from, in no small part, because
Jonathan Jackson the human being is such an incredibly wonderful person. He’s a
very, very good actor. He was really great at being a dick, but he’s so not a dick, that it was actually painful
for me to have people disliking him. So we decided, well, we’ll put him through
hell. 

We always saw him as a character that, whatever his ego was, and whatever
else was going on with him, he was an artist. He was actually a real artist.
There would be a time where he would go “Ok, I’m done compromising.” With that
came wisdom and the humility of having his ass kicked. Therefore you’re able to
show a guy who has got a lot of different colours and a lot of different layers
that you didn’t really see at the beginning — because he was smug and he
thought it was going to happen for him. [But] then he realizes after a number
of years in Nashville, “Boy. It might not [happen for me]. Now what?” And also,
because he was a guy Scarlett was in love with. [But] who was the guy that she was in
love with? Part of it was you couldn’t understand why was she with him. Well, this is why she was with him. She was
with him because he was a real artist and a good person and it wasn’t until he
got desperate that he started to change [for the worse].

I was just reading that you were a part
of helping decide the nominees for the Scripter this year. I noticed that there
is one woman as a co-writer and all the rest are male writers. As a woman who
has won an Academy Award for writing, where do we have to go to get more
scripts from women in this top tier?

You tell
me.

It’s about the stories too. It’s so
interesting because Saving Mr. Banks —  

I haven’t
seen it but in fact I was just talking about it this morning with my agent. He
was like, “It is a master class by Emma Thompson.” I’m hopefully going to watch
it this weekend.

The reason why I think Saving Mr. Banks
is so impressive for Emma is because it’s written by two women. The statistics
are clear that when women are involved behind the scenes, you have more women
onscreen and when women are involved behind the scenes, you have more women behind the scenes. It’s not
rocket science. One of these things is we see that all of the big Oscar awards
this year are all about men. These cycles happen each year. I don’t see any
women. There are amazing parts for women this year — like Emma and Cate
Blanchett — but they’re all directed by men and they’re mostly written by men
too.

I was
disappointed that Enough Said wasn’t
recognized. I love [Nicole Holocener]. I feel like there’s a clear case. I mean, maybe people didn’t think the movie
was “flashy” enough or “important” enough or whatever, I don’t know.

I totally agree with you.

You know,
it’s tough for a little movie like that to go up against big movies.

Spike Jonze’s Her isn’t a big movie and people can’t stop talking about that.

True.

I know there’s no answers to these
questions, but I have you and figured you might have some insights to share with
folks. You’re obviously busy with television, but do you feel there’s a world
for you in film? Or is TV the place where you feel your voice is better suited
now?

Well, at
the moment I’m enjoying the kind of storytelling we get to do. The character of
Avery is the perfect example. The character of Julia is the perfect example. It’s
like you’re watching these movies and it all seems so sped up. Like, Downton Abbey is really my natural
speed: that’s the pace of storytelling I like. Right now, for me, it’s just
more fun to be able to tell these long stories. I just hope I get to keep doing
this for a long time. I have to say, friends of mine who have been in TV for
years have all told really me that it’s so satisfying to get to do that and I
was like, “Yeah, but it’s still just TV,” but now that TV is really like —

TV’s the new film. That’s what people
are saying.

Yeah, it
is. It is. I’m not missing features. I’m certainly not missing working for a
year and a half or two years, then having something be out and be over.
 

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