‘Nashville’s’ Chris Carmack On Will’s ‘Slow Burn’ To Coming Out And What’s To Come

Chris Carmack, Aubrey Peeples (ABC)

If you’re like me, you’ve been watching the journey of Will Lexington on ABC’s hit drama Nashville” and practically screaming at your television wondering ‘What are you doing?!”

It seems at this point, just about everyone knows Will is gay…except for Will. He won’t listen to his in-the-know buddy Gunnar (Sam Palladio) or his ex-lover Brent (Derek Krantz) and, instead of looking in the mirror, he’s taken things to the next level with young, naive Layla (Aubrey Peeples) by asking her to marry him.

I figured the best person to ask about what’s truly going on with Will is Chris Carmack, the charismatic and talented actor/singer who has played him since the first season. During our chat, Carmack explained why Will is making the choices he’s making, why he’s ignoring his buddy’s help as well as how Carmack himself has changed as a performer now that he’s a resident of Nashville, where the series shoots.

Let’s talk about where Will’s head is. It seems he has such a singular focus on his career right now but is he considering Layla’s feelings at all in what he’s doing?

Chris Carmack: That’s probably the best way I’ve heard the question worded because people say ‘Is he just lying to her? Does he actually think he can be a good husband?’ The answer is he’s lying to himself and he does think he can be a good husband. But when you ask the question if he’s considered Layla’s feelings at all, I’d say the answer is no.

I think he does have a singular mindset and all he cares about his career. Let's be honest, if it were not for the fact that he needed Layla as a beard, he never would have proposed and tried to get married to her. However, he's taken his delusions so far…he thinks he's going to be a great husband. He honestly believes that.

Except for maybe Gunnar and Brent, does Will really think he’s pulling the wool over everyone else’s eyes?

CC: Well, Will is a guy who pulls the wool over his own eyes to some extent and that’s really what he’s doing. Gunnar knows him and he knows him like nobody else knows him and he, as a good friend and someone who cares about Will, is willing to hold up a mirror to Will and say ‘This isn’t right. This isn’t who you are. You can be who you are.’ And, in terms of Will’s story, that’s Gunnar’s big purpose.

But in this episode, Will has a pretty angry reaction to Gunnar doing that. He doesn't want the mirror held up to him. He wants to go pretend he's somebody else because he's so scared about his career and Gunnar is going to prove to be a good friend…that's a dangerous path. You cannot deny yourself…he's lying to himself and he's lying to the rest of the world and it's going to eat him up inside. He's going to be Dorian Gray from the inside out if he continues on that path and Gunnar, his buddy, is going to do his best to save him from that.

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Do you think their friendship can survive as Gunnar keeps pushing?

CC: That’s a tough one. Personally, selfishly, I hope it survives because I love working with Sam and I love the Will/Gunnar dynamic, I think it’s a real special one and I don’t think there’s any intention of letting it go but who knows what’s going to happen in the near future. But as to whether they can stay friends, you’ve got two things going on. You’ve got Will angry at Gunnar, wanting to distance himself from the guy who knows the truth and is holding up a mirror but you’ve also got Gunnar watching his friend make these terrible mistakes and do things that he cannot condone. Sometimes in life you have friends are making all kinds of mistakes and you throw your hands up and say ‘I can’t be around this anymore.’ I think both of those things are at play in driving a wedge between Will and Gunnar right now.

Gunnar is a good friend. I think that is just a description that fits Gunnar, not just to Will but Gunnar is just a good friend, a good person and he has a conversation with Jeff Fordham [in this episode] where Jeff (Oliver Hudson) asks him point blank ‘Is Will gay?’ The rumors have gotten around and he’s wondered himself and I think in that moment Gunnar realizes the noose tightening around Will’s neck is real.

Earlier in the episode, Will comes home and he says to Gunnar 'You'll never understand what I'm going through.' But Gunnar knows his friend and thinks he knows what he's going through but when Jeff asks him point blank and says 'I can't support an artist who is gay because the audience won't buy it,' Gunnar realizes Will's dreams could shatter if this comes out. And this is a guy who was on the train tracks not too long ago and he was willing to give up his life because he was so conflicted about himself and his career.

The last time I talked to Callie Khouri [series creator], she told me that the Will storyline would be a 'slow burn.' How do you feel about playing the story that way and playing all the nuances of the story throughout the whole season?

CC: Gosh, there’s nothing more incredible than a slow arc because you don’t have to play plot points. You get to play moments. And it’s really wonderful to have some meat on the bone and be able to sink into it and the writers have done a great job of giving Will a lot of delicate moments to play and a lot of visceral moments, as well, but you’re not just running from one story to the next but it is a slow burn and it’s great.

I've had moments of frustration and I've talked to the writers about it because as Chris, I want to see more resolve from Will and I know a lot of the audience does, too. In one episode he said, 'I'm disgusting' and I really wanted to deal with that sooner than we have because it bothered me. I was sitting with David Gould, one of the writers, and I was talking to him about it because you can't help but feel a little bit like you're sending a social message when you're playing a role like this and you don't want to get it wrong, you want to get it right.

David goes, 'Chris, I hear you but put that aside. Aside from any message you want to send, aside from any agenda you have with this character, remember that you're playing a real guy and what he's going through is real and we are trying to tell a real story.' That kind of just took that off my chest and I said 'I'm going to do justice to Will and I'm going to do justice to his story and I'm going to tell this story as honestly as I can.'

Chris Carmack (ABC)

Where is Will heading for the rest of the season? Are they getting better or worse?

CC: Well, there’s something fun coming up. Layla, whose career is in a tough spot right now, she’s been approached by some reality television producers and thinks it would be a good idea to put her and Will on a reality television show and Will is resistant to the idea.

There’s a great number in this week’s episode with you, Will Chase and Charles Esten. How long does it take to shoot a number like that?

CC: We rehearsed it for probably an hour or hour and a half onstage while people were shooting something else so we rehearsed it with us and the band. Then when you get into the shooting of it, that was a late night. I feel like we started shooting around 10 and finished around 3am. But it’s fun! When you’re up there playing guitar and stomping around…I don’t think I even had any lines that day, I was just having a good time!

Have you changed as a singer and an artist because you’re performing so often in the show?

CC: I definitely have. I’ve done music for a long time and played around LA in bands and doing some acoustic stuff but coming here and having this gig has really inspired me and inspired me to get better. I practice guitar every day, I try to practice voice as much as I can so I put in a lot of practice because I want to get better and, also, I’m surrounded by all these incredible musicians.

When I was in LA, people asked me if I played guitar and I'd say 'I play a lot of guitar. I'm pretty good.' And when I got here to Nashville people asked me if I played guitar and I'd say 'Oh, I dabble.' It's a place where you really need to raise your game and you raise it a little bit by osmosis but really by hard work and wanting to be good.

Do you feel like it helps your work that you shoot in Nashville and not on a soundstage in Los Angeles?

CC: I think it helps on a lot of levels. First and foremost, the authenticity of the story…we’re shooting on these locations as locations. We’re shooting Tootsie’s at Tootsie’s, we’re shooting The Bluebird at The Bluebird and that adds a lot of authenticity on the screen but also adds a lot authenticity to us as performers. Do go see around The Bluebird and then perform a scene at The Bluebird, that’s as good research as you could do. Just being in the city is doing research for the role.

“Nashville” airs Wednesdays at 10pm on ABC. 

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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