Emmy Watch: 'Nashville' star Hayden Panettiere on the hardest scene she's ever shot

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Image Credit: Katherine Bomboy-Thornton/ABC

Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to submit nomination ballots, EW.com will feature interviews with some of the actors and actresses whose names we hope to hear when nominations are announced on July 18.

Who would have thought that country-pop starlet Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) would end Nashville‘s first season as the character in the healthiest place — even as she’s mourning her recovering addict mother, who’d just committed murder-suicide to save Juliette from another scandal? Even more surprising: Originally, Juliette wasn’t going to be as large a role as she’s become. “I found this out on Heroes: Especially when you do ensemble casts, you can try as hard as you want to tell the audience how to feel, what character or story line they like the most, but they will always choose. Everybody loves to hate one of the characters,” Panettiere says, with a laugh. “But Callie [Khouri] and the writers created this character that you still had sympathy for, and empathy. I would never want to play the villain who didn’t have heart, who didn’t have something to back it up.” Here, we ask Panettiere to break down the emotional season finale.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the scene backstage at the CMA Awards, when Juliette has the outburst saying that she should be celebrating that the ordeal with her mother is finally over, not grieving, and then realizes she didn’t mean it.
HAYDEN PANETTIERE: That entire episode, I wanted to look as miserable and human as possible. I wanted, in that scene, for people to see what goes on behind the curtain and how these things are going on in our lives but we still have to manage to somehow put ourselves back together and the show must go on. It was an interesting experience for me as an actor because I wanted to make within this episode, because it was so dramatic emotionally for Juliette, a good arc and a good balance to things. I didn’t want to be screaming and sobbing in every scene. I didn’t want to be cold in every scene. I didn’t want to be broken in every scene. I wanted people to see her drive and her will to live through anything. But when she says something as heartbreaking and horrible as “I should be celebrating that my mother is dead,” the shock that follows afterward — when she realizes what condition she is in, that she’s in no position to be where she is — she has to finally give herself a break and a second to process everything.

She leaves and goes to the funeral home, where she has that gut-wrenching scene sitting beside her mother’s casket where she says, “How could you leave me? Now I have no one.” Tell me about shooting that.
That scene was the hardest/easiest scene I think I’ve ever shot as an actor. The hardest because I literally couldn’t keep myself together. When I walked into that room during rehearsal — without even being in my gown, just a regular normal rehearsal — I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t run through the dialogue. I just immediately welled up. And those words that she says… She says not everything that she wanted to say, but she finally admits that she was that horrible and sees what she’s done and that she is all alone. She’s kind of in la la land. It’s almost like when somebody finds out that somebody’s passed away and they involuntarily laugh because it’s such a massive pill to swallow that it’s incomprehensible. I’m a New Yorker, so I went through 9/11, and my dad was a lieutenant in the fire department, and I remember when I heard about that and saw that, it’s something that just stuns you so much that you don’t know what to do with your emotions. And Juliette’s just heartbroken and in shock. So I just wanted to accomplish that she had that moment of turning from, in her mind, this strong stoic woman in the dressing room — “I’m gonna do this! She can’t take this from me!” — to a broken and lost little girl.

At the funeral, Rayna (Connie Britton) finally tells Juliette that she’s good enough.
I think that’s a huge moment. She has wanted, whether she says it or not, Rayna’s validation. To hear her finally say that when she’s been beating down Juliette’s music and voice all season — and didn’t even really say much of anything after Juliette decided to pull out that stool on stage and do “Consider Me” [in an earlier episode] — it’s an incredibly important moment between the two of them.

And then we get Juliette singing “Nothing in This World Will Ever Break My Heart Again” at the Bluebird, where her mother had always wanted to see her perform.
Thank god I didn’t have to sing it live. I was so choked up the entire time. One of my best friends, Kate York, co-wrote that song, and it’s just such a beautiful song. When I first heard it, I didn’t know where they were gonna put that song. I didn’t know what I would be singing about, and I was hoping that it wasn’t gonna be a guy. You immediately go, “Okay, heartbreak: She got her heart broken by a man in a relationship.” But when thinking of the lyrics that she sings being about her mom, it got me so much deeper. It struck a chord in me very, very deeply. What a beautiful song and a beautiful environment to finish the season in: The song’s dark, but the calm of being in the Bluebird and singing this tribute to her mom in combination of the car accident.

I can’t imagine how you plan for a season like the one Juliette had — how you leave yourself room to take her to all the places she’s gone.
You can’t really plan that. You can honestly just hope. As I said, you can read a script and see what’s on paper, but you don’t know what’s gonna translate onscreen. You don’t know how it’s gonna be edited. You don’t know how it’s gonna come across. So there’s a challenge for me to constantly wonder whether or not there’s a balance going on with Juliette. She’s on a scale, and if the scale tips too far one way or the other, then that character doesn’t work. I had to relinquish control. I had to not have too many expectations. Everybody who’s here, they’re some of the best of the best at what they do, and I have to trust them. I have to trust Callie, and I have to trust her writing team, and I have to trust our editing team. I have to come in and interpret it the best that I can. That’s the crazy thing about episodic [TV]: If you think about it, you’re signing on for seven years based on one script. So you have no idea whether you’re gonna be in one script and have a great story line or if you’re gonna be tossed under the rug by episode five. [Laughs]

What are your hopes for Juliette in season 2? She’s a bit of a clean slate in terms of what story line they can give her next.
Right. With a character like that who has come full circle, there are things about her and things that she’s pulled that get exhausting to watch after a while and that I would never want her to go there again. Characters need to evolve. Expectations lead to disappointment, so I am eagerly waiting to find out what I’m gonna get to do. I put my trust in them last season and I think they did an amazing job, so I’m gonna do that again this season.

The show is losing music guru T Bone Burnett to other projects. What will you miss most about working with him?
Ah, I will miss everything about that man and his genius. He truly is a genius. But I think I can say this for all of us that I am thankful that he was there to guide us through the first year when we’re coming in, not knowing what we’ve gotten ourselves into, not knowing if we can deliver. Acting through singing, it’s wild, and it’s nothing that any of us have ever done before. And he taught us so, so, so much about music, about expressing yourself and making sure that the message of the song doesn’t get lost behind you trying to make everything so perfect. So I’m relieved that we had somebody like him at the helm last season that we could put our full trust in. So he will be sorely, sorely missed.

But Buddy Miller, who’ll be taking over for him, was working with the show last season as well.
Yes. Buddy’s amazing.

So fans shouldn’t be worried.
Of course not. We’re in good hands with Buddy, and we’re in Nashville — this town is overflowing with talented people. And the songs that we sing depend on where they’re gonna fit into the script, and that’s Callie and our team of writers. So I’m taking deep breaths and I’m not worrying. I have faith in all of them.

Read more:
Emmy Watch: Natalie Dormer on her ‘modern’ wannabe queen in ‘Game of Thrones’
Emmy Watch: Jeff Perry on baring everything for ‘Scandal’
Emmy Watch: ‘House of Cards’ star Corey Stoll on pretending to be ‘as drunk as I could possibly be’

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