Hayden Panettiere: Those "Nashville" Rivalries Ring True In Show Biz

The star admits she's felt the sting of making mistakes in the public eye.

By Scott Huver
|  Tuesday, Oct 23, 2012  |  Updated 9:39 PM CDT
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Actress Hayden Panettiere stars in "Nashville."

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Hayden Panettiere’s getting nasty in "Nashville." And loving it.

After her breakout role as an indestructible cheerleader on “Heroes,” Panettiere returns to television playing “Nashville’s” ambitious young country singer Juliette Barnes, a rising star with a brassy and impenetrable surface – or so it seems – who’ll try to trump established diva Rayna James (Connie Britton) in her bid for fame, fortune and any man in tight jeans. The 23-year-old actress reveals that there’s more than a few dark truths beneath the dazzling rhinestones.

The backstage scenes, the older star versus the younger star dynamic – have you seen those elements at work in show business?

Oh, absolutely, absolutely, if other people point them out or not. I mean, you hope to always have respect for the people that you're around and for the people who are veterans in the industry, but we'd be lying if we said that there wasn't a sort of biting edge sometimes to what being in this industry means. It's a business and there's drama in every business.

What about this character made you want to walk around in her skin for a while?

Because she's more than what she just appears in the beginning. I knew that she was going to be a challenge to play, and I knew that it'd be a character that was very different and have a lot of layers to her. And these are things that you have to think of when you're going, 'This is somebody that I might be playing for the next, potentially, seven years of my life.'

And it has to be something that'll keep you interested as an actor and keep you digging forward and keep you stretching your wings and finding different things out about what you're really made of as an actor. But I can relate to her a lot because even though I didn't grow up in the country music industry I'm still a young girl who grew up in the spotlight of a very judgmental and critical industry.

How did you handle that in your own experience? It’s certainly happened to you.

Oh, yeah. It happened to me over and over again, and no matter how many times I would say that I didn't care, it was heartbreaking to me. And of course those negative comments and those things that people have to say that aren't good are the ones that stand out the most to you and make the biggest impact. It took me a while, but I finally surrounded myself with really good people and those were the people who led me in the right direction.

I'm not saying those doors leading down dark roads weren't open to me, because they were and they looked very appealing. Just like I'm sure there's not a single person here who hasn't done the same thing, tested the same boundaries. I mean, we're only human, but unfortunately you have to do it in a very public way. But I was lucky. I had good people surrounding me who pulled me back.

What's it like performing on stage even, when it's just for a front row filled with extras?

It's intense and intimidating and scary, and at the same time thrilling and exciting. Once you get me up there and I finally feel comfortable you won't be able to get me off.

You've been musical your whole life. How did you have to adjust what you've been doing to the country mentality?

I feel like that was just a part of my being. People think that it's weird because I'm from New York, and they go, 'Country music? Really?' But I've grown up a huge fan of country music. My grandmother is from Corpus Christi, Texas. My mom is from Louisville, Kentucky. I don't know if I just got the country gene or what, but I grew up listening to country. I've always been a huge fan, and frankly my voice has always been kind of better suited for country. Country just seems to be in more of that sweet spot in my voice, where it just feels good.

To promote this show would you be interested in doing a live performance?

Eventually I'm going to have to – I know I'm going to have to! I don't know, I'm just going to have to rip it off like a band-aid. I hope that people are forgiving towards me! It's going to take me a second to get into the swing and be confident, and the thing that happens with me is that when I get nervous my voice chokes and I have no control.

Is there a country song that you love to sing?

'Hell on Wheels.' Ashley Monroe sang that song, who's one of my closest friends in Nashville, and I was like, 'Oh, my God, that's totally a Juliette song. Can I have that song?'

Do you like what your character wears on the show?

I do like what she wears. It's me with a country edge, a country twist. You can really go for it with her and she's sexy and fun, but at the same time, on certain occasions she's at home and you see her more casual. It's very fun. It makes you feel like you're playing a character when you get to dress up like that.

How much input do you have into your wardrobe?

Well, if I don't like it I'm not going to wear it!

Were you ready to come back to TV right now?

Yes, very. It took me a second. On 'Heroes,' your time was just monopolized and it was so a part of my everyday life for four years and I didn't intend to go off and do anything else. But I was really nervous, shy to go do another show. It's something that your basing the next, potentially, seven years of your life on one script – one episode that you don't even know is going to get picked up. You don't know how it's going to be edited together and how it's going to be directed.

You can only go there and do your part, and then at the end of the day you leave it in the hands of other people and you have no idea how it's going to come out. You have no idea how people are going to respond. It's like this very specific concoction that creates a great show, and I really feel like we have that on this one.

"Nashville" airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

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