It’s safe to say, though, there’s still scant time for romance, given her commitment to her son and her new show, for which she’s working 16-hour days. “The schedule is insane,” she says, “to the point where I lose a lot of sleep at night worrying about how little time I have to sleep and mostly how little time I have to be with my son. And yet the flip side of that is, he’s doing great. He comes to the set every day. As working moms go, at least I have that luxury.”
Nashville’s creator and executive producer, Callie Khouri, says she wanted Britton for the series even as she was initially mapping it out. The Oscar-winning screenwriter of Thelma & Louisehad admired the depth Britton brought to her portrayal of Tami Taylor, the salt-of-the-earth educator and coach’s wife she played on FNL. “She has a steel spine but so much softness around it,” says Khouri. “Once she popped into my head as Rayna Jaymes, all I could do was feel really bad for all the other actresses who might audition, because unless they’re Connie, they were never gonna be right for the part.”
When first approached, Britton wavered; she hadn’t sung professionally since doing regional theater early in her career. But, she recalls, “the idea of putting on all those sequins and walking out onstage and rebooting my singing voice—that seemed exciting. There’s something really great, once you hit 40, about taking on something that genuinely, fully flexes new and different muscles. Because, man, is it scary. It’s more than twice as scary as when you do it when you’re 20.”
Britton credits T Bone Burnett, the show’s renowned executive music producer (he’s also Khouri’s husband), as well as vocal coach Valerie Morehouse, with helping her find her singing voice. “She takes her job incredibly seriously,” says Morehouse. “Even if she’s having a bad day, she does the work.”
Is Britton successfully selling herself as a Nashville legend? While Reba McEntire, a genuine country music queen and the star of another ABC show, Malibu Country, notes that all of Nashville’s singing actors “have a hard time keeping up with the competition of shows like The Voiceand American Idol,” she says Britton is doing a “great job” in finding the heart of her character: “She shows strength in all the battles a woman in her position has to face.” And in his review of the Nashvillesoundtrack for the industry website Music News Nashville, critic Chuck Dauphin praises Britton’s duet with Esten “on the heartbreak stunner ‘No One Will Ever Love You,’ ” adding that in the future, the actress might have “some real success” as a recording artist. A Tennesseanblogger was even more encouraging, asking, “How come the country music in a soap opera, sung by actors, is better than the stuff I hear on mainstream country radio?”
Britton was born in Boston, spent her early years in Rockville, Maryland, and then moved at age seven to Lynchburg, Virginia. Her birth name is Constance Womack; Britton is a relic of her brief early marriage, to a fellow graduate of Dartmouth College. She is close to her fraternal twin sister, Cynthia, even more so since they lost their parents. Britton’s mother, a music teacher turned community activist, died in 2005; her father, a physicist and energy-company executive, in 2008.
She starred in all her high school productions, including Hello, Dolly!, and dreamed of becoming an actress. Incollege, however, a crummy -freshman-year experience in a Bertolt Brecht play led her to major in Asian studies instead, since she’d already taken Mandarin classes for her language requirement. In 1986 she spent a summer in China studying at Beijing Normal University. (She says her Mandarin is now too rusty to use.)