Four-time Emmy nominee Connie Britton, 48, was born in Boston and raised in Virginia. After majoring in Asian studies at Dartmouth, she moved to New York to pursue her acting career. Her first major role was in The Brothers McMullen, and she co-starred alongside Michael J. Fox in Spin City. She had standout roles on 24 and The West Wing, but her breakout came with the critically acclaimed series Friday Night Lights, for which she was nominated for two Emmys. She has since played the female lead on the first season of American Horror Story and portrayed Faye Resnick on American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, and she stars as country singer Rayna Jaymes in the ABC hit Nashville, now in its fourth season.
Connie Britton: It’s just annoying to me when people say I’ve earned my stripes, because you know what that translates as? You’re old. [Laughs.] On Nashville, we have the sweetest crew in the world, but whenever a PA says, “Yes, ma’am,” I’m like, “I will strike you with my fist if you call me ma’am!”
I’m a little obsessed with Rayna Jaymes. Are you channeling anyone specific—Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette… You know, not really. It depends on the day, and also, we’ve been doing the show for four years, so it kind of started as an amalgam of a lot of people, but at this point, it’s just become Rayna. And yet there are still days when I have to go to my inner Faith Hill or whomever.
Do you come by the Southern accent honestly? I grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia, and you Duke graduates might not think it counts, but we didn’t consider northern Virginia the South. We called it NOVA, very disparagingly. Lynchburg is the South. Tennessee reminds me a lot of where I grew up.
Is Nashville the most happening place south of the Mason-Dixon Line? Well, it is and it isn’t, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s become this super cosmopolitan place, but it’s much more homey than that. It’s definitely blooming into this destination, but what I’ve grown to love about it is the people. The appeal of Nashville is that it draws people who are creative but who have a real appreciation for home and small-town life. It’s kind of the best of both worlds.
The People v. O.J. Simpson—what do you remember most about the whole sordid thing? Well, with the Bronco ride and the verdict, I remember clearly where I was. Beyond that, what I recall was being horrified by the circus of it all. Don’t forget: When that happened, the 24-hour news cycle was new, and to see that unfold was unreal. I was enraged and incensed and horrified. I was like, “What is happening to the world?” And of course, that was just the beginning of what we have now. That spawned the Kardashians, for God’s sake. They were spawned out of that teeny tiny seed that’s become our modern media.
You co-starred with Tina Fey in This Is Where I Leave You. Funniest person you’ve worked with? She is spectacularly funny, but beyond that, she’s a fundamentally decent, wonderful human being. It’s funny you brought her up. She emailed me yesterday about the Faye Resnick thing that I did, saying that the moment where I put a mint in my mouth and then take it out, deciding whether to eat it or not, was one of her favorite moments of comedy that she’s seen in years. She’s so incredibly supportive of her fellow actors. She’s one of the best.
Have you had weird encounters with American Horror Story fans? Not weird as much as whenever people come up to me and say, “I really loved you on that show,” I kind of look at them sideways, because I’m like, “You’re a person who watches that…” I loved doing that and had such a great experience, but I’m the biggest scaredy-cat on the planet. I couldn’t watch it. I’m just too chicken-shit. So those people, I’m genuinely in awe of them. I’m like, “Wow! You’re that person who can actually watch that? I’m impressed!”
So do you like both kinds of music: country and Western? I have to admit, it’s not my go-to. It’s not. I was raised listening to rock ’n’ roll. I grew up in the South, so I had a strong inclination toward Southern rock ’n’ roll, like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, so I’ve really grown to appreciate country music from working on Nashville. I knew the classic stuff—Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and whatever—but it’s been a learning experience diving into that world.
Would Friday Night Lights have done better if it had been on HBO or Showtime? Yeah, if the culture of TV had been different, I do think so. We were actually saved by Direct TV. They took us on, and that’s what made us survive for five years. We were on much more of a cable TV schedule. After the second season, we only shot 13 episodes per season, which I think is actually the best way to do a series, as opposed to 22. So if we had started in an arena where the focus was on quality over quantity, I think we would have lasted a lot longer. As it was, we felt really fortunate with that show, and I applaud NBC for keeping us on the air for five seasons. But it was a show that would have thrived in a different environment.
First time you felt famous? I still don’t feel famous. I mean, yes, I get recognized and stuff, but I’m still able to live a fairly normal life. But the first time I felt like I was part of this whole thing was right after The Brothers McMullen had won the Sundance Film Festival. Jim Brooks invited me to his office in LA, and he took me to watch a movie in a private screening room. And I was like, “What am I doing here?” That was maybe the first time I felt like “Wow! I’m invited to the party.”
Is it typecasting or what that you get cast as “Mom”? Well, there are a lot of mom roles, and the joke has always been that once you hit 30, there’s nothing left but to play moms. The ageism thing in Hollywood is ridiculous, so I feel lucky. The first time I ever played a mom was on a show called Lost at Home, which barely had a life at all, and the guy who created it really wanted me to play the role. In one of our meetings, he held up a picture of a kid, and he was like, “This is your worst nightmare.” I remember thinking, “No! I’m too young to play a mom! Once I’m a mom, I’m typecast forever.” And it was a great thing for me.
You’re a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador. Do you get a diplomatic passport with that? No! I should ask for one. I knew I was missing something.
Are redheads sexier than everyone else? Of course they are. I drink ginger tea at work every day, and I’m like, “Just call me Hot Ginger.”
Photo Credit: Martin Rusch in Los Angeles; Wardrobe styling: Rachel Zoe Studio; Hair: Creighton Bowman / Tracey Mattingly; Makeup: Katey Denno / The Wall Group; Wardrobe: Antonio Berardi Dress, Anne Sisteron Ring, Dana Rebecca Ring, David Webb Ring, EF Collection Cuff