Meet 'Nashville's' breakout star Laura Benanti

Getting a part on a favorite television show is generally the stuff of dreams, which is why Laura Benanti was thrilled to land a recurring role on ABC’s music drama “Nashville” this summer. Though “thrilled” may be an understatement.

Long before being cast as rising country star Sadie Stone, Benanti says that she had been asked what show, if any, she would like to appear on. “’Nashville’ was my number one,” she says. She has long been a fan of the show, and would regularly host viewing parties with friends – something she still does when she’s not working. “Connie Britton was the reason I started watching it, and then I really just got hooked on the characters and the music,” she says.

Benanti met with producers Callie Khouri and Dee Johnson, but hadn’t gotten her hopes up.  It wasn’t until months later that she got the official offer while on vacation that they found a role that was perfect for her.

“It just worked out like that, which is so rare,” she remarks. “Nothing is ever that easy in Hollywood.”

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    “I’m embarrassed now to be on set with these people after so voraciously tweeting about the show for years,” she laughs. “I’ve been very lucky to be a part of some really wonderful sets but this has to be the friendliest and most welcoming.”

    While Benanti is no stranger to the small screen and has had roles on “Go On,” “The Good Wife “and “Nurse Jackie,” among others, she is also a Tony-winning theater actress. Benanti had the opportunity to use her singing chops in last year’s “Sound of Music Live!” and says bringing her voice to television is a gift.

    “It’s so rare to be able to use that part of my skill set on television,” she says. “I dig that I get to sing.”

    While Benanti’s Sadie Stone has only taken the mic once so far, alongside Britton’s Rayna James, the actress shared that more is coming up for her character as the show eases into its final episodes of the fall season.

    “Without giving too much away, it starts to veer toward a more serious storyline where we meet somebody from her past who is not the greatest person in the world,” Benanti teases. “Something really life changing happens to her in episode eight in a wonderful way, and then in episode ten something very life-changing happens in a very difficult way,” she says.

    “I feel like this character thus far has been refreshing.  She’s fun, she’s excited – she’s in a new sort of burgeoning part of her life and career.”

    That’s not entirely unlike Benanti herself, who made the dive into country music for the part. “I’m constantly trying to challenge myself,” she says. “That is my goal as a person and as an actor – to be doing new and different things.”

    Benanti adds that while she writes music that “tends to be in a more folky vein,” she wouldn’t call herself a country singer.

    “There are so many people that [country music] is authentically what they do, and they were born into, but it’s not my natural sound,” she says. “I feel really comfortable singing country music right now because I’m portraying a country artist, but I would hate for people to think that I’m still playing a character in my life.”

    To prep for the role, Benanti did her research. “I paid extra special attention to country singers and their tone. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of people performing, and then when I went to Nashville I actually watched people live,” she explains.

    Hanging out in Music City has been another highlight of the guest role, she says.  “It’s a really cool city. I love that you get all the culture and artistry of a city but you get the southern charm of a small town

    “Just seeing Nashville, being around all these amazing performers, it’s just been a great time,” she said.

    Benanti added that she would love for her next television-singing role to be something more “jazzy and sexy.  I think that would be a really fun thing to bring to the screen,” she says, adding that she is also looking forward to a possible return to the theater in 2016.  “I am very excited about it, and I am really hoping it can work.”

    “Nashville” airs at Wednesdays on ABC.