Plus One Interview with Nashville Creator and Episode Director Callie Khouri
Spoilers for Nashville Episode 5×09 and Future Episodes!
Here’s the collection of showrunner interviews I promised in the Connie Britton post. Usually the Nashville showrunners refuse to give away any information about future storylines, but they are being amazingly forthcoming today. There are all kinds of interesting tidbits to be found in these interviews. I’ll comment more on those when I review the first half of the season and speculate about the next half.
I know you don’t like to discuss future storylines, but do you want to tease to the flashbacks of Rayna that will happen this season?
I can say there will be a few flashbacks. That goes to the heart of the fact that when somebody dies they’re still so present in your life. Our inner lives are as rich and full as our outer lives, and in our inner lives the person is still there.
How does the show move forward without its star?
Shows always move forward. Grey’s Anatomy moved forward. Thirtysomething moved forward after Gary died. This is such a rich cast and such a rich group of characters there’s so many great stories to tell. We’re already deep into the writing and producing of the second half the season and there are so many great stories. And by the way, some are about the loss of Rayna and the price people pay. But the show of Nashville is a world, it’s not about one person. As great as Connie is and Rayna was, it was never just one person. What people will find as they process their feelings — and maybe fans will be angry at us or at her for this happening — but they’ll find the fabric of the show more than holds. It’s still this vibrant passionate creative world of people who live their lives in a way that has a fire beneath it. That’s always been the heart of Nashville. It’s always amazed me since I came on board that you can do a show about creativity, about what it means to be an artist. It’s about the creative process and turn their feelings into art, and then the show shares that art with the audience — which is also communal. It’s actually not a problem at all to continue. We’ll miss her, the characters miss her, and she’s missed in the stories, but the show is completely intact.
Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
I think the best episode we’ve done this year is the one that follows her funeral. I would put that episode against any I’ve done in my entire career. It’s an astonishing symphonic beautiful tribute to this woman and human connection and grief. That’s one I hope nobody misses. It really goes to the heart of what it means for people to be truly connected to each other.
More interviews under the cut, including discussion of the upcoming time jump and custody battle, and their mandate for a new direction for the show in season 5.
TVLINE | You guys have two episodes after this before the midseason finale. What shape will those take for Deacon and the girls?
I’m glad you brought that up, because I’m so proud of both of those episodes and I think that the next one after the death episode — the funeral and the aftermath of the funeral — is, in many ways, the most powerful hour of television I’ve been involved with in 20 years. I’m so proud of it, and I so want people to see it. Powerful as [Rayna’s death] is, to watch these people confront their grief is so extraordinary and so moving. I think it will really help the audience process their feelings about Rayna. I think both of the episodes will. But there’s something about the next one. It’s like a symphony; I can’t put it any other way. It’s just so musical and so lyrical and so full of love. And you just see into each person’s well of grief and love and feeling and connection. There’s a communality of it that is so profound, and I won’t go into the storyline because it’s a very, it’s actually — it feels like Dickens to me. It’s so profound. You know, I can give a hint that it has to do with what’s going to happen with the girls, but I won’t say any more.
TVLINE | Is there any time jump? Have you talked about any time jump? Often shows do that kind of thing after a major event like this.
When we come back, for the 12th episode, there will be a time jump equal to the amount we’re off the air: two-and-a-half to three months.
TVLINE | Deacon and Rayna didn’t actually record any of their duet album, did they?
Yes, they did. In fact, that’s going to play into upcoming stories. It’s not finished and that’s a big — that is, in fact, the dilemma that they face in the eleventh episode, the finale of this first part of the season. The fact that it’s not finished, and what are they going to do?
TVLINE | We saw Juliette walking toward the end of the episode. Maybe that means the worst is behind her? Is that accurate in terms of her recovery after the plane crash?
[Laughs] I’m not allowed to say anything.
The Hollywood Reporter- ‘Nashville’ Showrunner Opens Up About Losing Connie Britton
What ultimately gave you and Ed faith that the show could survive without Rayna Jaymes?
The idea of ensemble shows is more our comfort zone. We tend to look at the creation of story as an exercise in endowing each character with what we call “critical mass,” which is enough of a sense of humanness that you can generate stories about that person. In this show, you had many characters about whom you can generate stories. And if you can generate stories then you can move people and you can have amazing things happen. And we have so many wonderful characters in this. In many ways, we had too many to serve and so the dramatic possibilities in Deacon moving on without her, the dramatic possibilities in the daughters’ lives, the dramatic possibilities in Scarlett and Gunnar and what happens to them, and Juliette and Avery, and Will and all the various people on the show, and the new people that we were bringing in — we just knew that the fabric of the show was so rich that it could definitely go on without Rayna. As much as we love Rayna and loved writing Rayna, and as much as we understood how important she was in the life of each character, it’s also part of life that people die and you have to deal with loss. So from a dramatic standpoint, that’s very rich. From a real-life standpoint, it’s very upsetting.
As writers, why did you feel the need to include this stalker storyline even though that’s not ultimately what killed Rayna?
One of the things that struck me about the characters on this show is that so many of them had in some way been traumatized in childhood: Juliette, Scarlett, Deacon and Rayna. It’s such a deeply embedded theme in the series and yet hadn’t been explored as a story unto itself. I felt that this stalker actually does lead to her death, just not directly. This is a man who was horribly traumatized and is drawn to Rayna because he recognizes something in her that she would understand his trauma. When he says, “You know me better than anyone else,” it’s because he knew instinctively that she would understand him and understand what he went through. So it’s not an accident that he was drawn to her. It’s trauma that brought these people together.
Even though she’s able to disarm this man emotionally in the scene so that he does not hurt her, the reason she’s in that police car speeding through a red light and hit by a truck is because of all that happened with that man. If that hadn’t happened, she wouldn’t have been in that accident so there is a connection. It was trauma that killed Rayna. It’s just separated by one degree. But it’s as if the horrors that took place in her life, in that wonderful speech she gives where she talks about how her father killed her mother and covered it up and she lives with that every day of her life — it’s as if that, in some way, was something that she could never escape. And in some way, came back and destroyed her.
Looking past this episode, what can you say about these last two episodes as the show heads into the midseason break? How will the other characters be impacted by this and what does that look like for the show going forward?
The episode following this one where we see the funeral and we see the aftermath of the funeral is, for me, maybe the most beautiful episode I’ve been involved with in 20 years. … There’s something sublime about the symphonic movement of this story, of all these people sharing their grief in this communal way and moving through it to something that’s like a state of grace. Everyone who sees the episode is just undone by it, but in an uplifting way. When you watch Rayna die, you feel despair. When you watch the next episode, you feel something else. It’s so moving and about the power of love. That’s when you realize that this is a world that absolutely goes on after her death because that’s what people do, they move on. They continue to live and they continue to live in memory of this person. I want people to see that episode because it expresses the best of what Nashville can do as a communal experience for its viewers.
What can you say about the second half of the season? Will there be a time jump?
There is a time jump. We decided to follow real time. We’re off the air for two-and-a-half, three months — we don’t know exactly — and we said, “OK, a three-month period of time has gone by,” and that enabled us to use some shorthand. Some things have changed, and people are in a slightly different position. It helped with the storytelling to say, “OK, now it’s three months later, where is everybody?”
What is the theme for the second half of season five?
Certainly everyone is still dealing with Rayna’s death — that doesn’t just go away. For some of the characters, that’s a big part of the storyline, but the other characters are moving on with their lives and trying to figure it out. They’re dealing with success and failure and all of the vicissitudes of life in the music business and in a city like Nashville where there’s so much creative energy and creative connections between people. We’re actually very excited about the second part of the year and all the different stories that happen.
I think people are going to be happy to see the Juliette storyline. They’re going to be really intrigued by the Gunnar and Scarlett storyline. We’ve found a way to do justice to these characters and we do it in a different way than what was done before. We don’t try to follow every story in every episode and I know that’s difficult for some of the fans — I see people complaining. It’s just there’s mathematics involved. If you want to go deeper and tell bigger stories about people, you can’t tell seven stories in an episode. So there’s a price to be paid for going deeper and that price is that you can’t cover everybody all the time. So I’m hoping that the viewers will get used to that rhythm and have faith.
DEADLINE: What will be the impact of Rayna’s death on those around her?
HERSKOVITZ: Some of the characters will still be very deeply in the their grief of their loss. Others would move more easily. Life moves on relentlessly and other stories would happen but no one is going to forget her, the reverberations of her death will continue for many, many episodes. But I don’t want to imply that the show would become some sort of depressing house of mourning draped in black. Life will go on, and there will be other stories. There is a balance as there is in life. When it first happens, you are overwhelmed, and you begin to live your life again but you never forget the person that you’ve lost, and sometimes you are overcome by the emotions but you still live your life.
DEADLINE: Are you planning to add another major female character to fill the void left by Connie’s departure?
HERSKOVITZ: We made casting additions in the fall, and it was always our intention even before we decided that Rayna would die that we would make additions to the cast in the second part of the season, don’t think any of them is related to her death. It was our mandate when we came in this year to make certain changes in the direction of the show and that entailed unfortunately letting some cast members go and bringing some new ones in. We wanted to have more diversity of music, more diversity of people, there have been a lot of factors gone into how we’ve made these adjustments.
Interview with Show Creator Callie Khouri:
DEADLINE: Was there a possibility for Connie to stay on as a recurring guest star or it had to be a clean break?
KHOURI: That was my understanding, that we had to let her out. For any actor, four years is a long time to devote when you are living in another city (Nashville films in Nashville), and she has a son she devotes an enormous amount of time to. There have been a lot of movie roles she has wanted to pursue along with other TV opportunities. We didn’t want to do anything that was dependent on holding her. And to have her dropping in and out just wasn’t dramatically desirable for her or for us.
DEADLINE: When crafting Rayna’s final arc, why did you decide to have a stalker storyline, and why did you decide not to end her life that way?
KHOURI: Stalking unfortunately is all too common for people who are in the public eye, and we always planned at some point to have that as part of out story, to show what people who are famous have to deal with at the worst of times. We would talk about it every year. We decided that we didn’t want to end Rayna’s life at the hands of a stalker. The random surprise, the way death can just come out of nowhere, that’s the hard thing to deal with. It’s just something about that that appealed to all of us in the room, not seeing it coming, having a setup for thinking it was going to be one thing, having the relief of having gotten away with your life and then something else completely unconnected happened.
DEADLINE: The crash that led to Rayna’s death. Was it an accident or there is a mystery behind who hit her?
KHOURI: It’s random.
DEADLINE: Rayna was in a great place with Deacon when she died. Was that intentional?
KHOURI: Yes, definitely. We wanted them to be in a happy marriage and happy creatively, doing what they do best, having finally reached a place where they both felt really good about what they have come through.
DEADLINE: What will be the fallout from Rayna’s death?
KHOURI: We are going to do — as we try to do this season — very realistically watching people try to put their lives together, experience grief and loss and all of it that naturally comes from the loss of the most important person in your life.
DEADLINE: Nashville fans too are grieving over Rayna’s death right now. What would you say to them?
KHOURI: We have so much left to tell. If they love these characters, then they are going to love going through the healing process with them. The loss of this character is in every storyline, everything is geared around people dealing in a very real way with the loss of this incredibly special person. Thematically, there is still a lot there for fans to connect to and go through with us. I hope they will stay on the road with us and trust that we will keep delivering everything that we have been able to deliver for the past four seasons.