Aussie actress finds her niche in Nashville – and on TV, too

Clare Bowen (Photo courtesy of Timothy White)

Clare Bowen thought her life as Scarlett O’Connor was over after four seasons when ABC canceled “Nashville” last spring. But after 174,000 fans, or “Nashies,” signed a petition to keep the show on the air, it returned on cable, with CMT striking a deal that also involved Hulu airing new episodes the following day.

So Bowen, 32, is back on television as a singing waitress and poet with a complicated love life. She’s also carving out her musical career as a solo act, finishing an album and playing occasional shows.

In advance of her Feb. 4 show at the Birchmere in Virginia, Bowen sat for an interview at the TV Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif.

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Q: Are these your first solo dates?

A: No. I did my first Australian solo tour last year. . . . Then Charles Esten and I toured together. Charles plays Deacon Claybourne on the show, so we’ve been touring together for 3 1/2 years every second weekend, or every weekend sometime. It’s funny; you’ll be getting off a tour bus on the road and then getting on a tour bus on the set of “Nashville.” It’s really strange. Art meets life and all of that.

Q: You’ve got such a Southern twang as Scarlett. Are people surprised to find you’re from Australia?

A: Yeah, they’re like, “Oh, you sound funny.”

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Q: You acted and sang growing up. Which one was most important to you?

A: Both. It was all storytelling. Musically, I grew up listening to everything from Gilbert and Sullivan – I love “The Pirates of Penzance” – to Sondheim; “Into the Woods” is my favorite musical ever. And Elvis and Roy Orbison and Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner and Alison Krauss and Buddy Miller, who I ended up working with, which is crazy; Elvis Costello, like all of these wonderful people – half of them I ended up meeting. They were my big influences growing up.

The first play I did was “Little Cosette,” a rendition of “Les Miserables” in Australia. That’s why it’s always come together – music and acting. It’s cool when it’s both of them now in “Nashville,” because music is what happens when words are just not enough to express what you’re feeling.

Q: Were you in the United States long before you got the “Nashville” job?

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A: Comparatively. I was in L.A. couch surfing. I didn’t live there ever. But I stayed there and hung with friends and worked and worked and worked to try and get to what I needed to do. I got my first U.S. film [“Dead Man’s Burden”] off a tape from Australia. And then I came back, and they said, “We better put you in pilot season.” An agent signed me and I got “Nashville.”

It all sounds neat and tidy, but it doesn’t include all my crazy, coming-up horror stories, not being able to pay rent bills and worrying about working four jobs during the night to afford doing auditions during the day. That was mostly in Australia.

Q: You were the second person cast for the ensemble. Did you know you got the part when you auditioned?

A: I went into it thinking, “This is going to be wonderful for somebody who is much better than I am and they’re going to have so much fun, and I wish them well, but for me it’s going to be a great learning experience, getting in front of this panel and just tell stories.”

But instead it changed my whole life. Suddenly, I got a call that said, “You’re moving to Nashville.” And I was like, “Where is that?” I knew it was a wonderful place, but I didn’t know exactly where it was. I’m geographically inept.

Q: At what point did you want to break from being Scarlett to being Clare and do your own recordings and tours?

A: I guess from the beginning. It was something I always wanted to do. It takes people believing in you and showing you that they believe in you to get you to move, and I’m glad it’s taken – gosh, we’ve been in Nashville since 2012 now – it’s taken that long to dig through all the different characters that I played and find myself and sing as me.

Q: It must have been a roller coaster experience for you last year, with the show being canceled then picked up again on another network.

A: Yeah, it was interesting. We had the new showrunners and the writers all set to go and we found out on Twitter that we were cancelled. Which was kind of funny. Hey, pick up the phone! But having said that, information travels so quickly these days I guess that’s the way things are.

I had a feeling that if “Nashville” ever gets cancelled, the Nashies are going to go on a rampage. And they did! They are responsible for bringing us back. They created so much interest. I can’t believe that we’re back.

Q: Has the show changed?

A: The scenes are longer. People are allowed to breathe. It’s not just bang-bang-bang-bang. They are focusing more on the music.

We’ve had nothing but fantastic feedback from the two-hour premiere we had. The care that was being taken of the show, I can hardly express how grateful I am, because I love the show, we love the city and we love our “Nashville” so much.

Q: How long do you think it could go on?

A: I don’t know. It’s not for me to say. But we’ll be here for a minute.