INTERVIEW: Sam Palladio (Gunnar) from Nashville

January 9th, 2013 by

SAM PALLADIO

Sam Palladio wouldn’t call himself a singer if you asked…at least not yet. But I think that the success of his amazing duets (and solos) on Nashville would beg to differ. Palladio plays Gunnar, a struggling singer/songwriter with big dreams. Gunnar works with Scarlett (played by the talented Clare Bowen), and their relationship has gone recently from friends and writing partners to possibly something more. But are either of them ready to commit to each other? Palladio hopes that their relationship will be a slow burn, like Ross and Rachel on Friends. And I share in that hope. Nashville has quickly become one of my favorite new shows, and I’m constantly encouraging people to watch it, even if they aren’t a fan of country music. That’s not what the show is about. It’s about a musical world that few have ever tried to accurately portray. But Nashville succeeds at that, while adding soapy drama that we all love. And the music is phenomenal. When I caught up with Palladio, he was calling from Nashville, saying it was a great day to have a cup of coffee and a chat. I (somewhat shamefully) admitted to him I have a special Scarlett and Gunnar playlist and he was eager to talk about the show and all it has meant to him. But he’s a busy guy (or chap as they might say in his hometown of England). He’s working with a new band, kind of a Civil Wars type folk band, and in September, he has a movie “Runner, Runner” coming out with Justin Timberlake. But I had to ask him about what’s coming up for Gunnar (and Scarlett of course), what songs he hopes to sing on the show and if the accent has been hard to master.

Filming the pilot was your first trip to the States. Can you talk a little bit about that experience and what you loved most about the role of Gunnar?
Coming from a musical background, to land in Nashville as my first ever (laughs) sort of way point was pretty awesome. I had grown up being influenced by Americana and 70’s folk and James Taylor and Eli Young, so the job really was amazing for me because a kind of fast track into that world. For both me in real life, living in the city and then of course, being involved in this amazing show that really sort of [threw] those worlds together for me pretty seamlessly. Gunnar is one of my favorite characters on the show, because we see this guy who is a passionate, driven musician, but [is] kind of unsure of himself, knowing his talents but there’s so much there that can grow, which is really great and we see that in the last two episodes. We certainly see that coming up in some future episodes as well. He’s kind of an underdog. You start rooting for him and Scarlett and I think audiences will get a nice transition into a man who becomes a bit more sure of himself and knows what he wants. Because it was pretty much confusion and conflict and indecisiveness and should he make a move on Scarlett and come on, is he going to do anything? And then he sort of does and then he gets involved with somebody else. Eventually he starts kind of get his head screwed on and go from there. But moving here has just been so drastic. Living in the city is such a fantastic thing for all of us actors because we’re able to really absorb the energy here and go out and see real band, real Scarletts and Gunnars that are part of the place. And it’s just been great — the environment, for an actor, you’re right in the heart of the city, shooting and this is the [city] you’re shooting about. It’s pretty cool.

I imagine you have been very inspired by the musicians and being immersed in the city.
Yeah, it’s hugely inspiring. I’m writing with some great songwriters. And actually, we’ve been really accepted by the music community here. For a group of actors coming into a music community, we’ve been very welcomed. I think we’re painting the right picture of Nashville and that’s pretty cool.

You are both a singer/songwriter and an actor, what have you found more challenging on the show — the singing or the acting?
I think there’s little elements of both that are challenging and in the same breath, really engaging, and that’s what makes this so exciting. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be as fun. I find that I love working in the southern dialect. I’ve done a lot of work back home. I always do a different accent in whatever show I’ve done. I’ve done a little bit of work with the southern dialect doing Tennessee Williams plays in college, and then I played an American role in Showtime’s Episodes. It’s pretty cool. I’ve always loved working on accents, and sort of dissecting dialects and things. So I have a really good dialect coach on the show who will sit down and work through scripts as they come in, and I’ll do my homework and sit down and read through and tweak things that need to be tweaked. And so, it’s kind of a cool process. The singing is…I’ve never really considered myself a singer, I guess. I’d always played in bands. It’s always been a passion, but I suppose I’ve sung in kind of rock bands, and then played drums in bands, and [played] more of a musician’s role in some bands. I’ve always loved singing but not usually like “I’m a bad-ass rock singer.” My band was more of a three piece harmony group. So this has been a real eye opener. Because I really was put in sort of the deep end with that first song, that beautiful song “If I Didn’t Know Better.” But you end up with those super high falsetto moments, for my vocal line that I was a bit daunted by to start with. Then we realized that oh maybe I can sing this with a little bit of help, a little bit of guidance and vocal coaching and I was like “I can, I can,” I think I know how to do this now. The response to the music has been absolutely phenomenal. Even like you were saying, you have a little Scarlett/Gunnar playlist. So many people do as well, and I think that’s ridiculous. Having been here for 6 months, singing every day, I think it’s improving and getting stronger and I still wouldn’t say if someone said “You’re a singer,” yeah, I’m a singer. I just take the approach that I’m an actor who sings. If I need to sing something, I’ve got the tools here to do it, but I don’t think I ever…well, I’m not sure. Never say never.

I think you can call yourself a singer.
You think so? I feel like it’s kind of a shortcut. I get this wonderful job and it throws me on iTunes. Which is very cool, I’m not complaining.

Is it harder to get the accent when you are singing or easier?
I think it’s easier. I’ve always realized there’s so much American influence in the way people sing. I certainly grew up listening to rock bands of the 90’s — back when I was 16, like Linkin Park and you sing with that and imitate that American, rock-y kind of voice. And I think in the UK, American music is so popular that I always found myself singing with an American accent. And when it comes to singing stuff for the show, it’s kind of cool to be able to sing in character. There’s that song in the second episode, the Ray Price song that Gunnar sings, and it’s kind of nice to channel that real country twang and listen to Hank Williams and people like that and pick up on it and imitate it. I’d never go out and sing one of my songs in a real country twang, but I get to do these things with the show.

Yeah, definitely. And how are we going to see the Scarlett and Gunnar relationship develop? Is it officially over with Haley? What can we expect?
Twists and turns. You know, relationships aren’t simple. Gunnar’s history comes into play in the next few episodes, in January, when you get to see some really interesting backstory that isn’t simple, that’s got some heartbreak, that’s got some real weight to it and I think that really sort of influences their relationship for a while. Because he becomes a lot stronger but also puts up his defenses a little bit. So we get a sense that he’s in a difficult place. Scarlett’s trying to help him out, doesn’t really understand what’s going on and he doesn’t really want to talk about it. So they have this kind of friction. They don’t know what the other one’s feeling at the moment, but ultimately that kind of brings them closer. When you’re not sure whether to confide some information in somebody and when you do, you’re in a better place, but they’re sort of in this trust moment — wondering what information to disclose. It’s good. It’s not a simple they get together and fall in love. It’s always building. It’s always taking a road that’s surprising.

Pretty much every character on the show has a secret or a painful past. Does Gunnar have a secret? Is this what we are going to learn about when we learn his backstory?
Well, I guess so, yeah. Maybe not so much a secret but it’s certainly something that is very interesting and makes you see him in a different light. Makes you see him as more than just the kind of thoughtful artist. He’s kind of coming into his own and it’s because of this backstory.

Interesting! And last we saw with Scarlett and Gunnar is that they got one of their songs put on hold. Are we going to see Rayna or Juliette or possibly both of them sing one of their songs?
Yeah, we actually have some stories coming up where finally Scarlett and Gunnar’s paths begin to merge with Rayna’s. She has some developments further in career — making some musical choices and comes back to Watty White, JD’s character, who kind of reminds her of this young duo they saw at the Bluebird and that really starts the ball rolling on this next phase of [Rayna’s] development and where she decides to take her music, due to the harsh response she gets from her label and Marshall Evans, and all those characters. So it’s kind of cool. I’m looking forward to working with her at some point. It’s still not quite set in stone as to when, but those scenes are certainly being surfaced in the recent episodes. So yeah, I think there’s about to be the merging of those two worlds. Which I’m really excited about, because I haven’t got the chance to work with Connie. But I guess if she takes a strong interest in Scarlett and Gunnar musically or for record label purposes, it’s certainly going to be coming together.

Do you have a favorite song that you’ve sung on the show or that you will be singing?
There’s actually some really cool songs coming up. I think it must be episode 11, which we just finished shooting, where Scarlett and Gunnar move away from their folk, singer-songwriter harmony stuff, to a lot more of a rockier, edgier sound, and they join up with a band. So that’s really awesome. You get kind of stomping country rock thing happening in a couple episodes time, so that kind of ties in with Gunnar’s emotional state and not in the head space for being lovey-dovey and writing romantic songs, and he comes up with this kind of rocking riff. So I’m excited to see where this next phase of Gunnar and Scarlett [goes]. What was one I loved singing? “When the Right One Comes Along” from the last episode, is such a beautiful song, and a timeless song and I can’t believe the success it’s had on iTunes already when it’s just me singing. It’s my little solo. People want to buy just me, playing with a guitar.

And the duet is on the soundtrack…
Yeah! I’m going to buy it in Target later on. I think I need to document it.

Definitely. So you were saying you think your favorite is “When The Right One Comes Along”…
I think so. I just think it’s got some timelessness to it. But I mean I can’t deny I just love “If I Didn’t Know Better” and I think that song will always have real significance. I’ll probably sing it for the rest of my life. That was the thing for me that really grabbed everyone’s attention at the end of the pilot and caused a bit of a stir and I think was an amazing counterpoint to what people thought Nashville, the TV show, might be like. And especially in the closing moments, you could close with some country ballad or country pop but I think to have the closing be something like that, it made people go wow, this is interesting. Clare and I thought that was one of the talking points. So it’s been a good song for me.

Do you have a dream song or duet that you’d like to sing on the show?
I’ve just been writing with JD Souther in real life. And we’ve just written this really awesome — what I think is awesome — duet, that we might pitch to the show sooner rather than later. So that would be kind of cool. It’s a track called “Lay Down Your Love.” I’m a huge James Taylor fan. And he’s got a song that’s one of my favorites, called “You Can Close Your Eyes.” And I think that’s one of my all-time favorite songs. I think we’re starting to get to bring in the odd cover or the odd classic song. We had Scarlett sing “Ring of Fire.” I think we are slowly moving towards being able to sing some material that’s been out there for years. Any of the Civil Wars songs. I know they’ve actually just broken up, which is heartbreaking. They’re amazing. Anything from that Barton Hollow album is a classic.

Nashville had a lot of buzz even before it started. What do you think has made it such a success and sets it apart from other music shows out there?
I think Nashville just has a lot of heart to it. And I think it’s got a great combination of storylines and characters and I think that’s always the key to it is the writing is so strong. And you get the different worlds. You have Juliette and Rayna’s country world, that’s very much about the glamour and the deceit and the drama there, which is the juicy, almost like TMZ style, celebrity world to follow. And then you flip to Scarlett and Gunnar, the underdogs, the real struggling musicians that you find in Nashville. I think the fact that we’re shooting here really influences that and we’re able to produce a close to life replica of life in Nashville. And I think it’s a winning combination, really, with Connie, with Hayden, with Powers Booth, with Chip Esten, we just have got such great talent — acting talent — and then you combine that with the success of the music and having T. Bone Burnett as our supervisor and Executive Producer. I think the music choices have been so crucial to the success. He’s got such style to his music choices. Coming from a real life rock/country/pop, having worked with [who he has], it’s not like there’s a TV exec saying let’s put a catchy number in this episode. It’s T. Bone and the team really knowing what they’re doing and knowing how to find a great song. Whether it be an Elvis Costello song or an up and coming Nashville based duo, so I think it’s a combination of all of that. Some great acting, amazing storylines, really interesting music choices. I’ve had so many tweets and emails of people who would never dream of listening to country music, who are absolutely hooked. I think because of the music choices and because it’s not what you think it will be.

I’m always pitching the show to my friends, and when they tell me they don’t like country music, I tell them to watch anyway because it’s not what they are picturing in their head.
Yeah, yeah. I compare it to Friday Night Lights. It’s nothing to do with football, it’s about family relationships. And I think that’s what we’re trying to capture with Nashville. It’s not just a show about country hicks, it’s just struggling families dealing with their problems in the music world.

You and Clare recently got to perform at the Ryman. Can you talk a little bit about that and what it was like to perform on such an amazing stage.
It was kind of overwhelming, to be honest. It was incredible. We got such a warm welcome at the Ryman that night. It was crazy. I think it was a great thing to do because it highlighted the fact that we do sing and we do play and it’s not speculation, it is real. And that’s what makes the show so exciting is that everybody who is a singer or musician in the show is in real life.

And what can you tease about what’s coming up when you come back in January?
So Juliette has got some interesting choices to make with the wedding — whether that all goes smoothly or not is a bit exciting for the viewers. We obviously know she’s going to go through with it. We’ve seen the teaser. So you can be prepared for things not to go as smoothly as you could imagine there. The drama really boils for Rayna and Teddy as the campaign comes to its close. For Gunnar and Scarlett, we meet one of Gunnar’s family members in a few episodes time, which really instigates this whole backstory.

And lastly, what do you hope to see from Gunnar as the show continues?
As we see this difficult backstory, I think he moves slightly into this more stand-offish, slightly aggressive tone which everybody realizes there’s something going on. And I think for me, coming from kind of a rock music background, I’m slowly throwing seeds at the writers that it would be really cool to see some of those colors from Gunnar. I was with the writers in LA last week and just sort of sowing the seeds of in real life I play drums, I used to play in a rock band and all that kind of stuff. It is a Nashville thing to be multi-skilled and pop in with other bands. So musically, it would be nice to see progression from the folk stuff to the more edgier rock stuff, and hopefully full circle, back to something like that. I think the Scarlett and Gunnar thing — I hope in fact that it’s a slow burn. We haven’t jumped the gun with that relationship and I’m not sure if that will ever be quite as easy as to get them together. I was saying in the beginning, I hope it’s like a kind of Ross and Rachel kind of situation. It’s on, it’s off. Maybe by season 10, oh thank God, they’re together. I like the kind of ebb and flow of that.

Be sure to tune in tonight for an all new episode of Nashville at 10 PM on ABC.

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