Nashville's Chris Carmack

Nashville's Chris Carmack

It’s been a decade since Chris Carmack snarled, “Welcome to the O.C., bitch,” and ushered in a whole new era of bratty prime-time drama. Now the actor has traded in his old puka shell necklace for a cowboy hat on ABC’s Nashville, where he plays Will Lexington, a rising country star who, unlike this year’s real-life twangy viral obsession Steve Grand, has yet to leave the closet.

You got bumped up to a series regular for Season 2, but you don’t just need to act to play Will — you need musical chops. What’s your secret weapon?
I grew up playing the saxophone. I joined the jazz band in high school, but somewhere along the way I realized the guys who strummed acoustic guitars at parties were the ones who got the attention. So I asked a friend to show me a few chords, and when I moved to L.A. I spent a lot of time practicing my guitar.

In Season 1, Will kissed his obviously straight friend Gunner. Why’s he so clueless?
I think Will might have a mild case of sexual Asperger’s. He doesn’t know better — all he knows is how to go to a bar and take home whatever drunk girl comes on to him. With Gunner he stopped pushing everything down; he let himself get swept up.

Do you think it’s possible to be openly gay and a successful country singer?
People I’ve spoken to say that at a certain level it’d be career suicide for somebody to come out of the closet. That’s a terrible kind of fame. I don’t think executives would give Will the time of day. That’s a damn shame, but in country music there’s a stigma that’s insurmountable.

How have fans reacted to Will’s story line?
People ask me, “Which pretty girl on that show are you with?” Even my grandma did. I said, “I don’t know, Mama, you’re just gonna have to watch!”

We’ve gotta ask: What’s Connie Britton’s hair really like?
It looks great. What you see on the show is the real thing. It’s magical.

Watch the season premiere tonight on ABC