By: Robert Rorke
Clare Bowen left Australia behind to sing on ‘Nashville’
When Cate Blanchett tells you to go to America to find your fortune, you pack your bags and go. Or in the case of Clare Bowen, the singer with the ethereal yet powerful voice on ABC’s “Nashville,” you sell your vintage dress collection to buy a plane ticket.
Now, Bowen, 23, is starring in her first TV series and is working on her first solo CD with T Bone Burnett, the Grammy-winning producer, “Nashville” musical supervisor and husband of its creator, Callie Khouri. How the petite, classically trained singer found her way to Tennessee to play waitress Scarlett O’Connor is a dramatic story that began in 2010, backstage at opening night of the rock musical “Spring Awakening,” an Australian production supervised by Blanchett. After Bowen moved to LA, it didn’t take long — she didn’t even have to make a Lifetime movie — for the Khouri’s “Nashville” script to land in her lap.
“I was two hours late for the casting because of the rain. I called and said, ‘I think I have to cancel. I don’t want to keep them waiting.’ And they said, ‘They’re waiting for you.’ So I went. I looked like a drowned rat. I was soaking wet. I sang and [the casting director] said, ‘I gotta get my camera.’ ”
Told to come back the next morning and sing a country song, Bowen met Khouri and her co-executive producer R.J. Cutler. “I guess it could have been intimidating but they were really nice,” she says. “So we sat there and talked for an hour and a half, making friends. And they said, ‘We need to see you tonight at a recording studio.’ I was actually going out on for a test on another project. I was about to sign the waiver that says you can’t go out on anything else if you go out for this test. I was at the desk with the pen in my hand when the phone rang and my manager said, ‘Don’t you sign anything. You have to go the studio right now go.’ The next morning they told me I had a job. And my whole life changed.”
In the process, Bowen lost her boyfriend who dumped her because she got “Nashville,” giving her an immediate identification with her character, whose talent outstrips that of Avery (Jonathan Jackson), the would-be rocker she’s living with as the series opens.
“I got told to f- – k myself because I got ‘Nashville.’ Someone that I loved. And I’m sure he’s happy somewhere,” Bowen says. “So Scarlett and I are discovering ourselves at the same time.”
In person, Bowen approaches translucence. Wearing a white, short-sleeved dress and heavily fringed, light brown suede cowgirl boots, a silk flower clipped to her upswept palomino mane, she is a blue-eyed, honky-tonk angel. She attributes her movie-star cheekbones to her Norwegian ancestors and her set of pipes to the Irish side of the family. It’s not surprising to learn that she’s from a family of singers. Her grandfather was a tenor in a barbershop quartet and her grandmother was coloratura soprano. Trained to sing from age 4, Bowen noticed that while studying operetta her voice began to change into something more elastic — her range is more than two octaves — than the school was used to.
“My voice was moving in a different direction, naturally,” she says. “It didn’t quite fit in with the very strict classical world. And they told me that was a part of my voice that sounded odd. And they said maybe you shouldn’t be in this class.”
Sydney’s loss was “Nashville’s” gain. Bowen has flourished on the ABC series, where her voice has outshone her higher-billed co-stars Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere. Her duet with Sam Palladio, “If I Didn’t Know Better,” seen in the first episode, was a sign that she was only getting started.
Cutler says that Bowen and Palladio, who is from Cornwall, England, were cast as if the producers know how well their voices would harmonize. “You can look at hundreds of people and not find the person,” he says. “But we saw a videotape of Clare. Same thing with Sam. We received a videotape that he had put together. We had casting people spreading the word around the country and in London. Instantly he was Gunnar and Clare was Scarlett.”
Bowen and Palladio met in Nashville when the pilot started shooting. “Sam and I decided to go exploring, so we went down to Broadway. We walked along the Cumberland [River] and got to know each other. It was really nice,” she says. And since then, she has blended in effortlessly, singing with Vince Gill at the Ryman Theater, enjoying the regional cuisine (“The biscuits are a shock to the system. Damn!”) and hanging out at honky-tonks like Robert’s Western World. “It sounds like a store, but it’s not,” she says. “Boots and grilled cheese.”
After the bad breakup that preceded her arrival in Tennessee, Bowen is not dating. “I’ve made some very nice friends,” she says. “It’s a lot easier to make friends without someone breathing down your neck the whole time. Not wanting you to talk to [other] people.” If working on “Nashville” sounds like it’s too much fun — away from the corporate drones that hover over your average TV show — it is.
“It’s nice to be hiding in Nashville,” Bowen says. “There’s nothing hard about this job except maybe putting in eye drops in the morning. You can’t bat red eyes at people.”
Source: New York Post