Dedicated family man and father of three may not be what you think of when you see Jonathan Jackson playing the role of Avery Barker on ABC’s hit show NASHVILLE. We recently got to sit down with the show’s resident bad-boy to find out more about his life, his views on the show, what he thinks of his new city, and more.
1. Before we talk Nashville TN, and Nashville on ABC, tell us how a West-Coast guy like yourself has connections to country music – and who your favorites are.
“My Dad is a huge country music fan. He’s also an amazing singer and songwriter. I grew up listening to Don Williams, Alison Krauss, Keith Whitley, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and others. My Dad would put on concerts every year in our hometown of Vancouver, WA or Portland, Oregon and he would let me sing a few songs. The first song I ever sang on stage was “The River” and I was nine years old. I also grew up with Elvis. My father has a powerful, deep, Elvis-like Gospel voice and I would hear him singing like that all the time. It had a huge impact on me. We went to Graceland for the fifteenth anniversary of Elvis’ death and it was a very profound experience.”
2. Have you always liked their music, or did that come naturally now that you’re playing Avery on the drama all about country music? Has music always been a part of your life?
“Music has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I got into Bryan Adams and REM when I was a kid and then found U2. With their help I discovered Dylan, Orbison, Cash, Cohen and Springsteen. I can’t leave out Peter Gabriel either. One of things I learned from Bono for better or worse is the belief that no note is too high to sing! I would sing in my room for hours trying to figure out how to hit those notes. It was probably painful for my family members, but I just loved the expanse of the whole thing.”
3. What was it like the first time you saw the Grand Ole Opry?
“It was amazing. I don’t say that lightly. There is a beautiful history to the Opry. There’s also a certain goodness and warmth about the shows. With all the insanity we’re witnessing in the world it’s important to be reminded of what entertainment is supposed to be about. It’s inspiring and it reminds us of who we can be.”
4. Now that you’re living and working in Music City – do you have any favorite parts or places of Nashville, the city?
“I love the Ryman. I love the Bluebird. I love the guitar shops!”
5. We’ve seen the film crews all around town, so we know you’ve gotten to see all different parts of the city. What has been the coolest place to film?
“The Ryman. Did I say that already? But, there are so many cool places it’s not easy to narrow it down.”
6. Your character appears at The 5 Spot a lot in the series. Tell us what it’s like filming there. Have you been to see a show off-camera yet?
“I have not been there except for filming. I keep hearing great things about it. I’d love to play there with my band sometime. It was great filming at The 5 Spot. I’ve been playing venues like that for years all over the country and it was surreal to be there, playing an Elvis Costello tune knowing that millions of people were going to be able to see it. I’ve lived through years of playing gig after gig and I know how hard it is. It’s so much fun to be able to act and sing on the same project.”
7. How is Nashville the city different from Washington, where you grew up, or other towns you’ve been to? Why do you think that is?
“It’s interesting, I came through Nashville about five years ago and played at 12th and Porter with Enation and I remember my brother and I saying to each other how similar it felt to Vancouver, Washington. We said that we could see ourselves living here someday. But that was a pretty abstract comment. It never seemed like a real possibility. But, here we are!”
8. From your perspective, why would you say Nashville is considered Music City?
“The history. The first studio I recorded in on Music Row is filled with history. Elvis, Orbison, Dolly have all recorded there… It’s incredible. This is Music City! It’s on the streets, in the houses, in the coffee shops… it’s in the land and you can feel it.”
9. Tell us about Avery, your character on ABC’s Nashville. How are you different from him?
“I think I’m pretty different than Avery in many ways. It’s difficult for me to articulate things like this. My life is completely different than his. I’m married; I have three kids; I have a deeply rooted faith. Where we are similar is the music.”
10. Does that make it hard to play the character?
“Not in general. That’s what acting is all about. Playing someone who isn’t you and yet bringing elements of your own soul into the character when they do happen to line up.”
11. You recently played a show at Belmont University while filming. Knowing that the school is full of aspiring music business executives, producers, musicians, and even actors – what advice would you give the students – or other fans?
“Work hard. Live with integrity. Show mercy to others and to yourself. Don’t lose heart if things don’t happen as quickly as you would like, everything has a purpose. The only failure is quitting or compromising yourself. Success is about how you live your life, not about how lucrative your career is or how esteemed you are by others. When we look back on our lives those things will look very small and fleeting. The love of your spouse and children and our common humanity are the only things that will carry weight.”
12. We’ve already seen Scarlett and Avery break up in the series – and it crushes her. Will Avery always choose music, and his dreams, over hers?
“I don’t know… I hope not. But, that’s speaking as a viewer more than as an actor. As an actor I try not to get too invested in the direction of the character because that’s out of my hands. I do hope that Avery never becomes too predictable or is always the spoiler. I think characters that change, evolve, grow and live out contradictions are the most fascinating. I know Callie is pretty brilliant about all of that, so I’m not worried.”
13. In what ways would you like to see Avery grow during the next half of the season?
“I suppose he could face himself in the mirror and come to terms with the choices he’s made. That’s not an easy thing to do in real life for anybody and I think it could bring out some incredible songs for his character as well as amazing scenes.”
14. If Avery had one wish, what would you want it to be?
“To be free from the need to be famous.”
15. What is your favorite part about playing Avery? What is the most challenging?
“I love Avery’s artistic passion. I love his humor and sarcasm. I like his wardrobe… I like the fact that he makes decisions and then struggles with them. He’s not static. He’s a constant whirlwind just beneath the surface. The most challenging part of playing Avery is breaking Scarlett’s heart. I don’t like being cruel to her. But, that’s when the whole “acting thing” comes into play!”16. If there’s one thing that Avery has done so far in the first season of the show that you could change or do differently, what would it be – and would you change it?
“I can’t say I would change anything because this show is about the journey people go on in life. It’s the struggle that people want to see as well as the joy and triumphs. He’s made some horrible choices so far, but deep down I still think there’s a lot of good in him. Most of us are paradoxical creatures. Good people often say terrible things. Narcissistic people often times show great courage and selflessness. People are complex. The drama of the choices: that’s what great storytelling is about in my opinion.”
17. Do you see even more drama coming for ABC’s Nashville? Will Scarlett and Avery, and Juliette and Rayna ever play nice, or will they keep the rivalries going?
“There’s always going to be conflict, that’s the nature of a dramatic series. But, each of these stories will have to grow and continue to change over time. That’s what’s fun about watching shows like Nashville; you get invested in these characters and then you want to go on the journey with them.”
18. How is this role, and this show, different from anything you’ve ever done?
“Every project feels different and unique. I think the most unique thing is the musical aspect. It adds a whole other dimension to it. The music is so much a part of the characters. T Bone is brilliant at finding songs that express the musical soul of each character. It’s been amazing to witness.”
19. Tell us about the music on the Nashville soundtrack, and your part in the release.
“The soundtrack is awesome. I feel so much pride over each song and every person in the cast who sang on it. Avery’s song is “Twist of Barbed Wire” and Elvis Costello wrote it. It’s a great song! Love the lyrics. It’s got a throw back vibe with a snarl. I was very humbled and honored to sing it.”
20. What was it like recording the tracks? How is this music different from the music of Enation and other styles?
“The recording process had been incredible. The musicians are all phenomenal. Two of the songs we recorded for the show are ones that I wrote… that was a real joy. The music I do in Enation has a very similar quality to it. Of course, T Bone does his mystery thing to the songs and they “awaken” if you will. But, the heart and soul of my own music has really fit the character and the show quite well. Three years ago, I was dreaming out loud and writing down a list of producers I would love to work with some day. T Bone was the first on my list. It was basically like, “How in the world is that ever going to happen?” Somehow, by God’s grace, I’m working with him.”