In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Chris Carmack doesn’t just play a singer on TV. Though he’s best known for his role as gay country star Will Lexington on ABC’s Nashville, Carmack also has a recording career of his own. His new EP, Pieces Of You, is due out soon, and he’s done several solo live shows, including a recent gig at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Nashville—the show, not the city—returns for its fourth season tomorrow, September 23.
Chris Carmack: I’ve been very lucky in my employment over the years. You would think that the worst job I’ve ever had was as janitor, but it really wasn’t, because I was a janitor at my dad’s office building when I was younger.
Being an assistant in a computer lab was the worst job I ever had. It was boring. That was when I was in college.
The A.V. Club: I remember that job. You just sat there and handed out printouts and signed people into computers, right?
CC: Basically. We were certified in PowerPoint presentations and we’d help business school students with the PowerPoint software. It was just exceptionally boring.
CC: You know, success has a lot of different plateaus. But I first felt really proud of myself when I was doing an off-Broadway production in New York City. This was after The O.C., and with that show I felt a certain modicum of success because I had been paid well to be an actor for the first time in my life, but I felt like I had done adolescent work on the show, and stepping into the New York theater arena was the first time I felt like I’d come into my own. I felt like I was proving myself in a gladiatorial arena.
AVC: A lot of more teen-centric TV shows, people get cast just for being pretty. But a lot of the cast of The O.C. has gone on to do great things.
CC: Absolutely. It’s been a good stepping stone. And not just a stepping stone, but a good job, too. But as a 23-year-old actor, you never know if it was your only brush with success. When I did theater in New York and I booked a play—actually, this is a better answer because it’s true, but I booked a play in London and I did a Tennessee Williams play in the West End. It was the first time I ever felt vindicated because the theater community out there is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking theater community and I was surrounded by actors who were in it for the craft and for the art and not so much for the fame or the paycheck.
AVC: Did you ever think about staying and doing theater?
CC: I was open to doing whatever job came next. It doesn’t take a calculator to figure out which one is more profitable. I was interested in paying the mortgage on my house.
That said, if I had been offered another West End play on the heels of that one, I probably would have stuck around and done it. I really do love the theater and as you get deeper into your career, it gets harder to carve out the time to do theater.
CC: Hmm. If I was a supervillain…
AVC: We can come back to that one.
CC: Yeah, let’s circle back to that one so I can let it ruminate.
CC: I’ve often been described more than once in my life as very much like a golden retriever. Just sort of happy and excited to do whatever it is even if it’s as simple as retrieving a ball and bringing it back ad nauseum. I think I was a pretty energetic kid. Well, I was energetic until about my mid-20s when I discovered alcohol. That’s not entirely true, but you get older and the edge comes off.
I was a nonstop, go-go-go kind of kid.
AVC: Your mom could just set you in a corner and let you entertain yourself?
CC: My mom likes to tell the story of when we were kids, my brother was very loud and required a lot of attention, and I was much more quiet and could be entertained and was much more focused on any task I was given to do. She would leave me in a playpen with a toy and I was so quiet that, eventually, fear would run through her and she’d yell, “Christopher! He’s been quiet for too long, something’s wrong!” and there I was just playing with my toy.
I’m kind of like that with the guitar these days. I can be happily shut in a room focused on a song for a long time on exercises and scales or whatever.
AVC: It’s good that you have that kind of focus. A lot of people don’t these days.
CC: I guess it’s good, but it sometimes pushes me in an antisocial direction. Not antisocial, but just not particularly social because I’m just as happy working on whatever I’m working on.
CC: I think Heidi Klum stole my heart at a young age. She was, and still is, quite an attractive woman.
CC: Like if I was like a wrestler? Like a Mexican wrestler or in the WWF?
AVC: Yeah, WWF, or if you’re a baseball player and you go up to bat and you have that song that plays and you’re going up to bat, what is it?
CC: Like what’s my “get pumped” song?
AVC: It doesn’t even have to be that. On The Tonight Show, for instance, it’s not always a jock jam.
CC: I mean, I listen to a lot of jazz and blues, which I don’t feel like would be appropriate for that situation. I feel like “Kind Of Blue” by Miles Davis would be kind of a letdown.
Let’s circle back to that one, too.
CC: So far today, I’ve had breakfast, I practiced a bit of a country tune that I’m going to play at the Grand Ole Opry in a couple of weeks, practiced a little guitar, I went for a swim for some exercise and sat out by the pool drying off, and that brings us to now. It’s been a pretty chill day so far.
AVC: Are you just playing at the Opry as part of your record release or for the show? How did you get that invite?
CC: Steve Buchanan is one of our executive producers and is a big wheel at the cracker factory, as they say. He’s given us a relatively open invite to play at the Opry and everyone on the show has done it. I think Aubrey [Peeples] is playing tomorrow night at the Opry. I selected this upcoming weekend because my grandparents are going to be in town, and my grandfather is a huge country music fan. He loves the Grand Ole Opry, and I thought it would be a special opportunity to play for him and my grandmother.
AVC: What are you going to play?
CC: I want to surprise my grandfather and play his favorite country tune, “Rose Of San Antone,” which is a real old country cover and something he’s wanted me to play for years. I’ve tried to learn it, but now I’m really focused on it and I’m going to surprise him with it.
AVC: You said you listen to a lot of blues and jazz, but are you also a country fan?
CC: Country is kind of new for me. I’ve been in Nashville for almost three years listening to a lot of country music, but it’s not my first go-to when I hit my playlist. But I certainly enjoy it.
“The Rose Of San Antone” is actually performed a lot in a style called Texas swing, which is very much in the style of gypsy jazz. The chords are a little different, but it has a jazziness to it, which I’m kind of excited about. I never really saw the crossover before, but now I think I’m much more in tune with country music and its influences and what it evolved into and I’m starting to see some more of the influences that I’ve drawn from in country music more and more.
CC: Yeah. I get a couple of them. Like sometimes women will come up to me and say, “Can I get a picture?” and I’ll say, “Yeah, sure,” and on their way out, they’ll say, “I loved you in Sex In The City,” and I’ll just think to myself, “They’re going to be disappointed when they get home and look at the picture and realize I’m not that guy.”
AVC: Who do they think you are from Sex And The City?
CC: The guy who plays Smith. I think it’s the long, blond hair.
I’ve also been mistaken for Casper Van Dien. Actually, I was at a wrap party in Los Angeles for a film that I was in and there was another wrap party going on and Casper Van Dien had been in the film. This kid comes up to me and puts his hand on my shoulder and I turn around and he gets a surprised look on his face and he’s like, “Whoa. You look just like my dad.” It was Casper Van Dien’s son.
AVC: I guess you could be a musician.
CC: Man, I’d love that. If that’s my fallback career, I’ll take it.
I don’t know, I think I’d also enjoy doing something like furniture making or something working with wood and metal. That or a racecar driver or astronaut or fireman. The usual.
AVC: Do you have a woodshop?
CC: I don’t have a shop at the moment. I became handy when I was living in Los Angeles; I owned a house that needed repairs and me and my buddy did a lot of repairs on it and I got a taste for woodworking and fixing things up and I repaired a lot of appliances. I like taking things apart and putting them back together. Tinkering. I’d be a professional tinkerer. Tinkerbell. I think that’s what they’re called. But since I’m a dude, I guess it’d be more of a Tinkerbeau.
CC: I don’t really collect anything. I mean, when I was a kid, I of course collected baseball cards and Garbage Pail Kid cards and bottle caps, but as an adult, I don’t have any collections. I have a couple of nice guitars that I use, but I don’t have anything that I collect.
I collect a lot of dust in my apartment, if that counts for anything.
CC: My grandmother’s dip as an appetizer with some Snyder’s Of Hanover pretzels. It’s a combination that was made in heaven.
AVC: What kind of dip is it?
CC: It was divinely conceived. I’m not entirely sure of the recipe, but sometimes we lovingly referred to it as “door dip” because it seemed like she used everything in the refrigerator door. It’s got cream cheese, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard. If you break it down to its components, it sounds disgusting. It’s got relish; it’s got everything that you’d basically put on a hot dog. But, somehow, it comes together into this immaculate dish that you get addicted to. If you’re trying to lose weight, you just can’t eat it because if you have one bite, you’re going to devour the bowl. I like it so much that when the family is done devouring it, I’m nominated as the one to use my finger and scrape it off the bottom of the bowl to get every last bit.
AVC: What else?
CC: For the the meal, I had a buddy named Scotty in Los Angeles who, unfortunately, passed away a couple of years ago, but his ribs were to die for. He would barbecue these ribs all day and his wife, Annie, makes these barbecue baked beans that make your eyes roll in the back of your head, as well as potato salad. So that’s going to be my entrée.
This is my last meal, right?
AVC: Yes. Feel free to just eat yourself sick.
CC: Am I facing the gallows the next day? Do I have to get through the night or is it right on the heels of this meal that I’m going to be humanely disposed of?
AVC: I’d say it’s coming soon. That’s how I imagine it.
CC: Well, then I’m going to break down and have some dairy. I’m going to eat some peach pie à la mode. Maybe some peach cobbler.
AVC: We’ve had other people use this mentality. Just say, “I don’t mind feeling terrible because I’m dead anyway.”
CC: Well, see that’s thing—I wouldn’t want to feel terrible. If I had to go to sleep to get through the night, I might skip dessert.
AVC: Well, you’re about to die, so I don’t know if you’d sleep regardless.
CC: That’s true; you have a good point there, but I wouldn’t want to have a stomach ache.
AVC: Would you want anything to drink?
CC: No, I think with the ribs I’d crack myself a nice bottle of wine or some Châteauneuf-Du-Pape. That’s what I’ve been drinking recently, which I really like. So I’ll stick to it.
AVC: Let’s go back to the questions you skipped. If you were a supervillain, what would your master plan be?
CC: If I had a supervillain master plan… Well, one of my pet peeves is that when people are in their automobiles, I think they’re exceptionally rude on the road. I would love to have the superpower to make their cars break down after they do something rude on the road so the freeways would be littered with these jackasses who have broken-down cars.
AVC: You’d have this evil stare and their cars would just break down.
CC: Exactly. As soon as they do something rude, their car just sputters to a stop. Not very dramatic, but I think it would be effective.
AVC: And then, if you had entrance music, what would it be? You can stick with “Kind Of Blue” if you like.
CC: No, it’s got to be something bumping, something big. Oh, man.
I was thinking along the line of AC/DC or Guns N’ Roses. Maybe “Welcome To The Jungle” would be a good one. Lets stick with that.
Bonus 12th question from Chris Parnell: If you could travel to any place or period in time, where and when would it be and why?
AVC: You could say the future.
CC: Man. No, I don’t want to go to the future. I’m scared of the future!
AVC: The Cotton Club?
CC: Yeah. That’d be kind of cool to hear Charlie Parker play. Is that where he played?
AVC: I think so.
CC: These are hard questions.
My girlfriend says the ’60s. [Yells to his girlfriend.] Why the ’60s? There was good music, that’s for sure.
I’m tempted to say Woodstock or something. But at the same time, as a sober individual looking back on Woodstock—well, not sober in life but just at the moment—you’re in the mud for three days, but I’m sure there were enough drugs to get everyone through it. So, Woodstock it is.
AVC: What do you want to ask the next person?
CC: Has there ever been a moment where you thought you were going to quit what you’re doing now?
AVC: Have you?
CC: All the time.
CC: A career like mine as an actor has a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes you wonder if you’re not wasting your time trying to carve out a space for yourself in this crazy entertainment industry.