‘Nashville’ star Chip Esten says Hank Williams inspired ‘Deacon’

Charles “Chip” Esten isn’t a country music superstar, but he plays one on TV. Wait, scratch that, Esten, who stars in ABC’s “Nashville,” is a singer-songwriter in his own right. Diehards will recognize the 48-year-old actor from his hilarious “hoedown” freestyles on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” while brand new fans just call him “Deacon,” the brooding but lovable guitar player on the southern fried soap opera.

An Alexandria-native, Esten’s been in the District a lot lately. First dropping by the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday night and then performing the following day with his doubly talented castmates in “ABC’s Nashville In Concert” at the Lincoln Theatre.

During another Washington pit stop, this time to raise awareness for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, an organization he joined forces with when his 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed a decade ago (she’s now healthy), Esten dished about all things “Nashville,” minus any spoilers.

Should more stars lend their names to important causes?

I feel very lucky to have such a job as this and get to do the things I do. When you’re in a good part of your life and you’re getting all these blessings maybe give back a little bit. It’s so very easy. 

The biggest difference between Nashville and Washington?

I’ve found more similarities between Virginia and Nashville than differences. First of all, the seasons. I missed them desperately [in Los Angeles]. There’s a real community [in Nashville]. There’s a real charm to it that I like. They’re both kind of big little towns.

Do you ever get tired of people shouting “Uncle Deacon!”?

Two nights ago we were here in town at the Lincoln Theatre, a couple people were calling out Deacon, but even more were calling out Chip. It was unbelievable for me to be back here with all my friends and family. It was a real special moment.

What kind of relationship advice would always wise Deacon offer up?

Deacon’s been known to give his fair share of advice, but I think that’s only because he’s been down that tough road before. Unfortunately he’s dealt with a lot of demons, and that makes a relationship of any kind very hard. I think he would probably say, “You have to work on yourself before you’re going to be able to be in any kind of partnership. Until you’re healthy, it’s going to be hard to be in a relationship that’s healthy.” That’s what he would say, and I tend to agree with that.

Will Rayna and Deacon ever get together — and stick?

There’s always gonna be that connection, that link between the two of them. Even when they’re fighting, you can just see something, some spark. That sort of deep deep love is what we’re exploring. It’s not always the easy path, but sometimes it’s just so much a part of you that it doesn’t go away.

Who are some of the real country singers the show’s characters are based on?

It’s literally not one person because that wouldn’t make sense. Why just stick with the one person? Why not take the best of these ones and the worst of those ones?

Who is your favorite country music singer?

Hank Williams. He just set the template and unfortunately set the template for some of those demons I was talking about,  but what he was able to do was to take his pain and put it in a song that can tear you up or it can lift you. It’s hard to get better than Hank.

So would you say he was your inspiration for “Deacon”?

Hank Williams is absolutely one of the people who inspires the character of Deacon, and not just him, but his songs. Those songs come from a real true place. That’s something about the best of country music, they’re very soul baring. Hank was one of the first to start doing that.

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Helena Andrews is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to reliablesource@washpost.com.
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Helena Andrews · May 8, 2014