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Sam Palladio, ‘Nashville’ Star, Makes Music City Memories (Exclusive Interview)

Sam Palladio
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

“I’m not gonna comment, maybe she’ll be here tonight.”

That’s how actor/musician Sam Palladio (better known as Gunnar Scott on the ABC drama, “Nashville”) answers when asked who he would name as the hottest woman in Music City. The Boot sat down with Sam and fellow musician Josh Doyle, both of whom were born in England and are now living and playing music in town, on the occasion of their dual appearance at downtown nightspot 3rd and Lindsley, with a packed-to-the-rafters crowd of more than 500 in attendance.

Although Sam’s answer was actually quite vague, one wonders in hindsight if by “here” he meant in the audience or on stage, since his special guest during the performance was “Nashville” co-star Clare Bowen, who plays Scarlett O’Connor. Scarlett is Gunnar’s crush and now his roommate, adding yet another wrinkle to the complicated relationship between the two characters. But whatever one might take away from his response to the question, it’s undeniable their chemistry as performers has captivated TV viewers and Nashville residents alike. The same can be said for Sam’s solo performances, which lean more toward folk music, steeped in the influence of his favorite artists, which include James Taylor, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Neil Young.

Born in the village of Pembury in the southeast of England, Sam was raised in the southwest seaside town of Cornwall and speaks with a charming British accent, something sure to surprise “Nashville” viewers accustomed to Gunnar’s Texas twang. What’s not surprising is that while he’s mostly made his living as an actor, working mainly in British television until now, he’s a lifelong music fan, even if the country music of his “Nashville” cohorts Rayna James (played by Connie Britton) and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), wasn’t always his forté.

“Cornwall has lots of folk and Celtic music and has that kind of surfer vibe as well,” Sam tells The Boot. “That was my kind of upbringing. I played drums and bass in rock bands and metal bands before moving to this type of music which is folk-influenced, Americana, and slight twangs of country since I’ve been here for the last six months. [Country music] wasn’t something that I grew up listening to. I’m a lot more aware now. There’s a huge bunch of artists I hadn’t really come across, with my head in the acting world back in London. Now, obviously, having to be aware and having to be sensitive to all the music around me here, it’s kind of like learning a new songbook.”

Another aspect of living in the country-music capital and taking the stage to play your own songs is never knowing who might be in the audience listening.

“The talent here is ridiculous,” says the singer-songwriter. “It does cross your mind, in terms of playing [in front of a Nashville audience]. I am a self-taught guitarist. I just try to piece together passages that have some melodic value! [laughs] The people here are so warm and have been in terms of receiving our show so well. Everybody was a bit apprehensive before it aired, that it could have painted a really bad picture of the city. But the music here is so diverse and we wanted to touch on that. The music could have gone one way, if we had bigwigs in L.A. making the shots.”

Katherine Bomboy-Thornton, Disney/ABC

Although the 3rd & Lindsley performance was his first real band gig in Nashville, or, as he calls it his “first hometown show,” Sam has performed, both solo and with Clare Bowen, on the city’s most famous stage, the Grand Ole Opry.

“We sang two songs from the show, which was an amazing experience,” he recalls. “I was hugely daunted because of the history and just the weight of being there. Then, the second time, they asked me to come back and play by myself. So I sang two originals on the Opry, which I was sort of doubly-daunted by because they’d never heard these songs. I’d written one with J.D. Souther, it was my first co-write with him. Buddy Miller was telling me about one of times he went to the Opry … and Dolly Parton was playing and she said, ‘I’m gonna sing sing this new song, forgive me if get it a bit wrong. I’ve just written it. It’s called ‘Jolene.’”

With “Nashville” wrapping its first season in April, then awaiting word as to whether there will be a second, Sam is also looking forward to release of “Runner, Runner,” the crime drama in which he stars alongside Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake. But the steady paychecks from his big- and small-screen ventures aren’t necessarily burning a hole in his pocket.

“I’m able to buy maybe an extra guitar,” he says. “This is my first time as a regular character in a, hopefully, long-running series. So that stability is really good. My family runs a little art gallery back in Cornwall, so flashy cars and things like that have never really been particularly interesting to me. I’m quite happy.”

Of course, Sam’s happiness — and that cagey answer to our question — could also be due to his rumored relationship with Chloe Bennet, the actress who plays Gunnar’s ex, Hailey, on the show. Chloe tweeted a photo of the pair together at 3rd & Lindsley with a caption reading, “Didn’t know this guy could sing.”

That this guy can sing is one secret that’s definitely out.

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