Connie Britton on Playing Southern Women and What It’s Like When Your College Roommate Runs for President

Connie Britton at the 2018 HFPA Annual Grants Banquet at the Beverly Hilton Hotel
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Emmy-nominated actress Connie Britton, starring in the new Roger Ailes biopic, Bombshell, talks about saying no to karaoke and what it’s like when your college roommate runs for president.

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But first, the basics:

Age: 52

Hometown: Lynchburg, Virginia

Top 4 Southern Women

  1. My grandmama Lucy George
  2. Ann Richards
  3. Rosa Parks
  4. Wendy Davis

You’re famous for playing southern women Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights and Rayna Jaymes on Nashville, but you’re from Boston?

Well, I was born in Boston, but I was raised in rural Virginia. It’s funny, I used to be known for playing New Yorkers when I started out, both on Spin City and as a Long Island girl in The Brothers McMullen, which was my first big break.

Why do you think you ended up being drawn to playing southern women?

Growing up, the feistiest women I knew were southern, including my grandmother. I watched them work to gain power and respect within the confines of traditional family and community, which they often did through wit and humor.

You recently starred in the podcast-to-TV adaptation of Dirty John, playing Debra Newell, who is in an abusive relationship. Were you a fan of the podcast? Or of true-crime podcasts generally?

I don’t really listen to podcasts. But my friends were all talking about it, how they all wanted to shake Debra for not dumping the guy. And I understand how easy it is to be conned by a smart, manipulative man who says whatever it takes to get what he wants. It feels like our country is being conned that way right now.

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In Bombshell (Dec. 20), you portray Elizabeth Ailes, the wife of Fox News creator Roger Ailes. Was there something you related to in her, too, or was it hard to play someone who stood by her man after he was accused of multiple cases of sexual harassment?

I try not to judge any of my characters. The way I see it, some people think of her as weak, but she was actually very strong in her way to live by her convictions.

It sounds like you have a lot of empathy for people with different views.

I really try to—I have a twin sister who supported Trump. She was raised in the exact same house as me at the exact same time. That makes it a lot harder to say, “Where do these people come from?”

I understand that you once lived in Beijing.

When I got to Dartmouth, I wanted to study the coolest language I could, and that was Chinese. Then I studied abroad in Beijing.

I understand how easy it is to be conned by a smart, manipulative man who says whatever it takes.

How was that?

It was very a substantial culture shock. It was the ’80s, pre–Tiananmen Square. China was very closed, very communist, and there weren’t a lot of people there who weren’t Chinese. We were quite a sight—me and Kirsten Gillibrand and two other girlfriends made up a little posse, riding around on our bicycles.

Wait, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand?

She was my roommate. We relied on each other and bonded in a very deep way. It was a big leap to go from Lynchburg, Virginia, to Beijing, China, in 1986. So we held on to each other for dear life.

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What did you think of her presidential run?

I did everything I could to support her. I thought, How often in my life am I going to have a friend who’s running for the president of the United States? So often when we’re dealing with electing people to office, it’s a lot of guesswork. In this case, I actually could speak to her integrity, who she is, and her character. That was a different vantage point than I’d ever experienced when it comes to politics.

You sang in most episodes of Nashville. Did that leave you with a go-to karaoke song?

I’m not a karaoke person. My friends are always trying to get me to go, and I’m like, “No, I don’t do karaoke.”

Why not? You have a great voice.

You’re very sweet, but nobody ever sounds good in karaoke, no matter what. That’s just not a thing.

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