Will Chase, who plays Luke Wheeler on Nashville, has an unenviable role on the show. Brought in as Rayna James’s boyfriend-turned-fast-tracked-fiancé (the wedding is in December, y’all!), he moseyed on in between Rayna (Connie Britton) and her ONE TRUE LOVE, Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten). Those of us who have been rooting for Rayna and Deacon to finally reunite might have been a little disappointed when uber-famous, seemingly issue-free Luke swept Rayna off her feet and promised her a perfect celebrity relationship (Ruke? Layna?) and a stable home life — something Deacon could never offer. Chase recently spoke to VH1 about the fan reaction to Luke (“I’ve been getting a lot of ’Puke Wheeler’ hashtags!”), that amazing ’90s ponytail he donned in a flashback scene, and the buddy-cop spinoff he wants to make with a certain co-star.
VH1: How are fans reacting to you these days now that you’ve stolen Rayna away from Deacon?
Will Chase: I’ve been getting a lot of Puke Wheeler hashtags!
That’s pretty hilarious! Are there any other good audience reactions to your character?
There are some outspoken fans that are just like, “I can’t stand this creep Luke Wheeler,” and I’m like “What did he do? What is creepy about him?” ’Cause there’s really nothing. I mean there are always the trolls who are just mean to be mean on whatever show. But our fans are fun because I know they follow me and they try to stick up for me. If people do get mean, they’ll go “Well, wait a minute, come on! Remember these are characters in a television program.” What’s funny about it is you see what you want to see. I mean Luke has literally done nothing wrong.
You’re just a successful, nice, decent human being without an alcohol problem.
Hashtag that. Nice, successful, rich human being without an alcohol problem, yes.
Do you get invested in the other plot lines on the show? There are so many, and you don’t have scenes with so many of the other actors.
We’re getting ready to shoot this epic episode right now. It’s funny, I very rarely see Jonathan [Jackson] and Sam [Palladio] and that crew because I’m never in scenes with them so I see them in the makeup chair or out at the Opry. But in this episode we’re shooting now, it’s all of us together and it’s a lot of fun. We’re shipwrecked, can you imagine? We’re shipwrecked on an island. No, I’m kidding.
That would be amazing. Shipwrecked on the Mississippi in a bottle episode of Nashville.
[Laughs.] We did a dinner cruise and — I could really have fun with this, look at your face! You’re hanging on to every word!
I would be so into that. I wrote a post recently that predicted where the show could go with Juliette’s pregnancy, like maybe she starts an all-sequined maternity line of clothing for pregnant performers — just ridiculous things.
For pregnant performers! It’s funny you say that. I think the days of outlandishness are done on our show. Our writers — I don’t envy them. I don’t envy them in that task of having to fit all these characters into these pegs, which I think they do a pretty outstanding job [of]. Because you constantly are, other than your series regulars. And I remember going to test for other jobs and you don’t know if this guy you’ve written this big arc for is going to be there next week. So you’re constantly having to rewrite and rethink.
I did want to ask you if you ever worry because they do have a habit of killing off people when it’s necessary. Do you ever worry that Luke is going to get into like a horrible bus crash or something?
Well you know what? I mean, really, who’s died? Lamar, who else?
Lamar, Peggy, Juliette’s mom, and her sponsor.
No, I mean I think they’re done. At least, I can’t imagine them doing that much more. “Really? Somebody’s going to die?” No, I’m not worried about that. I mean I think there’s enough stuff there for them to write without killing me.
It seems like you play a lot of roles that are kind of meta to your real life. Like as a performer constantly playing a performer. And also like being in somewhat of a celebrity relationship in real life and also playing that.
That’s really interesting. I have never thought of the meta thing. Now I’m thinking about every role I’ve ever played in my life. I certainly didn’t seek it. We can talk to my manager about this. I do remember once when we were debating taking this job going, “Do I want another job where I’m singing on a show? Am I going to get pigeon-holed as the guy that now sings on the show?” But to me, I don’t think of this show like that. And especially my character. I know he’s a performer but this is an acting job and I don’t sing that much on the show really. I mean I probably sing every third episode or something, a little more this year. But I know that had to do with my hiring as well. I mean, I went on tape, Christian Borle, who was my co-star in Smash, he put me on tape. I sang the lines and I knew they wanted the musicianship to be authentic. And they’re real sticklers on our show. We’ll do take after take after take if your chords are wrong on the guitar. That kind of thing. Which I love. Being a musician, I love that.
So you actually play your guitar on the show?
I play enough guitar to get by. I don’t like to play guitar live. We have the guy coming up, “Your G chords are a little eh…” which I love, I love that authenticity. But the Smash thing, playing a Broadway actor and being a Broadway actor, I was just thinking about [The Mystery of] Edwin Drood, which I did on stage [and] was kind of like an actor… I don’t know… [Joking to his manager] Find me another job, Anthony! That’s a great notion and I don’t look for it. It’s just that’s a very interesting thing. My favorite days that we shoot are the concert days. ’Cause I feel right at home. And then I also get the electric part of playing the biggest country star in the world. Who gets to do that? Who gets to shoot that and play a rock star? I’m fortunate that I get to, ’cause I love it.
If you could play a role that’s completely against that music type, what would you do?
The serial killer on Showtime. No, I don’t know. Something like that. Or something deep. I would love to do a political drama. I’m a West Wing fanatic. I love that. But I’m kind of open. Somebody was showing me some of my Rescue Me stuff the other day and I was like, I forgot I did that. I literally forgot I did it. And I’m in a bald cap, dying of cancer, and I was like, “Oh, I really made some bold choices!” I was proud of my work and proud that that was a completely different thing for me. And for me, there’s a question of “What was the defining moment for you as an actor?” and for me it was Rescue Me. I thought, I’m being bold in my choices.
It’s totally not leading man, hunky… Which only informs everything I’ve done. It only informed Luke, to make Luke as not charming, to make Luke a real guy who really is this way. He really does say colloquialisms. Like in the last episode, this was one of my favorites, it was, “Oh you’re walking through hell with dynamite drawers on.” Now I’m sitting there, our director Mario Van Peebles was shooting a different scene that was going to lead up to the scene where I say that. We’re shooting a different scene, he says to Connie and me, “You guys can play the ambiguity in this scene, ’cause we’re going to resolve it in that last scene. ’Cause you guys are both walking through hell with dynamite drawers on.” And I went, “Excuse me?” He said, “What? You’ve never heard that saying?” I said, “I’ve never heard that saying. That sounds like something Luke would say.” Literally five minutes later comes new pages for the last scene. And they added that. And I love that.
One of my favorite Luke moments was that flashback scene a few weeks ago. Are we ever going to see the recurrence of Luke’s ponytail?
What the fuck people? What the fuck? No, I’m kidding. I don’t think so. But I never know.
I need a full flashback episode.
Hey, can you imagine a flashback episode? It’ll all be done in soft focus. It’ll all be done in Law And Order soft focus. I can’t tell if he’s young, is that Luke? [Laughs.] The post they had to do for that! Connie looked 20 years younger. Chip [Esten] looked the same. I looked like, what did I look like? We never talked about that. What was funny to me when we were shooting it was that that used to be sexy country. I mean, there’s a picture of Blake Shelton basically in what I’m wearing with a mullet going — that was sexy. Who thought that was sexy? Apparently Rayna. But Chip looked…Wow. And, you know, I’ve given Rayna nothing but love. Deacon hit her in the face. Just saying. Hit her in the face.
And he got her into a major car accident. Coma.
Almost killed her. Is a drunk.
You’re rivals on the show but what’s your relationship with Charles Esten like in real life?
Oh my God. Fun. I mean, the fact that we get anything accomplished on set is unbelievable. Thank God we don’t do a lot together. But we did that scene last week where I’m like, “Hey man, it’s all business, all that stuff,” and we’re in each other’s faces.
When people talk about, “What’s it like being intimate with somebody?” And they always mean kissing, like with Connie, it is an intimate thing. I find intimacy is proximity. Chip and I, when we had to do, I come straight to set. I shoot with Chip. We got in each other’s face and it’s nothing but funny. This is just funny when you’re this close to somebody. So add Chip being funny anyway, I’m surprised they got one take. I did one where I was so delirious, he goes, “I’m quitting.” I say, “Well actually no you’re not.” And the line’s like, “No you’re not, remember we signed that contract that says I say whether you get to stay or go, and I say you’re staying.” Right? Sounds easy enough right there? I couldn’t say the line. I was like, “I get the contract, you gonna stay, and I say we’re staying and you going.” And he went, “English is fun.” So then that was it. I had to my close-up, it’s all in my close-up. I mean it took probably another 45 minutes because I was just like, “Staying and going or going…” Oh my God, those are the moments when I think about how much fun we have on the show, it’s that.
[Chase’s manager adds that he and Oliver Hudson, who plays (evil) Jeff Fordham had an idea for a Nashville spinoff.]
Oh a spin off, yes, Country Justice. We’re country stars by night and we’re cops during the day.
Dukes of Hazzard gets musical?
With Chip. Chip’s got to be my partner though and just always pissed at me. Jeff Fordham is the disgruntled chief, right. “You two!” And I always got the hat on, boots up. “You two, what the hell is wrong with you guys?” I always have the hat on, I can never fit in the car door. I slide across, badass. And then I get in, boom, and it’s like, and you just cut to Chip, those lines on his face tell the story. Can you imagine? Jeff just throwing me up the wall, “What’s wrong with you?” Country Justice.
Please call me if this happens.