On Thursday’s episode of CMT’s country music drama, titled “Farther On,” the 35-year-old actress showcases her hidden talent when her character, Silicon Valley marketing expert Alyssa Greene, reluctantly takes the stage at a local karaoke bar after some liquid courage. In ET’s exclusive sneak peek, Bilson steals the show when she croons Ray Charles’ classic ballad, “You Don’t Know Me,” leaving everyone speechless.
“My character might get drunk enough to [sing]. That might happen,” Bilson coyly told ET in July. “She’s not going to be belting out any country ballads, but she might have a tipsy tune in there somewhere.”
It’s been a beat since Bilson last graced the small screen.
Following the end of The CW’s charming Southern-set medical drama, Hart of Dixie, in early 2015, Bilson made the decision to take two years off to focus on motherhood after the birth of her daughter, Briar Rose, in October 2014, whom she shares with longtime partner and Jumper co-star Hayden Christensen.
When Nashville came knocking on her door, the opportunity to dip her toe back into the television world seemed too good to pass up.
“It was kismet. We had sold our house in L.A. and [the show] shoots in Nashville. I was like, ‘We could go to Nashville for a while,’” Bilson recalled, adding that role came around “at the perfect time.” “It made sense to sort of get my feet wet, so to speak, because I don’t like working too much, because I don’t like to take too much time away from my daughter. So it was the perfect thing to get me get back into it. It worked out really nicely.”
Part of the appeal for Bilson was how different the character of Alyssa was from her previous roles. For one thing, she’s the absolute opposite of fashion maven Summer Roberts, the actress’ breakthrough character on the popular 2000s teen soap, The O.C.
“It was something that I hadn’t done before and that was definitely appealing,” Bilson said. “I liked that she was strong. She was a strong female character, which I think is so important, especially nowadays. I liked that I knew nothing about anything that she represented. It was a challenge for me and I liked that. I like stepping into characters who are unfamiliar and not a lot like myself.”
One physical trait of Alyssa’s that was also foreign to Bilson is the chic frames the marketing guru rocks on the show.
“It took a minute to get used to because I don’t wear glasses at all in my real life. And so I’d sometimes be like, ‘Oh crap, my glasses!’” she said with a laugh. “I feel like you can kind of hide behind them in a way. It felt like I could do whatever I wanted and not feel self-conscious with my mask in front of me. I was very excited about the glasses.”
Back in March, Bilson shared a sweet on-set photo with her O.C. co-star Chris Carmack, who plays openly gay singer-songwriter Will on Nashville. Though Bilson and Carmack were in the same scene for a brief moment, she admitted they didn’t get to share any more screen time before the end of the season.
“It was so nice seeing Chris again and he is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. It’s been like 12 years since I’ve seen him and he was so warm and friendly. He had just had a baby and it was so cool to see each other now in the place we are in our lives,” she shared. “It was totally like, ‘Heyyyy!’ Because it was such a special time, The O.C., when that all happened, so it was comforting to see him again.”
Being away from the Hollywood limelight and filming on location in Nashville, away from nagging paparazzi, was a definite perk for the private Bilson, who rarely shares photos of her 2-year-old daughter or her family.
“It was so cool, especially being there with my daughter and getting to do all of the kid-friendly things in the city. It’s such a cool city and the library has the best children’s section of any library I’ve been to. And the food is incredible,” Bilson said. “It’s different than L.A. and we loved it.” Her daughter would often visit the set, enthralled by the trailers, and even came by when they filmed at the legendary Grand Ole Opry.
“When I was [in Nashville], I was looking at the houses for sale just because you get so caught up in it,” she revealed, adding that she now has “a big place in my heart for Tennessee.” Bilson also fell in love with her favorite Nashville brunch spot, Monell’s, and gushed over their decadent breakfast offerings. “They have fried chicken and pancakes and baked apples and cheese grits and biscuits. It was just heaven on a table,” she chuckled.
While Bilson is leaving the door open for a possible Nashville return in season six (“It’s sort of a TBD”), she has her sights on a potential new project — and it has nothing to do with acting.
“I’m dabbling in possibly the culinary aspect of entertainment. I love to cook and it’s something I’ve been dreaming about, so we’ll see if that comes to fruition,” Bilson hinted. “If you can exercise any of your passions in your life and you have the opportunity, it’s important to take advantage of that. So that’s the focus. Fingers crossed!”
Nashville airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.