When ABC’s “Nashville” began filming its pilot, show creator Callie Khouri knew her show needed one thing to sound realistic – a bit of a Southern twang.
That’s when Belmont theatre adjunct professor Nettie Kraft stepped in as the program’s dialect coach.
“I got a phone call from the producer, director and writer asking me if I would work on the pilot,” said Kraft. “They just wanted to make sure that it sounded authentic and was not a caricature.”
The critically acclaimed show, dialects and all, was picked up for a full season Monday.
While Kraft’s expertise is mainly in theatre, she took the television gig even though she didn’t exactly know who she was working with.
“I don’t watch a lot of TV so I was seeing all these people that looked vaguely familiar but I wasn’t sure why,” said Kraft. “As soon as they would leave, I would look them up and then I’d be like ‘Oh! Connie Britton!’”
Now, Kraft works prominently with two actors with enunciations, the shaping of vowels, emotions and other generalities associated with coaching dialects – not accents, as she is quick to point out.
Every week she meets with her actors to do a read on the script. During these reads, Kraft and the actors develop the intensity and style of dialogue needed for filming.
“It’s very collaborative,” Kraft said. “I work with my actor on lines, they go over it on their own and it comes together.”
During the sessions, Kraft stresses to her actors a Southern dialect is more than a general slower speech.
“It’s a combination of being gentle with the words and being luxurious,” she said. “It’s a reminder that maybe we don’t need to rush. It’s permission, not to wallow, but to relax.”
Throughout production, the crew was very deliberate in dialogue choices to best express not only the character but also the wider culture that character was representing.
To best meet this, writers, actors and dialect coaches alike look over the script and often suggest changes that fit better with the “relaxing rhythm.”
Even with these precautions, critics have called the performances and dialects over the top.
“Some people have said they thought it was too much,” Kraft said. “I’d say that if you dropped your defenses about Southern stereotypes and just listen to the people around you, you are going to hear some heavy dialects and some not so heavy ones.”
Opinions aside, Kraft believes that the overall feel and message of the show is more important than nitpicking over pronunciations.
“It’s a love letter to Nashville, to music and to all those people that come here for a piece of that dream.”
“Nashville” airs on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.