Connie Britton is rarely at a loss for words. But when she learned she’d be receiving the fourth Variety Icon Award at the opening ceremony of Canneseries on Oct. 8, the four-time Emmy nominee wasn’t sure how to process it.
“I thought, ‘I’m not old enough to be an icon!’” Britton says of her initial reaction. But she soon realized, “an icon is someone who has a very distinct voice, or who can embody a look or a talent or whatever. It’s about unique individuality.”
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And Britton has that locked up.
Over the past 25 years, Britton has dazzled in long-running TV roles including “Spin City,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Nashville.” She also made a splash in shorter stints, such as on “American Horror Story” and “The White Lotus.” Yet, she started off just as many other actors did in humble circumstances — doing “mystery theater [in] church basements.” Fortunately, that all turned around when she landed a debut role in 1995’s “The Brothers McMullen.”
“That was a rarefied moment in time for me,” she recalls. “That was an independent movie like they don’t make any more — we could only shoot when he had film stock!”
Since then, Britton has gradually transformed into one of TV’s most indispensable heroines: glamorous and relatable, with a tough shell filled with frailties. She’s precisely the sort of strong woman you could see running a business, yet also being trusting enough to get played by a con artist, as her character did in the first season of “Dirty John.” She’s had to figure out her own way toward those choice roles.
“Female characters, traditionally, have been written in very black-and-white ways,” she says. “When I started pounding the pavement trying to get jobs, I was getting supporting female roles — and they’re about as one-dimensional as you can get.”
She started experimenting with those dimensions. “It became a game for me, and kind of fun, to make them human beings,” says Britton. “Humanizing and not judging a character — whether I’m playing a country music star or a parent — it’s about making them someone you know.”
Which is perhaps why Britton’s characters have such a lived-in quality. Adding dimension might come naturally to her because she has always been interested in writing, in addition to performing. In third grade, she recalls, she wrote and performed a “one-girl show.” Then though, acting wasn’t considered a true career where she grew up in Virginia. It was an internship in Ohio on a production of “Born Yesterday,” starring Ed Asner, that gave her a fresh perspective — not just on acting, but on what a person could do with her fame off-stage, too.
“He was basically parlaying this talent into helping other people,” she says. “That was the light bulb that went off in my brain. I have this bigger vision in mind.”
That’s led to Britton’s extensive social-justice work, and in 2014, she became the 10th Goodwill Ambassador of the U.N. Development Program. Now, her social media is more likely to be full of that side of her life than what she’s doing on camera. These days, she’s got her own production shingle (Deep Blue) and is discovering additional roles for herself on the producing and writing side, besides acting — all of which may expand this whole notion of being called an “icon.”
“Now it’s like, ‘You have work to do, girl,’” she says.
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