'Nashville's' Charles Esten: Deacon Will "Keep Fighting"

The actor behind Deacon talks with THR about the ramifications of telling Rayna about his cancer and trying to keep his storyline authentic.
ABC/Mark Levine
Charles Esten in 'Nashville'

In the closing minutes of the last episode of Nashville, Deacon (Charles Esten) finally told Rayna (Connie Britton) what viewers have known for weeks: He has liver cancer. His confession was followed by a swift slap across the face from Rayna, who then collapsed into tears on his shoulder.

In the remaining episodes of season three, which resumes Wednesday, viewers will watch Rayna and others in Deacon's life deal with his disease. Esten tells The Hollywood Reporter that now that Deacon's told Rayna, others will also gradually become aware of his secret.

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The beloved character will also keep looking for a liver transplant, Esten previews. But even though the actor doesn't know what the future holds for Deacon, he hopes that Deacon's cancer battle, which he has sought to make as realistic as possible, can end up helping people battling the disease.

"If it helps in any way with organ donation, that would be fantastic," he says. "I definitely urge anybody that can do that — there are people waiting right now."

How did you feel about Deacon's liver cancer storyline?

Just like the alcoholism and the addiction that Deacon dealt with, I immediately felt that we needed to do this right. Yes, it's a storyline, but there are people who are really going through it, and [for them] it's not a plot point; it's the road ahead of them. I knew that our writers had always treated the addiction story with real care and concern for trying to make it honest, truthful and meaningful. I always felt certain that they would do the same thing for other issues, and that's proven to be the case. I also thought that it makes sense. Sadly, this is a natural outgrowth of some of [Deacon’s] addictions and behaviors.

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Why do you think Deacon finally felt like he had to tell Rayna about his cancer?

He'd just run out of room to hide. She'd pushed him to that next level, and he was kind of cornered. I think there's a sense that he was hoping he would get some good news first. And that doesn't happen. At the Opry, Deacon just got a little too close to the fire and to all of that emotion that he feels for [Rayna].

We saw her react by slapping him. How will she deal with the news going forward?

I love the character of Rayna because she feels so deeply. It's not like every ounce of this is not going to hit her. And, by the way, that's what Deacon wanted to avoid. He didn't want to go to her in need, but unfortunately it's not something you can hide. So she's going to be involved in it. She's also very strong, and that will also be a part of how she deals with it. I know that Connie wanted to keep very real and true to what she would really feel. You can expect a range of emotions from the two of us and from everybody else who finds out, too.

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Will telling Rayna spur Deacon to tell his daughter, Maddie (Lennon Stella), and the other people in his life?

I think that that will be inevitable after this. [Rayna]'s certainly strong for him, and maybe those difficult things that were hard to do on his own will be possible no — we'll see how that goes. But she will certainly be a help. In any situation, she's the most important one in his life, along with Maddie, so I think once she knows, it's not quite as important to keep the secret. But, of course, that's over time. He's still a proud guy, and I imagine that that's a part of it. You want to be treated the same. You don't want every single conversation you're ever having from there on out to be about your sickness. But inevitably for people who face cancer, it sort of becomes that. You don't want it to become your daily life, but it does. So he'll go through some of that too.

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Have you received any indication of Deacon's prognosis with this disease?

I absolutely haven't. We don't have [the script for episode] 22 yet. There are usually cliffhangers, but I don't even know what the cliffhanger is, let alone what the resolution is! Sometimes it's not a cliffhanger, sometimes they'll tell you something right at the end. I don't know if it will happen like that or not.

What can viewers expect from Deacon for the rest of the season?

There are so many people talking about Deacon and Rayna: "When will they be together?" "What will that look like?" I don't think anybody expected it to look like this. At least we're back in that world again but we're dealing with this [disease]. Looking for [a liver transplant] match is what we'll see more of. He's on that list. Deacon isn't the biggest optimist in the world, but he can be a fighter, and now he has people in his life to fight for: his daughter and maybe Rayna and his niece Scarlett (Clare Bowen). It's a battle between not giving up even if he's laid low by this thing. It's about rising to keep fighting.