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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday’s episode of Nashville, “Please Help Me I’m Fallin‘.”]
Oliver Hudson knew that the death of his Nashville character, hated music manager Jeff Fordham, would elicit a strong reaction online, but the response to Jeff’s shocking fall off the side of a building still exceeded his expectations.
“I think it came as a great shock,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I think ABC and Nashville and [creator] Callie [Khouri] and [showrunner] Dee [Johnson] did a great job of disguising what was going to happen.”
After promos teased a “fatal” episode that saw Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) standing on the roof of a building contemplating suicide, Jeff went up to save her from herself, and ended up falling to his own death instead. Following his stunning and sudden exit from the country music drama after more than two seasons, Hudson spoke with THR about why he wanted his character to die, what made Jeff’s death so “impactful,” and his decision to join the cast of Scream Queens.
When did you first start talking with the writers about Jeff’s death, and what were the discussions like?
I always said that if I’m going to go out, I want to die. This was before Scream Queens came about and before everything else. It was sort of a joke. Then, once I started to do Scream Queens and I realized that I only had four episodes that I was allowed to do on Nashville, I was praying for this sort of a demise. Thankfully, Dee telepathically picked up on my vibrations and wrote it. She gave me a call when I was in Colorado and she explained the whole sequence and I was pumped. I loved it. I love it because Jeff has been a dick this entire time, and in the last season and the beginning of this season, we get to see a little bit of his heart and we get to see him let go a little bit and fall in love a little bit and soften up a little bit only to have him fly off the top of a building.
He was such a villain for a long time and he died such a noble death trying to help someone else. What was your reaction to that?
I love that aspect of it. He is doing something noble. He is saving a life. He is, essentially, giving his life for someone else’s, which is not typical of Jeff Fordham. I mean it’s the last way you would describe Jeff Fordham; as someone who would give his own life for another. But at the end of the day, we get to see who this guy really is and he actually has human feelings. (Laughs.) It started early on when he saw Juliette out of control and not in her right mind and yet made the decision to go seek her out and see if she was OK. He didn’t have to do that. It was a nice turnaround for him. It’s fun to read the comments saying, “Just when I was starting to like him! He was just softening up! I was just loving him and Layla together!” That’s the best time to off someone, is when they’re starting to like you.
The character went out on a high note, having just agreed to move in with Layla and having been named the CEO of Luke’s lifestyle brand. Why was this kind of closure important for the character?
I think it’s twofold. From a cinematic, storytelling point of view, it’s more impactful. If he was just continuing down the path that we knew him to walk on, it wouldn’t be as impactful. No one would care as much. But when we get to see Jeff getting what he wants, getting it the right way, falling in love, making a career change, wanting to be with Layla, wanting her to move in with him, leaving Juliette — you get the sense that he’s turning over a new leaf and he’s going to change his ways, which then makes his death sad. The other part of it is, as far as character goes, you need an arc. Jeff’s arc has been very slow and ramped up very fast, and it was nice to bookend him as well. I know he dies, but he at least gets to experience some highs in his life and have love in his life before he actually falls off this building.
It seemed like you had a lot of fun playing a character people loved to hate. What was it like closing the chapter on this character?
It’s kind of sad, strangely enough. My wife and I were watching it in bed last night. We haven’t watched an episode in a while because my life has been insane with my kids and work and everything else. But we sat down to watch it, and it was sad! It was intense. There was a scene with Juliette where I threw her down on a couch. And then when you see him go over the edge — of course, I’ve known it’s been over for a while — but it brings closure enough for yourself as the actor. Like, “Oh, shit! There I go. It’s done.” Leaving set was tough that day. I really made great friends, and I loved the crew so much and the cast so much. It’s typical, though, of what we go through. You feel the highs and then you feel the sadness and then you’re on to the next thing. But it was so much fun playing him; never done anything like it before. I think it opened me up, and I did evolve as an actor. I learned from trying to play this guy, and it was really fun. Honestly, if I wasn’t dying, if I was still on Nashville, I was looking forward to building on the character, having a real relationship, having feelings, not being the cold-blooded snake all the time. It was nice to at least experience that and play that before I was offed.
If you could go back, would you do anything differently? Would there be a possibility for you to have stayed with the show longer if you had known there was the opportunity to explore him more?
You can say yes, but the way life goes, the way the business goes, is that you never know what’s around the corner. When an opportunity comes that is a great opportunity, whether it be in your line of work or in life or relationships or friendships or whatever it is, I think you’d be foolish not to take a step through that door to try to experience that opportunity and that’s what came to me with Scream Queens. The chance to work with [co-creator] Ryan [Murphy], it wasn’t a tough decision because I didn’t have a contract with Nashville anymore. If Nashville would have come to me and said, “Wait a minute, hold on, let’s talk about this,” then there might have been a discussion, but the fact is that with Nashville, we didn’t even know if we were getting picked up or not so there was no discussion to even be made with me. I had to continue on, but I definitely am grateful for those last four episodes. I joke about coming back in flashbacks. I honestly called Dee and I said, “Hey, listen, I’m done in October, November with Scream Queens. If you want to hold off, I’m down to come back to the show,” but I think once the politics of the TV industry get involved, I don’t think that would be a possibility. It is what it is, and you move on, and you look back on the fun times doing Nashville.
Will you still watch the show? Maybe to see if they do a funeral for your character or anything like that?
Oh yeah. I immediately asked Will Chase, who is a good friend of mine, I said, “Well, what’s up for the next episode?” Apparently, my sister comes into town, and they named her Kate. (Laughs.) [The actor’s real-life sister is Kate Hudson.] I don’t know if that stuck or not, but that’s what I heard. Hopefully, there’s a nice memorial for me, and a couple songs are played, and some tears are shed.
You’re playing a very different character on Scream Queens in that he is a father. What has it been like jumping into this character as you’re saying goodbye to Jeff Fordham?
There are some similarities in that everyone on Scream Queens seems to have a dark side, there’s an evil within, and Jeff was always evil. So part of that transferred over, but it’s obviously very different having a daughter, being a very protective father and not necessarily being the sharpest tool in the shed. I wouldn’t call him a dummy, but he definitely has some naiveté to him. But it’s been really fun, really different, and I love playing the serial killer aspect of Wes. What’s great about Ryan and the creators and all the directors who come through, you usually do one or two takes as if you are the killer, so you get to explore that dark side, which is a lot of fun.
You’ve almost graduated from a villain to an actual killer.
Yeah, maybe this is my new career just playing villains and killers. (Laughs.)
Nashville airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC. Scream Queens airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.