Steve Kazee, who returned to Showtime’s Shameless this season and stars in the upcoming season of ABC’s Nashville, is passionate about using his stardom to bring attention to social issues that are often overlooked.
Below, Kazee opens up about his duel television characters, what he really thinks about the music and entertainment industries, and the heartbreaking drug-related issues that have come to define his hometown of Eastern Kentucky.
Your character Gus Pfender, Fiona’s estranged husband, is back on Shameless this season. Steve Kazee: I think there’s still some business to be taken care of between the two of them. Technically, they’re still married. There’s not a divorce at this point and she has my grandmother’s engagement ring, so to say that things are settled would be a reach. I think we’re seeing a different Gus these days, someone who is not as easily walked over.
Tell us about working on that set. Is it as fun as it looks? SK: Yes, it really is. There is something exciting about joining a cast like that, when you walk onto a set like that. It’s freeing in some way. You don’t feel the same sort of barriers that you feel on a lot of sets [that are] a little more stoic and buttoned up. Shameless is a very buttoned down sort of feeling.
We see Gus for the first time this season when he sings a “revenge song” of sorts to Fiona. You’re a musician. Would you ever write such a thing? SK: I dabbled a little bit. I went through a breakup around four, five years ago and […] being a songwriter and a musician, it’s sort of a natural inclination to put those thoughts down on a page. Ultimately, I found that I’m not really the Taylor Swift type.
We can also expect to see you on this season of Nashville. Can you tell us a bit about that? SK: I play a country music megastar who decided at the age of 30 that he was just going to walk away. He was sort of at the peek of his stardom, had the world at his fingertips, and met a girl who was in the business, also on her way up the ladder. The two of them fell in love and decided they would much rather focus on that part of their lives. So, he moves off to a farm to have that life until his friend and mentee, Will Chase’s character, comes and basically pulls him out of retirement to try to help him square off some issues in his own life.
The show deals with the country music world. Do you think it’s a true-to-reality portrayal of the industry? SK: I think that it’s a soapier version of it. They enhance the drama. I was a huge fan of Days of Our Lives, which is a little secret indulgence of mine. I don’t use the word “soapy” in a negative connotation. It’s just a more heightened reality.
Do you find that the music and entertainment industries have changed as a result of the Internet and social media? SK: Oh, absolutely. It’s all part of a more globalizing effect that society is having through social media. Now, I’m 40 years old and I don’t think that I’m out of touch in any way, shape, or form. But I think that as an artist moving forward, you have to recognize that the business around you is changing. When the guy on YouTube, PewDiePie, made 12 million dollars for making ridiculously, mind-numbingly painful videos, there’s something to be said about understanding your audience and how the market is changing, and being able to still be effective in that way. If I can utilize a form of technology in order to have the work that I do be seen by a larger audience, ultimately that’s better for me as an artist and my bank account.
Do you have a bucket list of projects that you would like to work on? SK: I’ve been writing my own work for a while and there are issues that I want to tackle at some point. I come from Eastern Kentucky, and it’s an area right now that is really overrun with prescription drug abuse and addiction. It’s actually quite devastating to that whole area. The crude term for it is “hillbilly heroin.” It’s mostly painkillers that people are addicted to there and I keep trying to figure out if there’s a way to tell that story—to have it be brought to a wider audience. That’s a personal project of mine that I’ve been working on for a while.