Since the mid-2000s, Chris Carmack has traversed a slow but assuredly steady career path. His first big break was as a Bruce Weber model for Abercrombie & Fitch. He later starred in The O.C. and appeared Off-Broadway opposite Alec Baldwin in Entertaining Mr. Sloane. Yet, it wasn’t until 2013 that his star broke Hollywood’s ozone.
“It really has been a phenomenal experience for me,” says the 36-year-old star of Nashville, on which he plays gay country star Will Lexington. The role allowed Carmack to combine his love of music (he’s an accomplished jazz saxophonist and blues guitarist) with acting. “To have it finally pay off in a professional manner is very reaffirming,” he says. But that experience was threatened when Nashville was abruptly cancelled last season by ABC.
As so often is the case these days, the fans rallied and the show was given a new lease on life by Country Music Television. And Carmack is grateful for CMT’s fifth season reprieve. “This was probably more of a life changing role than it was a career changing role for me,” he says. “It uprooted me and changed everything about where I was both mentally and emotionally.”
Raised in Rockville, Md., Carmack returns to the area this weekend to perform songs from his vibrant EP, Pieces of You, as well as several numbers from the show, “because a lot of fans come out to see ‘Will.'” He hopes his portrayal of an out gay country star will help to culturally smooth the way for acceptance of those country artists currently in the closet. Still, he understands the fear that keeps them there. “When you roll that dice [of coming out], you’re rolling the dice of your career,” he says. “I think it’s a scary place for any gay artist to be.”
While Carmack doesn’t dismiss his early years as a model, he was concerned it might prohibit him from being taken seriously as an artist. “I felt like I was slightly demeaned in terms of being an object of beauty and not a person with a soul.” He took the advice of a friend to maintain his perspective. “One of my greatest teachers was a gay man, and he said to me, ‘Enjoy it while it lasts, because one day you’ll be old and they won’t look at you.'”
Chris Carmack appears Sunday, Jan. 15, at The Hamilton, 600 14th St. NW. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 to $25. Call 202-787-1000 or visit thehamiltondc.com.
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