LOS ANGELES | Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere have heard the comparisons: They're playing Reba McEntire and Taylor Swift in the new ABC drama "Nashville."
Says Panettiere: Swift's "much nicer than my character."
Adds Britton: "It's sort of an amalgam of a lot of different people."
Still the earmarks exist -- Britton's Rayna Jaymes is an aging country legend; Panettiere's Juliette Barnes is a brash newcomer.
"My whole mantra from the beginning is that this is not a catfight," Britton says. "I don't think anybody's interested in that. I think we're much more interested in just showing these two people at different places in their lives and what their journeys will be."
When it comes to music, Panettiere's the veteran. She recorded an album in her teens and contemplated a recording career until she realized "this is not me. But I said that if I was ever going to do music again, I would do country music."
Britton, meanwhile, is a recording newcomer. "Connie is having a journey," she says. "It's an exciting journey because it's a journey with T Bone Burnett."
A Grammy-winning producer, Burnett is the show's music guru, helping coax star-quality performances out of the actors.
After the pilot, he says, he could tell he had some strong talent on his hands. And Britton? "She's going to come out and blow everybody away," says co-star Charles Esten.
While Barnes will mine the pop side of country, Jaymes will extol the virtues of the bluesier niches.
"One thing we've all learned is how broad the term country music is," says Panettiere. "You don't have to be a fan of country music. There's soul and blues and bluegrass...it really is a wide variety. It's American."
For both actresses, the new series is a departure from their last ones. Panettiere played a teen with superhero powers on "Heroes"; Britton was the haunted mother on "American Horror Story."
"From 'American Horror Story' to 'Nashville' is a plenty big stretch," Britton says. "But they both felt like something innovative and something we haven't seen before. As an actor, that's exciting."
To be able to stretch musically -- and work with the best in the business, she adds, is "a dream come true."
While fans might want to compare Rayna with Tami Taylor -- the woman she played on "Friday Night Lights" -- Britton is quick to point out they're "incredibly different. I think even her accent is going to be different. There probably won't be as many 'y'alls.'"
Panettiere likes the vast differences that separate "Nashville" from "Heroes." "What I love about being an actor is that every project, you hope, is different and every character, you hope, is different. That's what keep me interested in what I do."
The rivalry, however, could be a driving force in the show's drama.
Both Britton and Panettiere liked playing the confrontation that colors their meeting in the first episode. "It's just two people behaving in such bizarre ways," Britton says. "I think we have a real opportunity here to show the complexities of these two kind of people in show business. I, for one, feel a really strong responsibility to do that in a way that is true and dignified."
"The more we explore the depths of our characters, the more interesting and fun it will become," Panettiere says.