Digging down to find Clare
PLAYING herself is the most exciting role yet for Clare Bowen.
The Australian actress and musician, best known for portraying Scarlett O'Connor in the American musical drama series Nashville, is in the middle of writing and recording her debut solo album.
After releasing more than a dozen albums with the Nashville cast, this will be her first statement as an artist.
"It sounds funny but I've had to dig through every character I've ever played to get to me," Clare tells Weekend.
"And I have to make sure I stay there for the whole album. The songs are all true stories that have happened to me or people I love."
The 33-year-old will give Australian audiences a sneak peek at her new material when she returns home next month for a 10-date run of shows.
The tour will be a special reunion for Clare and her younger brother Timothy, who opened for her on her tour last year despite being diagnosed with blood cancer.
"He was so brave to open for me last year. He was on chemotherapy at the time so he wasn't feeling too good," she says.
"We got through it, and then he went straight from the airport to the hospital for another round of chemo. Now he's in remission and it's a blessing to have him up and performing again. I'm excited he'll get to have a bit more fun this time."
It's the second time cancer has struck the siblings. On her fourth birthday Clare was diagnosed with end-stage nephroblastoma, a type of kidney cancer. She battled the disease for three years and, luckily, has been clear ever since.
Her close call has inspired Clare to live every day to the fullest; she could never settle for being just a pretty TV star.
"I'm the kid who outlived four life expectancies," she says.
"One of my missions is to tell stories that let people know that they're not alone in the world; everybody's going through something."
That outlook led to Clare cutting off her long blonde locks, a trademark of her Nashville character, two years ago to prove to girls battling cancer that beauty goes beyond long hair.
"That's the stuff that lasts," she says. "I would rather be remembered for being kind than pretty. I don't really care about the way I look. It's the way you treat people that you leave behind."
Earlier this year she also dedicated her debut single, Love Steps In, to her brother and his cancer battle.
"Watching perfect strangers at the shows with their arms around one another, having met through this story that I shared, is why I'm so excited to come back to Australia," she says.
"To do that in the country I was born in is such an honour."
Clare grew up along the Minnamurra River near Shellharbour on the NSW south coast but her nomadic family - her father is a chef for Qantas and her mother is an interior designer - also spent time living in Zimbabwe.
She left the University of Wollongong after landing her breakthrough role in David Field's crime drama The Combination.
"I was up for whatever adventure came my way; that's the way you have to do it because the acting industry isn't easy to get into," she says.
"That was me learning to act on camera because I didn't have any training at all. They took a big chance on me and I'm forever grateful to David for that."
But if it wasn't for a few wise words of advice from Cate Blanchett, Clare may never have ended up on Nashville.
After the success of The Combination, Clare was cast in the Sydney Theatre Company's production of Spring Awakening; Blanchett is the company's co-artistic director.
"We really didn't know each other very well, but she was just very sweet and encouraging," Clare says.
"She loved the show we put on, came back stage and talked to me. I don't know what she saw (in me).
"She asked me if I ever thought about going to LA.
"If Cate Blanchett tells you to do anything, do it - even if it's scary."
Within a year of booking her one-way ticket to the US, Clare auditioned for and landed the role of Scarlett - a young poet turned songwriter, whose folk and Americana songs are influenced by a challenging childhood.
It's a character that has taken her around the world several times over, and turned her into a household name for country music fans.
"No matter where you come from, that storytelling and family orientation in country music speaks to people," she says.
"Nashville really has the best fans in the world. I know everything comes to an end at some point, but I'm just having fun right now."
The Nashville juggernaut is showing no signs of slowing down. The series was recently renewed for a sixth season and the cast's live shows continue to sell out in the US and internationally.
"I can't believe the position I've found myself in," Clare says.
"We film for 10 months out of the year and we tour together every second weekend or so, but it's far more wonderful than it is tiring.
"For me it's all storytelling and I couldn't pick which one I'd like to do more. Performing live is fun because you get to meet and hug people, but I'm also blessed to be in a position where I get to tell stories recorded and filmed."
Clare Bowen plays Toowoomba's Empire Theatre on July 13, The Star Gold Coast on July 14 and Rockhampton's Pilbeam Theatre on July 15.