Chris Carmack will return to Season 5 of Nashville as Will Lexington, the openly gay country singer who has faced personal and professional challenges while both trying to find a place for himself in country music and struggling to accept his sexuality. The actor admits that he is especially grateful that the TV show was picked up by CMT, after ABC canceled the series, so that he could continue to explore more of his character's challenges.

"[Lexington]'s grown tremendously, of course, on the show," Carmack tells The Boot. "He came into the Nashville scene as a guy who was very passionate and had a dream to be a country singer, but he had not spent very much time becoming who he needed to become as a person: He was shoving things down; he was not even keeping secrets as much as in total denial to himself."

The first few seasons of Nashville found Lexington suppressing his sexuality, creating a personality as what Carmack calls a "lady-slaying, party cowboy," always hoping that he would find a way to quiet what he considered his inner demons.

"He always thought, ‘Once I get the record deal. Once I’m on tour. Once I’m onstage,'" Carmack explains. "And it’s true, he has always found peace onstage. For so long, Will Lexington was more of himself onstage than anywhere else. But now, he’s come out of the closet, he’s been in a relationship with Kevin Bicks (Kyle Dean Massey) -- sort of off and on, but he’s been out and open, and he’s been on a voyage of self-discovery, and he has grown into his skin, to the point where it’s almost flip-flopped now ... Now he’s trying to marry the two. He’s trying to figure out, 'Okay, I’m more comfortable with my identity as a man, now I need to marry that with my identity as a performer.'"

Carmack says that he is honored to portray a character whose journey and struggles mirrors what some people deal with in their own lives.

"A lot of people have reached out on Twitter and told me how much the story meant to them," Carmack reveals. "I had people tell me that this storyline in Nashville has precipitated a conversation in their family in which their brother came out. I actually get emotional thinking about that, just the fact that the story we’re telling affects somebody’s life in that way, and hopefully in good ways, only good ways. Somebody came up to me at the mall the other day and said that his daughter was gay and the storyline had meant so much to her and her community.

"It’s very humbling that a story we tell -- I mean, really and truly, for entertainment value, but that there is more than that, and there’s more thought that goes into it than that," he continues. "I take the role very seriously, and I take the responsibility of the role very seriously, because while it’s nighttime drama entertainment, it can affect people in a very potent way."

Carmack also takes his role as a new father very seriously: The 36-year-old is a proud dad to a 4-month-old baby girl, and engaged to the baby's mother, Erin Slaver. So while he hopes to continue to pursue his own musical career -- he released an EP, Pieces of You, in 2015 -- Carmack's priorities have shifted.

"Music has taken a backseat, as most things have taken a backseat in the last year. I hope to get back into the mix a little more, performing," Carmack acknowledges, adding with a laugh, "It’s starting to be, ‘Okay, I can go hop into the Opry and do a couple songs,’ but I haven’t done s--t. I was really making a push for it, and trying to get my music out there, and then life had other plans for me, and I’m happy. I’m very excited to be a new dad, but music’s just got to hang out, for a couple more months anyway."

Still, Carmack's move to Music City to star in Nashville, after years of living on the West Coast, was fortuitous.

"I moved here in Season 1, after living 12 years in Los Angeles, always looking for a job," recalls Carmack. "If you would have asked me four years ago, did I think I was going to live and work in Nashville for four years, and start a family there, and put down roots, I would have said, ‘Probably not.’ But this place has really become my home, and now I’ve got a family here, and [I'm] putting down roots and intend to stay as long as I can."

And, now that Nashville is continuing, Carmack is happy to continue working with his fellow castmember, who have become among his closest friends.

"There was a brief window where we thought we had to say goodbye to it all," he recalls. "As the details revealed themselves, that we were coming back here, to the sets we know and love, it’s just great to be back. It’s probably even sweeter having had it taken away for a moment."

Season 5 of Nashville will premiere on Thursday (Jan. 5), at 9PM ET on CMT.

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