Fans of “Nashville” and Hayden Panettiere were dealt a double punch of bad news last spring, first with the last-minute yank of the "Music City" melodrama from ABC, followed by leaving the fate of Panettiere’s character, Juliette Barnes, literally hovering in the air in the Season 4 finale. Courage and spirit translate into all Hayden Panettiere tackles, on screen, and in life. Putting her battle with postpartum depression in the back window after sharing so much of the hurt on screen, Hayden is ready to embrace motherhood, new dramatic parts, and carrying “Nashville” in new directions with remarkable zest.

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Hayden comes on strong from courtroom to church

Panettiere proves her moxie in a different way as a Yale-educated public defender of a single mother accused of abuse in the Lifetime movie, “Custody” that premiered this weekend. The attorney has her own hurts from the past, and many scenes have both Panettiere and the mother who “protesteth too much” up against Viola Davis as a sympathetic but straight-line judge.

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Life has imitated art for the actress in many ways, and her “Nashville” alter ego, Juliette Barnes, is digging into new spirit and song with the making of a gospel album, set to carry a huge part of the remaining season, sharing talents with co-star and stellar roots music talent, Rhiannon Giddens, as Hallie. Giddens is celebrating the release of her second solo album, “Freedom Highway,” released late last month to high praise.

The singer-songwriter relishes her role as not only “saving angel” to Juliette, but also as a musical historian to enlighten about people of color in the roots of country music. Considering Hayden Panettiere's considerable stage background coming into the current drama, this collaboration is sure to yield rich fruit.

Tough goodbyes

Hayden has been a working actress since her childhood, starring in the daytime drama, “Guiding Light,” and she sought professional guidance and treatment support more than once for her siege of postpartum depression following the birth of daughter, Kaya, now 2, with professional boxing husband Wladimir Klitschko. The petite beauty was radiant with joy in sharing about life with a toddler on “The Talk,” and how tough it was to say goodbye to real-life friend, Connie Britton, as Rayna Jaymes, on her show.

“As a mother, just seeing those girls [Lennon and Maisy Stella] by that bed, and feeling that pain, of two little girls losing their mom, even as a role, was just….I still can’t talk about it. It’s still tough.” Tears welled behind Hayden's lenses at the memory. The star recalled apologizing in advance to Britton before doing their first scene together, five years ago, “because I was terrible, that diva attitude,” she offers, waving her finger.

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Panettiere’s part in “Custody” also tugged at her mother’s heart, because it portrays “how something so small, and so normal, where nothing really happened, can cost everything," while things escalate in the legal system. The role "lit a fire in me," asserts then new mom Panettiere, She has many conversations with Kaya now, in Russian and English, since her toddler is already bilingual. “I know I'm going to have to be careful what I do, because she and her dad will be talking about me, and saying everything.” She feels thankful not to say goodbye to her home in Nashville, and confesses that she only realizes any southern drawl when she returns to her New York roots, and friends ask “That's wrong with you?” “The New York comes out on the road, driving—ohh girl!”

Old friends

Hayden Panettiere couldn't help but remember a fun story once she was shown a picture of Bryan Cranston.

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She guest starred with the “Breaking Bad” star as a kooky babysitter on “Malcolm in the Middle.” She asked one day if he could meet someone waiting back of the set. Cranston graciously obliged, expecting a crazed fan. The visitor was Hayden's mom, Lesley Vogel, who starred with Bryan on the daytime series, “Loving.” Not every backstage surprise is scary.

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