Esten is best known for his role as country singer Deacon Claybourne on the ABC/CMT drama Nashville, which he has played since 2012. He previously appeared on the improvisation show Whose Line Is It Anyway? regularly between 1999-2005.
Esten is a 1983 graduate of Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School, where he played football for the Titans a decade after the events of the film Remember the Titans. (He has noted in several interviews that his Nashville costar Hayden Panettiere appeared in the film as the daughter of his real-life coach.) He then attended his parents' and sister's alma mater, the College of William and Mary, where he was a brother of Theta Delta Chi fraternity and graduated with a degree in economics in 1987. At William and Mary, he was the lead vocalist in the local band "N'est Pas" from 1985-88. Following graduation, Esten moved to the United Kingdom to make his theatrical debut, playing the title role in the musical Buddy in the early 1990s.
In 1992, the makers of Whose Line Is It Anyway? asked him to audition for an episode, which he did successfully. Consequently, Esten made his debut on the Channel 4 show in the fourth series and "won" the episode. He subsequently appeared in more episodes later the same year when the show did a run in New York City. At the time, the show needed a second specialist improvisational singer to fill in for Mike McShane.
Esten made his final appearance in the UK edition in 1994 before moving back to the US. Although appearing on stage and screen thereafter, his 1999 return to Whose Line Is It Anyway? -- in the show's new-look American format- with Drew Carey as host -- established him as a regular "fourth contestant" on the show. Due to his singing abilities, he was often paired with series regular Wayne Brady on musical games. After a hiatus following the show's 2013 revival, he returned during the 13th and 14th seasons as a special guest.
Following his return to Whose Line Is It Anyway, Esten made a guest appearance as himself with fellow regular cast members from the show Wayne Brady, Greg Proops and Brad Sherwood on The Drew Carey Show. In 2003, he hosted a semi-scripted semi-improvised comedy mini series called On the Spot. Between 2004-06, he was a member of the touring group Improv All-Stars and recurring cast member on Drew Carey's Green Screen Show.
In 2011, he was a regular on Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza on GSN. Esten and fellow former Whose Line Is It Anyway stars Greg Proops, Ryan Stiles and Jeff Davis regularly teamed up and tour around the country doing live improv under the name Whose Live Anyway?. In April 2014, Esten ceased work with Whose Live Anyway?, and was replaced by Joel Murray.
In 2001, Esten appeared in Billy Crystal's TV movie 61* as Kevin Maris, the son of legendary New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris. He had small roles in three Kevin Costner movies, The Postman, Thirteen Days as downed U-2 pilot Major Rudolf Anderson, and Swing Vote.
Esten also starred in a public service video, Riding Straight, produced for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's curriculum, Motorcycle Rider Course: Riding and Street Skills (MRC:RSS), in which he portrayed a surfer dude, a snuff-dipping hick, and a concerned friend in a bar.
Esten has appeared as a guest star in various TV series, including Married... with Children, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, ER, NCIS: Los Angeles, Jessie, The Mentalist, and The Office.
From 2012 to present he was part of the main cast of Nashville, starring as Deacon Claybourne. He has also contributed to the soundtracks as both a singer and songwriter. He co-wrote "I Know How to Love You Now" with Deanna Carter, which was featured in the season 3 premiere.
|1992, 1994||Whose Line Is It Anyway? (UK version)||Performer||5 episodes|
|1999-2005, 2017-18||Whose Line Is It Anyway (U.S. version)||Performer||41 episodes|
|2004-05||Drew Carey's Green Screen Show||Recurring performer||8 episodes|
|2011||Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza||Regular performer||32 episodes|
|1988||Sale of the Century||Himself/Contestant||4 episodes|
|1989||On the Television||various||5 episodes|
|1993||Cheers||Unnamed Marine||1 episode|
|Star Trek: The Next Generation||Divok||Episode: "Rightful Heir"|
|1994||Murphy Brown||Secretary #67||1 episode|
|1995-96||The Crew||Randy Anderson||21 episodes|
|1996||Star Trek: Voyager||Dathan||Episode: "Remember"|
|Diagnosis: Murder||Joe Carter||1 episode|
|Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman||Ethan Press||Episode 75 "Stop the Presses"|
|1997||JAG||Lieutenant Pete 'Pistol' Ayers||1 episode|
|Married... with Children||Lonnie||2 episodes|
|1998-2000||The Brian Benben Show||Chad Rockwell||7 episodes|
|1998||Instant Comedy with the Groundlings||Self||TV series|
|Jack & Jill||Nick Seraph||1 episode|
|Providence||Ted Shannon||1 episode|
|2000||Party of Five||Luke||7 episodes|
|My VH1 Music Awards||Self||TV special documentary|
|2000-01||The Drew Carey Show||Chip / Stall for Time Player #1||2 episodes|
|2001||Hollywood Squares||Self||2 episodes|
|The Trouble with Normal||Carson||Episode: "Unconventional Behavior"|
|Improv All Stars||Self||TV special|
|2002||The Guardian||Mark Hanson||1 episode|
|2003||On the Spot||Himself (host)||5 episodes|
|Dragnet||Carl Savitsky||1 episode|
|Just Shoot Me!||Jake||1 episode|
|Rocket Power||Story writer||Episode: "A Rocket X-mas"|
|2004||NYPD Blue||Tim Keating||1 episode|
|Green Screen Show||Self||2 episodes|
|Cold Case||John "The Hawk" Hawkins||1 episode|
|The Magical Gathering||Self||TV film|
|2006||The Office||Josh Porter||7 episodes|
|2007||Help Me Help You||Willis||Episode: "Moving On"|
|The Winner||Gary||Episode: "Broken Home"|
|The New Adventures of Old Christine||Joe Campbell||2 episodes|
|2007-08||ER||Dr. Barry Grossman||4 episodes|
|2009-10||Big Love||Ray Henry||11 episodes|
|2009||The Mentalist||Rick Bregman||1 episode|
|The Cleaner||Dr. Jake Slovak||Episode: "An Ordinary Man"|
|NCIS: Los Angeles||John Cole/Ethan Stanhope||1 episode|
|2011||Jessie||Morgan Ross||4 episodes|
|Enlightened||Damon Manning||6 episodes|
|2012-present||Nashville||Deacon Claybourne||Series regular (116 episodes)|
|2012||Nashville: The Whole Story||Himself - Narrator||TV special|
|2013||Nashville: On the Record||Self||TV special|
|Who Wants to Be a Millionaire||2 episodes|
|2014||Nashville: On the Record 2||TV special|
|2015||Nashville: On the Record 3||TV special|
|2017||Whose Line Is It Anyway?||Self||Episode: August 24, 2017|
|1996||Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom||Generic Cap #1 (voice)||Video game|
|1997||The Sleepwalker Killing||Mark Schall||TV film|
|The Postman||Michael, Abby's Husband|
|1999||The Expendables||Ram||TV film|
|Late Last Night||Beverly Hills Cop||TV film|
|2000||Thirteen Days||Maj. Rudolf Anderson|
|2001||61*||Kevin Maris ('98)||TV film|
|Roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis||Major Anderson||Video documentary|
|2002||The Johnny Chronicles||Patrick Monroe||TV film|
|Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet||Bill||"Twelve Miles to Trona" segment|
|2003||All Grown Up||TV film|
|Water Under the Bridge||Don|
|Nobody Knows Anything!||Conner Fulton|
|2007||American Family||Larry Bogner|
|2012||"Undermine" (with Hayden Panettiere)A||35||116||The Music of Nashville: Season 1 Volume 1|
|"No One Will Ever Love You" (with Connie Britton)A||36||117|
|2013||"This Town" (with Clare Bowen)||41||--||The Music of Nashville: Season 2, Volume 1|
|2017||"Sanctuary" (with Lennon & Maisy)||31
|--||US: 9,000||The Music of Nashville: Season 5, Volume 1|
|"--" denotes releases that did not chart|