"I'm not only spoiled, I'm ruined," said Connie Britton when asked about her experience playing Tami Taylor on the critically lauded "Friday Night Lights," which returned to the NBC schedule last month for its third season. Britton and Kyle Chandler, who plays Tami's husband, Coach Eric Taylor, talked to our Jim Halterman about the freedom on the set, working with a young cast and their realistic on-screen chemistry.
"I think I'm going to have to work with all the exact same people in the exact same style," Britton joked of her post-"Friday Night Lights" career. "It's one of those things that Kyle and I joke about all the time where we sort of feel like that this process makes us much better than we really are and I feel like someday somebody is going to figure that out." Chandler said that he wasn't sure if he felt spoiled but he did admit, but "I feel it's been a great class. I've learned so much from working on the show. I think I've expanded quite a bit in the craft."
While the standard of television production includes a structured set with lighting, marks and strict dialogue, "Friday Night Lights" has embraced another way of shooting their episodes. "The rules when [creator] Pete Berg interviewed us," Chandler explained, "[was to] know your character 110%, know your lines 110% and then be prepared to throw it all out the window. We don't have marks. We just go in and start the scene, find the marks naturally with the hand-held cameras around us... it's incredibly vulnerable and that's another thing on the show I think we've tried to do our best with; when people who have come on the show [we] immediately say hello and be as gracious as possible to make them feel at ease and feel comfortable."
Britton also commented that her experience on the series has been eye opening in another way. "It has allowed me to see what you can be capable of doing on television because I just feel like there isn't a lot of TV out there like 'Friday Night Lights' and the fact that we shoot this show so quickly, so economically and so creatively. I think as actors it's probably one of the most creative experiences I've ever had, which is a very rare thing to be able to say about a television show. And I attribute a lot of that to the process that we have on the show and I've learned a lot from that process as an actor. I really have learned how much I benefit from a collaborative environment and to be in an environment where everyone is pitching in and the creative freedom of the thing is the most important element to it."
Case in point, Britton talked about a scene she shot with her on-screen daughter that showed how the creative environment on the set can shine through the actors' work. "Our show kind of centers around spontaneity and just being in the moment and so the thing is that these relationships are so solid. The relationship my character and Aimee Teegarden's character (Julie) have is just so in our bones that even though we didn't have a lot of time with the material and, no, we had not rehearsed it at all, we knew where those characters were in the course in relationship to that event, in relationship to that she had sex." Having shot a similar scene about sex back in the first year when the shooting process was still new, Britton said "In season one I really didn't have an idea how that scene was going to come out because we hadn't gone down that road before and, again, I think it's just the joy of the way we work on our show in that we know these characters really well, we know these circumstances really well and then we're able to just go in and do the scene that we're shooting with a lot of freedom and find out what's going to happen. We don't know what's going to happen in the scene before we start shooting it and that's really the best way to work."
As for their younger co-stars, who play high school aged-characters, do either Britton or Chandler take on a paternal role with them? "First of all, they're not kids," Britton corrected, with a chuckle. "They were definitely, for a lot of them, this was their first really big job. In that way, Kyle and I have definitely had more experience than many of them did but at the same time they're so good. I mean, those guys just jumped right into this thing and each and every one of them has been so amazing... I look at each and every one of them as a peer." Chandler added, "I've probably learned more from them than they've ever learned from me." Having been on several television series ("Early Edition" "Homefront"), he knew it was important to create camaraderie with his cast members from the start. "The first year was interesting because I didn't take any kind of parental role but I did take the role of making sure everyone got together. I had a few barbecues and I had people over to my apartment a few times to read through the scripts and just make sure that everyone is gelling together so nobody is lost out on the fringe and creatively everyone is on the same boat."
Thinking back to the shooting of the pilot, the actors remembered that they were both hired for their roles before meeting each other. "We met each other on the set," Britton recalled, "and I was like Hey, I'm going to be playing your wife!" Chandler said it didn't take long before a level of ease developed between the two actors. "I think it was probably about 15 minutes before I felt comfortable with her. We walked to a restaurant and had dinner and I know that on the walk I thought This is gonna be fun. This is gonna be good."
Their portrayal of Tami and Eric Taylor seems so natural and believable that it's hard to imagine that they're not really married in real life. (They're not) Asked when she realized there was such a strong chemistry, Britton said, "I don't think we actually did ever say Oh my gosh! We're so lucky! We have great chemistry! We were just having a great time and then people from the outside started saying that. I think we just got lucky and I think we share similar values in terms of our work ethics and in terms of the way we look at the relationship we're playing and how we want the characters to be with each other and so I think that's helped us a lot." Chandler said "We pretty much put everything out on the table immediately. At that point, you know whether it's going to be hell or heaven and it just sort of went on from there." With a laugh, Britton also said it helped that "we have the same goofy sense of humor."
In recalling some of their big career moments, Britton had only fond memories about her first big role in Ed Burns' first film, "The Brothers McMullen." Living in New York City at the time, Britton reflected, "I would buy 'Backstage' every week including the week that 'The Brothers McMullen' happened because I sent my picture and resume in like I did every week for all the ads in Backstage and then Eddie called and said Do you want to come in and audition for the thing? Of course, he wasn't Ed Burns at that time. He was a kid who was a P.A. on 'Entertainment Tonight.' I was like, I don't know. Maybe if I can fit it in on Sunday. If I can get there, I'll do it." The film would go on to win the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival and launch Britton's career.
As for Chandler, along with a noteworthy guest stint on an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" that aired after the Super Bowl in 2006 and earned him his first Emmy nomination, he said his characters outside of "Friday Night Lights" have a penchant for meeting their demise. "I blew up in ['Grey's Anatomy'] and then Pete Berg put me in 'The Kingdom' and I blew up in that and in 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' I got killed by little nano-robots from the creature. I would just like to say that if anyone out there in Hollywood is looking for someone to blow up or die any way, fashion or form, I'm more than happy to do it. I'll make a living off it if I have to." Chandler then laughed and corrected himself. "I am making a living at it. What am I saying?"
"Friday Night Lights" airs every Friday on NBC at 9:00/8:00c.