Saturday, July 16, 2011

Kyle Chandler on Leaving the ‘Friday Night Lights’ Gridiron Behind

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“If the season could ever have any salvation, if it could ever make any sense again, it would have to come tonight under a flood of stars on the flatiron plains, before thousands of fans…”
Those words hail from the prologue from the non-fiction book, “Friday Night Lights,” written by H.G. Bissinger in 1990.
The book became a film in 2004, directed by Peter Berg, who then produced the TV version starring actor Kyle Chandler as football coach Eric Taylor. Although the show already had its series finale on DirecTV last year, tonight the final episode, “Always,” will air on NBC, this time a little sweeter than the previous.
The news that the series, along with Chandler and Connie Britton, were nominated for an Emmy came out Thursday. In addition to a devoted fan base, Chandler has received the blessing of Mack Brown, the head coach of the University of Texas Longhorns football team.
“Mack Brown seems to leave me a message once a year saying “you know you did a good job” or he’ll bring up some point about something,” said Chandler.
Chandler’s surefootedness on the gridiron stems from his high school experience. “I played a couple years of high school, and in the midst of it my pop passed away,” Chandler explained. “But with that said, the first year I ever did play, when I was a freshmen, we won state championships. I was completely introduced to everything in one year, which was rather interesting.”
A familiar narrative: At the end of season one when the Panthers gear up for the state championship game after a topsy-turvy season (remember Jason Street?) – and win. Except back in Chandler’s game days, “I was a short fat kid and I just got the hell beat out of me. I had a suspension helmet; I remember Hank, the biggest guy on the team, knocked the helmet off of me and literally came over and picked me up like a rag and asked if I was alright. But I played the two years.”
During the course of “FNL’s” five seasons, over a dozen characters came and went, as is common with series that center on high school kids. But Chandler, and his character’s wife, Tami Taylor (played by Britton), grounded the show.
“When we first met, we were already friends. It was quite obvious that we had similar experiences in life and we’ve had similar losses. One thing both Connie and I have is we certainly don’t take ourselves too seriously. We are very self-deprecating,” Chandler explained.
“The most wonderful thing, there’s a good trust between us. While we are working, we trust that you can push the other character as far as you want but if they fall you will never let them hit the ground. And when you are working with material and you are doing that it creates a rhythm in the material and it creates emotional boundaries and directions. And we’ve got that certain thing.”
That rhythm also percolates the team (from the Dillon Panthers to the East Dillon Lions), which, in turn, influences the artful speeches Coach Taylor routinely made.
“You want to start small and end big. I tried so many different things. There were a lot of football people around me, coaches and we’d go shoot at another high school and I’d meet the coach there and some of his players and I would say, ‘what are your coach’s lines, what does he say?’ One time I met a coach and he said ‘I like to tell them don’t play stupid,’ so I used that in the speech,” Chandler said. “More often than not you get carried away with the words and the dialogue and you change it around but when you see those players that becomes reality.”
At first, the speeches were written for Chandler, but over time he was “given leeway” to make them his own.
“Starting with Pete Berg no one was ever told what to do on our show. So when you’ve got that and you are in a room everyone that’s in the room, there’s a collective feeling, even the players that we used for the show, they were so involved in it because they played football, they knew football and they loved it. They knew how to listen to a coach speak. So those rooms, those speeches, when they happened everyone was involved 110% so you just get carried away because sometimes you are only as good as the person you are working with. In this case that person was the whole crew, cast. It was not hard to get lost in the emotion of what was happening. It was that feeling of family.”


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