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Emmy contenders: Connie Britton's 'FNL' love affair

Connie Britton as Tami Taylor 
“Friday Night Lights” was a show full of delightful surprises, not the least of which was its continued existence. Almost every year of the show’s five seasons, first on NBC and then in a deal between the network and DirecTV, the question arose whether the acclaimed but low-rated drama would return. But a rabid fan following and good critical reviews kept it alive for five full seasons.

“We had no reason to ever believe that we would come back, and yet we always believed we would,” says Connie Britton, who played Tami Taylor, wife to high school football coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler). She originated the role in the 2004 feature film “Friday Night Lights” before joining the TV cast at the urging of Peter Berg, the movie’s co-writer and director. (Berg created the television show, which was then helmed by Jason Katims.)

Emmy nods came for Britton and Chandler last year for their work on Season 4, just after they had finished shooting the fifth and final season. They were nominated again this year, along with Katims and the show itself. “There’s a certain level of poetry to this whole experience,” Britton notes of all the post-cancellation nominations. “Nothing happened on this show in the predictable television ways.”

Critics and fans have been calling Tami and Coach the best couple on TV since the show started. Did you expect that reaction?

Listen, when I was kicking and screaming with Pete Berg at the beginning of this thing, saying this is a terrible idea for me to play this part, I never could have imagined that this would be a football show that was actually about a marriage. That was a shocker.

 Why didn’t you want to take up the role again?

I thought it was going to be the most thankless part. If you watch the movie, there’s not a lot there [for the wife]. I had three scenes in the pilot. So to have the first season end where Tami becomes pregnant, with this beautiful moment between Tami and the Coach, involving so many complex marital and life issues, that was the most surprising thing of all.

Were there any other big revelations that first season?

That Kyle and I had such an immediate liking for each other, and chemistry with each other, was a total surprise to everyone.

You two conveyed so much, often without saying a word to each other.

That was one of our favorite parts. We’d get the scripts, and look at our scenes and say OK, how can we express all this in the most simple, honest way to each other? So we would reduce a lot of long speeches to looks.

You took away your own lines?

I know, how often does that happen, where an actor is like, ‘Actually I’d like to have fewer lines.’

I think it’s just you guys and Clint Eastwood.

It’s all about economical communication.

The blanket scene has to be one of the funniest exchanges between you two. [Coach finds his teenage daughter Julie watching TV with a boy in the living room and freaks out.]

That was one of our all-time favorite scenes. We laughed so hard when he was yelling, ‘They had a blanket!’ and I was like, ‘You’re an idiot.’ By the way, here’s a little-known fact. Back in my “Spin City” days, Richard Kind, Michael Boatman, Sandy Chaplin and I all used to call each other idiots, just like that. So I was directly stealing that delivery from my former costars. 

Season 2 opens with Coach off working at a college far from home, and Tami practically a single mom.

I dealt with post-partum depression, which was really interesting to play.

Then the writers went on strike and afterward NBC canceled the rest of the episode order.

Those were dark days. I thought we were going to go back and finish out the season, then when we didn’t, that felt a little ominous.

 DirecTV comes to the rescue for Season 3.

That was when Coach was going to get drummed out of town. And I had to oversee all that. Those were really cool dynamics for us to play. Talk about surprises, starting out from the pilot where Tami didn’t have a job, and then Jason Katims’ brilliant idea to have her become the counselor at the school. I remember when we shot the first episode, Coach hated the idea of Tami going to work at the same place he was working. So to have it evolve from that to Tami having to broker his job for him was quite a turn of events.

Then the fourth season opens with him at East Dillon High, with a slew of new characters. 

 It was like a whole new show in a way. That was a tough one for me. I was the only character who was really left over at West Dillon. I suddenly didn’t have the people to communicate with anymore. But the relationships were so solid that even when the new people came in, it felt like they became a part of something that was living and breathing.

Season 4 saw another great marital moment after Tami becomes the unwilling victim of a kiss by guidance counselor Glenn.

I can tell you one thing. When that script came through, Kyle Chandler was not happy about that. He was like, ‘They’ve got some guy kissing you. That’s not OK; I would kill him.’ It was hilarious. But he was also holding very true to what we had always said from the beginning, which is that this is not going to be anything about cheating, we’re not going into that world. I thought it ended up being so great, particularly on Kyle’s part. Poor Glenn suffered because nobody took him seriously, including Coach.

Then there’s the abortion storyline, which was handled very seriously, and deftly.

It was very important to me not to oversimplify what that argument is. I wanted us to see both sides. I was very concerned about it, and even when we were shooting it, I wasn’t sure we were accomplishing what I was hoping to accomplish. But everybody across the board was appreciative of the way the issue was handled. To be able to do that and not have it feel like we were commenting on the issue or taking sides was to me really a pleasant surprise.

Season 5 gave the couple a serious conflict, when Tami had a job offer that would require moving. That seemed to touch the show’s third rail; the strength of their relationship had never been in question before.

I know, which was what was really cool about getting to play that. To me what was surprising was not so much the storyline, but the way Kyle played his side of it. I was always impressed with the way he went for it. He was not playing the understanding husband; he was playing the guy who did not want to see his boat rocked. That was brave. We got to see a different side of both of the characters.

And it may not be over yet.

Peter Berg sat in the TCA panel for “Prime Suspect” yesterday and basically announced that they’re going to make a “Friday Night Lights” movie. To me that is such a perfect example of how none of us can quite let it go.

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--Lisa Rosen 

Photo: Connie Britton as Tami Taylor. Credit: NBC.

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