Gaius Charles talks about leaving 'Friday Night Lights'
With a few more weeks of filming before the third season wraps, the "Friday Night Lights" cast is still hunkered down in Austin, Texas. Gaius Charles, however, is in Los Angeles, knee-deep in filming a movie with Hayden Christensen, Paul Walker and Chris Brown.
There is life after graduation.
For those with DirecTV, Charles' Brian "Smash" Williams will move on to Texas A&M Wednesday night, bringing with him some of the show's more ambitious story lines. Once a self-absorbed high school junior who experimented with steroids, "Friday Night Lights" producers threw the best of what they had at Smash, as he's most often referred to on the series, over the last two and a half seasons. Through Smash, "Friday Night Light" explored issues of race, mental illness, class and the hawkish practices of college recruiters.
"When we first came in and did the pilot, it would have been very easy for Smash to be a one-dimensional, cocky running back, a caricature," said Williams last week, an hour before he was due to report to the set of "Bone Deep." "But [developer] Peter Berg and [producer] Jason Katims and everyone on the creative side was adamant on making this guy three-dimensional. It’s very rare that we see African American male characters in this setting, in a complete picture. Sometimes, these story lines are so streamlined and so commercialized that you get all the spectacle and none of the heart."
In Season 3, there's been very little flashiness surrounding the Smash character. Humbled by a knee injury that saw Smash losing the second of his two scholarships — the first when Smash was painted as violent for striking back at a racist buffoon — Smash was hanging around the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, by doing time at a fast-food joint. It's a last-minute, walk-on tryout with Texas A&M that saves the character from what surely would have been a life in near-poverty.
It brings one of the first major story arcs of Season 3 to a close, and sees, perhaps, the final "Friday Night Lights" appearance from one of the show's marquee players. Charles took a few minutes last week to reflect on "Friday Night Lights," and talk about his character's future.
"Friday Night Lights" is able to do this thing really well where the characters just kind of lurk, even if they're not in the show, their presence is felt.
TV is just that weird thing where everything is open-ended. And they can always throw a Smash line there. You’re never really done. It’s funny, because I think leaving the show has actually been a great benefit to me. It gives me some more really juicy arcs to play. I think if I were just sitting around in Dillon for another season, it’d be like, ‘What else can you throw at this kid?’ I’ve been so blessed and fortunate to have great story lines — steroids, my family, the recruiting story line.
So that sounds like there's room for Smash to come back for an episode or two, if "Friday Night Lights" sticks around.
That’s something we talked about. That’s something they’re interested in doing for sure, just kind of catching up with Smash at the end this season, or next season. They’re not going to forget that he’s a part of this world. But they’re going to allow him to transition. So if there’s a story line that came through where I was back for an episode or two, I would love to do that. That’s certainly on the table.
So what was your reaction when you found out you'd only be back for a few episodes this season?
It was something I felt real peace about. The other thing for me is I’m always thinking: ‘How do I top this?’ At a certain point, you want to leave the bar at its highest. I wouldn’t want them to just keep me on the show in some holding pattern just to keep me there. If Smash is there, I want him to be pushing the envelope. You don’t want to be furniture.
I take it you knew this was coming for a while, then. You seem pretty at ease with being off the show.
At the end of the day, this is a show about high school, the nuts and bolts of it. So nobody can be on the show forever. We can’t get too comfortable. At some point we’re all going to have to grow up and do something. We can’t be in our 30s and playing teenage characters.
Talk a little bit about the development of the third season, this shortened 13-episode run. It seems as if the show is dealing a little less with personal issues, and diving back into broader, more community-driven drama. Is that something you've felt?
I do. I was at this party last night, and some guy came up to me, and he was talking to me about [last season's] murder plot: ‘I didn’t like the murder plot, and blah, blah, blah.’ While the reviews were mixed on the murder plot, I was happy Adrian [Palicki] and Jesse [Plemons] got to play such juicy material. But I understand why the die-hard fans didn’t appreciate that as much.
So yeah, I do think the show is getting back to the core issues that it started out with. But it’s kind of found that balance between gritty, cutesy, social-economical struggles, and the more sensational high school story lines that people like to see, too.
When you think back on your character's development, is there anything in particular you take away? Smash always had some of the meatiest, most controversial story arcs.
One of my favorite story lines was the whole racism story line with [coach] Mac McGill [Blue Deckert]. I just saw a clip of it the other day, where we were all walking off the field -- all militant. That was some amazing stuff. You don’t realize what you have until you can get perspective on it. When you’re in the middle of it, you can’t see how great it is.
And also, working with Aasha Davis, who played Crazy Waverly. That was great. One of the things that isn’t really talked about with black athletes are story lines that authentically deal with mental health, and mental health, specifically, in the African American community. So when Aasha played a bipolar character, I didn’t realize what a breakthrough story line that was. We don’t see that on TV at all.
— Todd Martens