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'Friday Night Lights': Connie Britton on taking on the establishment

November 5, 2008 |  9:57 pm
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There's one constant in "Friday Night Lights." And that's the marriage at the center of the show -- the relationship between Kyle Chandler's Eric Taylor and Connie Britton's Tami. For every fan and critic who champions "Friday Night Lights" as a series about something other than football, it's the Taylor family -- the awkward fights, the whisper-yelling and the obvious respect -- that's held up as the cornerstone of show.

Britton's Tami has been elevated in this third season, beginning the year as the principal of Dillon High School. It's a role that puts her in direct opposition to her coaching husband, and "Friday Night Lights" has used the appointment to have Tami take on the football establishment in its first half.

In its shortened 13-episode season, "Friday Night Lights" will hit the midpoint this week after its sixth episode airs on DirecTV (NBC will air the series in early 2009). With only a couple of episodes left to film in Season 3, Britton talked with Show Tracker about her character's promotion and vision for the series.

Your character had quite the leap this year, from counselor to principal.

When I heard that, I couldn’t help but have this little sense of pride for Tami. I think she’s so worthy of it. She has so many high aspirations of what she can do. I also thought, character-wise, it would present us with a lot of interesting and complex issues across the board, in the town of Dillon and in my relationship and my home life. I felt like it was another opportunity to really deal with some of the issues that are very palpable to a lot of women. That’s been my goal with this character all along.

Did you sit down with the writers or producers and talk about where you wanted to take Tami with the principal role?

In this town, and in this school, being a principal is certainly a position of power. And quite often [on television], that sort of role is shown in a very specific way. Once you put women in a position of power, you’re dealing with hysteria and anger and bitchiness, and all these kind of tags that people attach to women who are dealing with roles of power. That was something I worked really hard with the writers to resist. Certainly there are some women who behave that way when they’re given a position of power, but that’s not the experience of the women I have known.

What were those conversations like?

It was very important, and I had long conversations about this, it was important that the episodes not become about the mistakes Tami was making. It was important to show what a huge obstacle she had in the face of these boosters and football and Dillon, and that she was really taking on the establishment in a way that was really difficult. For some reason, I think that with female characters the tendency is to show them flailing and getting emotional and personally invested. And that always, inevitably, gets in the way of what they’re trying to accomplish. Believe me, there are plenty of very powerful, successful women in the world, and they don’t handle it like that all. I think most women would say the idea of the irrational woman in power is pretty archaic.

And yet we saw Tami battle the town of Dillon over a JumboTron, a battle she last. I was surprised that just kind of ended. We didn't get to see the hearing on the issue that the series seemed to be leading up to.

I love the idea that at the end of the day she doesn’t win the battle. What was really important to me was to have her fight the battle with dignity and for us to really see the struggle and what she was trying to accomplish. I wanted to show the pain of trying really hard in an idealistic way and failing. ... I was sort of surprised [that the JumboTron hearing wasn't shown] too. We were kind of dependent upon the scene before, where we know I’m going to go in the hearing and lose, and then we just see the aftermath, where I’ve lost.

But 'Friday Night Lights' is like that. There's always a sense that there's something happening in the town that we're missing and characters kind of come in and out.

I actually really like that, and I’m a big fan of not hitting your audience over the head with things. And that’s one of the things that I’ve always loved about our show. We kind of give our audience the benefit of the doubt, and we don’t necessarily feel like you have to see every single thing that happens to understand what the journey has been. It leaves a lot more to the imagination. On the flip side, the scenes that you do see, you feel like they’re so intimate, so you feel like you know the characters so well that you know what happens when you’re not there too.

When I first heard about the principal role, I was worried it would be played up just for marriage conflict between Tami and Eric.

Me too! I felt like they dealt with it really well. It wasn’t suddenly, starting with Episode 1, where she’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh! You get paid more money than me!’ In fact, I thought it was much more interesting in that the way it plays into our relationship is actually that I’ve taken on the football establishment. That puts him between a rock and a hard place. So it’s not about him being jealous of my job. We have tastes of the fact that my character is so busy that she can’t do all the things she used to do, but it’s a little annoyance you deal with it.

How has it been shooting just 13 episodes this year. Does it feel, from an acting standpoint, that everything is getting its proper due?

I think there are real advantages to it being 13 episodes. I’m feeling both the pros and cons of it. We’re pretty close to being finished shooting the season. That’s one thing about shooting 13 episodes. It goes by fast. But also, it’s really nice because it feels very concentrated. I also feel like they’re trying to get a lot into a short period of time. They’re trying to cover a lot of characters, and we have two important characters leaving the show. So they really need to do them justice, and we need to make sure we feel like they’re going off into a world where they can still be incorporated into our world.

Tami often gets referred to as the sort of 'rock' of the show, the most stabilizing force. How do you see her?

That was a happy accident, for sure. When I signed on to do this show, I was afraid. I thought I’d be playing the coach's wife on a football show. So not only did I not think I was going to be the heart on the show, I thought I was going to be this supplemental fly -- sort of wallflower -- only speak when spoken to. I said to Peter Berg, 'I’m honestly not willing to do that.' So we took the risk together to try and make it more than that.

There seems to be this mix of fear and respect between Tami and her daughter, Julie. How would you characterize the mother-daughter relationship? 

I am so fascinated with the way that relationship has evolved. I give such credit to her [Aimee Teegarden] for that. In the pilot, she was this feisty girl who was really smart and was not really of this football world. I felt like she was kind of a chip off the old block. She was a younger version of me, in a way. I still think that, and that’s why I think, at the end of the day, we’ve created this kind of adversarial relationship. There is a little fear there. She knows who she’s up against because that’s who she is.

Now that the JumboTron saga appears to be resolved, do we see more issues along these lines as the season progresses?

Frankly, I think it gets pushed a little bit more into the background than I would have liked. But again, there are a lot of story lines they’re covering this year. There are a couple interesting things that happen between Tami and Julie, but we haven’t given as much focus to that kind of a specific conflict in the later episodes.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Aimee Teegarden as Julie Taylor, Connie Britton as Tami Taylor and Kyle Chandler as coach Eric Taylor. NBC / DirecTV

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