Stephanie Hunt, the rock 'n' roll newcomer on ‘Friday Night Lights’
Currently recording with members of the Black Angels, Hunt is on track to break out of a bit role on "Friday Night Lights" -- if she’s willing to leave the Austin, Texas, music scene behind.
While on what was intended as a temporary break from the University of Texas at Austin, Stephanie Hunt auditioned for football-centered small-town drama “Friday Night Lights.” At the time, this Longhorn was a bit of a Hollywood long shot.
After completing one year of college as a journalism major, Hunt asked for a semester off, suddenly having the urge to pursue acting. The death of a close friend, Hunt said, prompted the academic leave and “inspired a whole bunch of self-reflection."
Within one week of pulling out of UT, and with no acting resume to speak of, a connected acquaintance tipped Hunt off to the opening on "Friday Night Lights," which shoots in Austin.
The role came with requirements. The character needed to know how to play the bass guitar, an instrument Hunt, a trained violinist, had only fiddled with for a couple of months. Auditioners would also have to perform a rock song. Hunt opted to risk writing her own tune — a song she composed only minutes before facing casting directors.
“I couldn’t think of a rock song that I knew that I could sing that would sound good in my voice, so I just went off the idea of something raspy sounding,” she said. “Usually I sing jazz or I sing kind of sweet, so I wanted to show a little bit more edge. It was called ‘Sweet Scratching Sound.’ It’s kind of cheesy now, but it worked, you know.”
She soon went from singing impromptu rock songs to performing the Flaming Lips’ odd mid-‘90s hit “She Don’t Use Jelly” last season on "Friday Night Lights." Hunt's Devin, an indie-rock-obsessed lesbian bass player, has now become a fixture in the fictional town of Dillon, leading Aimee Teegarden's Julie Taylor out of her comfort zone and into a gay bar in this week's episode.
In its three-plus years on the air, “Friday Night Lights” has tackled race, class and domestic issues, and now Devin has given the show a clear entryway into gay and gender concerns. What’s more, a relatively small part on “Friday Night Lights” may rocket the 20-year-old straight of Austin, as she’s been cast in NBC’s “Parenthood,” the mid-season replacement from “Friday Night Lights” executive producer Jason Katims.
“I love her, and I know Jason does, but you never quite know how these things will work out,” said Peter Berg, who directed the “Friday Night Lights” film and serves as executive producer on the DirecTV/NBC series. “You have a plan, but like any football game, things change. Suddenly players you didn’t even notice on the roster step up. She’s terrific. She has a unique presence, and I don’t think we were capitalizing on that. I think there’s probably a bigger role for her in ‘Parenthood.’”
Hunt brings a wide-eyed teenage awkwardness to Devin, a character unafraid to be open about her sexuality yet, as “Friday Night Lights” has just started to explore this season, a character still shy about her own community. There’s a measured intelligence in her delivery -- the smartest, most progressive high schooler in a conservative town, but one not wanting to call attention to herself.
“There’s conflict in that because there’s not a lot of confident lesbians in high school that could just be together,” Hunt said. “So there’s a feeling that she’s a little bit alone. It would be easy for her to say she’s not gay just to be able to fit in more. Fighting for what you want could be a little more challenging, as well as more lonely. That’s what Devin is going through.”
Kyle Chandler, who stars as Coach Eric Taylor on “Friday Night Lights,” compares Hunt to Evanna Lynch’s portrayal of Luna Lovegood, the faithful friend of “Harry Potter,” in the famed fantasy franchise. “She reminds me of her because you can get lost in her eyes,” Chandler said. “She has that quirky thing going on. She’s fun to watch on screen. She’s someone who can do nothing and you can enjoy it.”
While “Friday Night Lights” was Hunt’s first audition, the actress wasn’t exactly new to performing. She hails from an artistic family – Hunt’s sister Phoebe is a violinist in rootsy/jazz act the Belleville Outfit, and her father is a classical guitarist. Her parents, now divorced, met in a yoga ashram and encouraged Hunt to “follow [her] bliss." The latter quote probably explains, in part, why they were willing to indulge her early leave from college.
Already this year, Hunt completed a “documentary-ish” film with childhood friend Jeremy Cohen. Shot in Austin, “Love & Tambourines” captures Hunt interviewing strangers on love and music – a concept similar to Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi’s “Paper Heart.” It had its premiere at the Austin Film Festival, and the two hope to bring it on the 2010 festival circuit.
“We had already shot our whole movie, and Jeremy called me and said I had to look at this trailer,” Hunt said of "Paper Heart." “It was crazy. It made me feel like ideas are just these things that you capture. Who thinks about a girl interviewing people about love?”
Hunt’s currently a backing singer and dancer in Austin’s 10-piece soul revivalist group T-Bird and the Breaks and is touring with them this week. She’s also formed a band under the moniker of the Ghost Songs, an act that features veterans of Austin's psychedelic rock scene.
Christian Bland and Alex Maas of the Black Angels, as well as Chris Catalena of the Tunnels, are among Hunt's collaborators. Rather than tap the '60s-influenced, feedback-scorched guitar effects of the latter artists, the Ghost Songs go for a more laid-back, albeit still trippy, mood.
Hunt said the Ghost Songs have recorded seven songs thus far (sample "Do Run," with its gothic backing vocals above, and the woozy "You Gotta Move" below).
“We’re calling it haunted pop,” Hunt said. “It calls definitely back to [Bob Dylan’s] ‘Blonde on Blonde.’ I guess you can call it psychedelic folk, in a way.”
Hunt said there’s a possibility the Ghost Songs will relocate to Los Angeles, where she is realizing she will soon have to move if she wants to pursue acting full time. “Parenthood,” in which Hunt plays the close friend of one the main characters, will shoot here.
“I wasn’t wanting to,” Hunt said of moving West, although she now expects to relocate after the first of the year. As for what that means for her musical projects in the interim, "that is the big question," Hunt said.
“I’m trying to fuse the two together,” Hunt said of her musical and acting paths, “which is why I’ve been working on the demos. I want an idea of what my music could be before I could go out to L.A.
“I want to have my roots firmly planted. I don’t want to go out chasing something that I don’t know. I want to know what it is I’m going for.”
— Todd Martens
"Friday Night Lights" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on DirecTV's The 101 Network.
Photos: Top two: Stephanie Hunt and Jesse Plemons on "Friday Night Lights." Bottom right: Hunt and Chris Catalena of Ghost Songs. Credit: Fred Frinkles.