Here's a little bit on the upcoming series to debut this Fall
On the Pflugerville set, 'Friday Night' actors and crew get ready for the season
By JOE O'CONNELL / Special Contributor
PFLUGERVILLE, Texas – The stand-in quarterback tosses a perfect spiral toward the end zone to an anxious receiver. Touchdown. Cut. Send in actor Aldous Hodge, who lets fly a wobbly dying-duck of a pass that falls a few feet away. "I'm not James Brown," he offers to his fellow players in explanation.
Welcome to Friday Night Lights, the television series spawned by the film that was based on the book, which was based on real, honest-to-God Odessa Permian High School football. Oh, and for the record, the stand-in quarterback is indeed James Brown, the former University of Texas star who is helping bring reality to the make-believe tale set in fictional Dillon, Texas.
Friday Night Lights
"We run a four-second play, wait five minutes, run a four-second play, wait 10 minutes, then go to lunch," Mr. Brown explains during a Sunday break on the sidelines at Pflugerville High School's stadium. "My job is to show the actor all the fundamental points of football, just to trick the camera. I'm proud of him."
Indeed, Mr. Hodge, who admits he's more adept at playing the violin, looks closer to perfect on his next toss.
The NBC series, which is set to premiere in October, began filming early in August using handheld cameras, with minimal lighting and without rehearsals. And it clearly adheres to a model set down by Peter Berg, who directed both the pilot and the big-screen film. That means lots of on-set improvising by actors and bringing in nonactors to play smaller roles.
"Our goal is to make it as real as possible and as honest as possible," said Jeff Reiner, who has directed the other two completed episodes. "It's liberating not to have the typical constraints of filmmakers."
It also makes it quicker, reducing a usual 14- to 15-hour day to as little as nine hours. That's a plus for the series, which is expected to pump $20 million into the Austin area economy before its 12-episode run ends in November. That's when NBC will decide whether Lights gets "back nine" episodes to complete the season. A former high school field near Austin's airport is being prepped just in case the series has legs.
Words of wisdom
"You don't force excellence; it's just something that comes," Taylor Kitsch, whose character, Tim Riggins, is the brooding bad boy from a troubled family, tells fellow actor Gaius Charles in a break from filming.
"Who said that?" asks Mr. Charles, who portrays confident running back Smash Williams.
"I just came up with it for you," says Mr. Kitsch of his ad-lib dialogue. "I told the director it's what Smash would say."
A group of relatively unknown actors makes up the cast. Mr. Kitsch is a hockey-loving Canadian with a small part in Snakes on a Plane.
"It's an actor's dream to play a kid like this," he said. "Tim's an introverted guy off the field who comes from a poor socioeconomic background and struggles with any relationships he has. On the field he has a sense of purpose. I believe there's a piece of him in everyone."
Meanwhile, Mr. Charles, a recent Carnegie Mellon University grad from New York City, is not much like the confident guy he portrays.
"I don't know if I'd be cool enough to hang out with him," he says.
Mr. Charles prepares by listening to Texas rap artists, playing football video games and tossing the pigskin around.
Hot and heavy
Aimee Teegarden, a perky blond 16-year-old who plays the head coach's daughter, leans over and raps on Mr. Charles' football helmet.
"Don't be so glum," she tells him.
"I don't blame him," a nearby crew member says. "It's only 100 degrees."
The heat has been a major factor for the cast and crew. A first aid cart is a sideline fixture with signs on it announcing "cold, wet towels," "ice and cold packs" and "electrolyte drinks." A small cot next to it awaits the fallen.
"It only clicked into me after about a week that this isn't breaking," Mr. Charles says of the weather. "I stay inside."
The mostly twentysomething actors have become a team, said Scott Porter, whose Jason Street is the saintly Dillon High quarterback who can do no wrong as the series opens. (The name is an apparent homage to University of Texas quarterback James Street from the 1969 national champs.) The cast members go to the movies, bowl, barbecue and play tricks on each other.
The cement that holds them together is unlikely father figure Kyle Chandler, who looks much younger than his 40 years.
"I pass on words of wisdom," he said. "I'm a father to some, a parole officer to others."
A plum guest role on Grey's Anatomy last spring earned Mr. Chandler an Emmy nomination and caught the eye of Mr. Berg, who originally had someone else in mind to take on the head coach role that garnered solid reviews for Billy Bob Thornton in the film.
It's also the first time Mr. Chandler has fully drawn on his own background as a husband and father to enrich a character.
"I'm an actor, and I love actors," he said. "Now I'm a football coach, and I love my players."
"Nobody on our cast in any way, shape or form is a diva," said Mr. Porter, who hews more closely to his character than most in the cast. He caught the game-winning ball that sent his real-life high school team to the Florida state playoffs.
"I miss playing," he said. "We all have something to prove. We keep hearing that sports shows can't succeed. We think America is going to love it."