Connie Britton, Lighting Up Friday Nights The star of the football drama Friday Night Lights discusses her role on the NBC series with Fresh Air contributor David Bianculli. Britton explains why she likes playing Tami Taylor, how she prepares for her scenes — and speculates on when the Texas epic will finally end.
NPR logo

Connie Britton, Lighting Up Friday Nights

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Connie Britton, Lighting Up Friday Nights

Connie Britton, Lighting Up Friday Nights

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Buzz Bissinger's nonfiction book "Friday Night Lights" is about a high school football team in Texas, and it was the inspiration for a 2004 movie and a current TV series. In both the movie and the NBC drama, the coach's wife is played by the same actress, our guest Connie Britton.

Her first film role was in 1994's "The Brothers McMullen." And her early TV roles included starring opposite Michael J. Fox in the sitcom "Spin City" and playing small recurring roles on "The West Wing" and "24."

NBC's "Friday Night Lights" almost was canceled after three seasons, but a co-production deal with satellite network DirecTV kept it alive for two more years. DirecTV subscribers have seen all of season four already, but on NBC season four is about halfway through.

This season finds Coach Taylor struggling to put together a team at East Dillon High in the poorer part of town. He's been transferred there after a power struggle with the boosters of West Dillon High, where he had been coach of the champion team, the Panthers.

Connie Britton's Tami Taylor is the principal at West Dillon. Our TV critic David Bianculli spoke with Connie Britton and began by playing a scene featuring her as Tami Taylor and Kyle Chandler as her husband, Eric. He's just come home a little drunk and with a big admission.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Friday Night Lights")

Mr. KYLE CHANDLER (Actor): (as Eric Taylor) I stopped over at the bar and I had a drink and I left the car over there. Allen gave me a ride home so if you can take me to get it I'd appreciate it.

Ms. CONNIE BRITTON (Actor): (as Tami Taylor) Oh, all right. Okay.

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) You know that check? Yesterday you asked me about the check for the dry cleaners?

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Yeah.

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) Well, it wasnt for the dry cleaners. It wasnt for $45. It was for Under Armour. It was for gear for the team and it was for 3,000.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) You wrote a check for $3,000? We dont have $3,000 in our checking account.

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) I know that. But when I wrote the check it's not a check that's going to be run through right away, so you dont have to worry about it.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Well, I really would've appreciated it if you had talked to me about that.

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) Well, I didnt have time to talk to you about it.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) You didnt have time to talk to me about it?

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) No, I didnt have time to talk to you about it. I'm telling you about it now.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Listen, I know youre having a hard time, but come on now. Why would you not talk to me about that?

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) Listen, if I dont write the check I dont have uniforms for the team. If I dont have a team, I dont make money anyway, so what the hell does it matter? If I can get the money from Vern (unintelligible) which I think I can do, everything will be fine. It's just a matter of doing it. I just need time. I'm just telling you for the sake of...

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Dont raise your voice. Dont raise your voice.

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) I'm not raising my voice. Why dont you just stay calm and stop getting all riled up?

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Okay. Youre going to get your damned uniforms. But in the meantime, what about our account? You write yourself a check for $3,000 without talking to me about it, you lie to me about it, we dont have that money, and then you come in here and you yell at me? I dont think so.


Connie Britton, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Ms. CONNIE BRITTON (Actress): Thank you so much.

BIANCULLI: Your character's relationship with the members of your TV family, your husband and your daughter, is one of the best in all of television. And I just love the tone of that. What's your reaction to hearing it back?

Ms. BRITTON: Oh, it's so, you know, whatever. We all love our show so much. It's crazy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRITTON: We're just all goofy about it. You know, we had some problems with that scene when we went to shoot it because it was written much more where Tami is just kind of like, all right honey, I understand. Youre going through a hard time. Sorry. It's a hard time. And meanwhile, she in that episode is also going through, you know, basically being ostracized by the whole town and whatnot and all this stuff. So she is - they're both going through it.

And so we kind of both felt like, well, trying to get to the heart of the reality of it, we wanted to just kind of create it into this - a little bit of a mess of an argument and have him cop to it, and then he's drunk and I'm pissed and tired, and not really let it have a resolution, you know, and then see where we go from there. And, you know, we ended having conversations like, would they go to bed mad? You know?


Ms. BRITTON: Just like that. And that scene's a great example of how we can really mold the stuff that the writers give us and they give us that freedom to do that and find something that feels really alive in the moments that we're shooting it.

BIANCULLI: Many people watching the show have admired the marriage between your characters, or maybe even aspired to the marriage. How do you see that marriage? And what do you hope to convey about it?

Ms. BRITTON: Well, you know, its been an exploration for both of us. And I've certainly learned a lot from Kyle because he has been married for a long time and I think he brought a lot of that to this, to this relationship. And we really agreed about the values of the marriage and of what we were trying to create. You know, we both agreed we did not want this to be a marriage where we were going to be ultimately addressing, you know, infidelity or whatever. We just we really wanted to deal with the authenticity of what it is to try to make a marriage work. And sure there's an immediate dramatic effect of, you know, somebody going off and having an affair, but I still maintain that the drama of two people really trying to be in a relationship with each other that is, you know, nourishing and supportive is pretty great drama.

BIANCULLI: And it's not only husband/wife, but it's parents and daughter. So far, this next scene is I think my favorite scene from the entire show.

Ms. BRITTON: Oh, thank you.

BIANCULLI: And it's after, I dont know where you rank it, but it's after your character sees your daughter's boyfriend, Matt Saracen, buying condoms.

Ms. BRITTON: Mm-hmm.

BIANCULLI: And you pull you daughter aside to talk to her about it. And we have - this is you in the scene along with Aimee Teegarden, who plays Julie. Here we go.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Friday Night Lights")

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Are you and Matt Saracen having sex?

Ms. AIMEE TEEGARDEN (Actor): (as Julie Taylor) No. We're thinking about it.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Youre thinking about it? Are you thinking about pregnancy? Are you thinking about sexually transmitted diseases?

Ms. TEEGARDEN: (as Julie Taylor) Well, I mean obviously, that's why he's buying condoms.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Oh, I see. So youre just buying condoms and then when you buy condoms that just makes you ready to make love to somebody -anybody.

Ms. TEEGARDEN: (as Julie Taylor) Making love...

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Dont do that. Dont you smirk at me right now. I am very upset. You are not allowed to have sex. Youre 15 years old.

Ms. TEEGARDEN: (as Julie Taylor) I just - I dont see what the big deal is. It's just one body part going...

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) No its not. No its not. It's not just one body part going into another body part. And the fact that you think that it's just one body part going into another body part makes me real clear on the fact that you really are not ready for this. And I need you to be able to hear that. I need you to be able to hear me say that to you.

Ms. TEEGARDEN: (as Julie Taylor) I'm listening to you.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Let me tell you what the big deal is. Let me tell you what can happen. What can happen is that you can be hurt. And you can be degraded. And you can become hard. And you can become cynical. And I dont want that to happen to you. This is something that's special. Its something that's meant for people who are in love.

Ms. TEEGARDEN: (as Julie Taylor) Okay. I understand.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Then you can wait. I want you to be able to talk to me about it.

Ms. TEEGARDEN: (as Julie Taylor) Okay. I mean we're talking, right?

BIANCULLI: That is such a wonderful scene.

Ms. BRITTON: Mm, thank you.

BIANCULLI: The intensity and the honesty of it. How do you get there? As an actress, what can you tell me about filming that scene?

Ms. BRITTON: Well, you know, this would be a good time to talk about just the general process of our show because we shoot with three cameras going all the time.


Ms. BRITTON: Which is very unusual. Most film and television shoots with one camera. And so you keep shooting a scene over and over again. We shoot with three cameras, so they're always getting different - they're always getting different angles so there a lot - and we never know where the cameras are. We dont rehearse. They dont tell us where to stand, which is what you call having marks. We dont have marks. So there's a real freedom in it. And it's interesting, when you just played that, I heard a - one of my favorite in lines in that scene is the line where I say, youre not old enough to have - youre not allowed to have sex.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRITTON: You know, as if a mother is allowed to tell - can forbid her daughter from having sex, you know. And in the script, that line was in the script and I remember it was written a little differently in the script, and it was written almost in a not in a joking way, but almost to, you know, have Tami look like she's kind of pulling her hair out. Like, youre not allowed to have sex. You know what I mean?


Ms. BRITTON: But because of the way we shoot and then we had this great director, Allison Liddi-Brown was shooting that episode, and I think she had told Julie, Aimee Teegarden, who plays Julie to laugh at me or something, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRITTON: And that really got my goat, you know. So suddenly it went in this whole different direction and because we had the freedom to do that, we weren't being concerned about where the camera was, where the lights were, where our marks were supposed to be, when we were supposed to say what at, you know, if there was going to be a camera on us or not, which is a lot of the time what you end up being concerned about when youre shooting TV. So we really just had the freedom to be in those moments and just play it out. And so it ended up being a real dramatic thing.

And the other thing is, I noticed too, is the silences. You know, and...


Ms. BRITTON: We play a lot with silence in our show. There's room to have those silent moments. We dont have to fill it all with chatter all the time and I think there's a lot that gets said during those silences.

BIANCULLI: We're talking with Connie Britton who plays Tami Taylor, the wife of Kyle Chandler's Coach Taylor, on NBC's "Friday Night Lights."

More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: We're talking with Connie Britton who plays Tami Taylor, the wife of Kyle Chandler's Coach Taylor, on NBC's "Friday Night Lights."

Weve played a scene with you with your family. I'd like to play one more scene. You know, your character began as a guidance counselor and then became principal of Dillon School and got into a lot of hot water there. And so this is a scene where when you are the school principal of Dillon, youre pushing through the transfer of a star football player to a smaller rival school where your husband now coaches. And one of the Dillon Panther Boosters has threatened action if Tami goes through with it. So you bust in on the next meeting of the Booster Association and confront him, knowing full well that everyone else whos also a Booster is eavesdropping with great interest. So here we go.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Friday Night Lights")

Mr. D.W. MOFFETT (Actor): (as Joe McCoy) And then, Buddy, are we looking to talk to that...

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Sorry. I hate to interrupt. How are you? Good to see you, Sam. Dont mean to interrupt. Could I just have a quick word with you, Joe? Go, talk amongst yourselves.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) I just want to make sure that we didnt have any misunderstanding, the other day when we had that conversation in the school parking lot. You know, with the gold card and all that stuff. And I just want to make sure I was clear that my decision has been made and is made and that Luke Cafferty is going to East Dillon High.

Mr. MOFFETT: (as Joe McCoy) Are you clear about what I told you?

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Oh yeah. I think I heard you. You mean about doing an investigation and retroactively taking away a Panther top state title? That's the thing, sugar? Because I just want to actually make sure that you also check with all these gentlemen here about that. Because as you said, you know, that's going to mean rings being taken away and things like that. And I confess that they're a lot of rings in this group, you know, family and whatnot. So, you know, you do what you have to do. I know youre going to do what you have to do but I just want to make sure I have been very clear with you where I stand on it. And so, I'll let ya'll get back to it, thank you so much. Thank you so much. Ya'll enjoy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: The Booster clip, you know, illustrates such a forceful, charming Southern woman where you go in, seemingly unarmed, but youre the equal of not only anyone in there, but everyone in there.

Ms. BRITTON: Mm-hmm.

BIANCULLI: And, you know, where does that come from, or how much fun is that to play?

Ms. BRITTON: So much fun. And all I know is I know that quality so well that I'm sure I probably have a little bit of it myself. They were tough broads. My mother would march herself up to our school and have it out if she thought we weren't getting, you know, if she thought they were screwing up in something that we were, you know, some class or something.


Ms. BRITTON: She was like a mother bear. And a lot, you know, these were not women who were just going sit back and say yes sir, no sir. You know, they, but they were sweet because they knew that that's what they had to do to get their point across in that sort of environment. It's a real interesting thing that happens, I think, to - in just speaking really generally, to women who are in an environment that is considered to be kind of conventional, and that is that they find ways, real subtle ways and personality ways to break out of that or to empower themselves in the face of that. You know, I think that was a lot of it too.

BIANCULLI: Is it too Freudian to ask if you got influenced or inspired by your own mother?

Ms. BRITTON: I was, for sure. Yeah. And actually, strangely, my mother actually was from Connecticut. But we lived a good part of - I mean most of my life in Virginia. And she lived the last part of her - the last half of her life, she past away actually a couple years ago...

BIANCULLI: Oh, sorry.

Ms. BRITTON: Virginia. And so - and she really took it on, you know? But she really adapted to the southern world. And so I felt that she, they're a lot of things that I take from her in the character as well. Yeah. And actually, you know what? The truth - timing-wise, she past away right before we started shooting "Friday Night Lights," so I, you know, I've never really thought of this actually until you just asked the question. But I realize being home during that period specifically and seeing, you know, just the casseroles and the brownies and the cookies that ended up on the front porch daily, and the organization of the neighbors and the people on how they were going to come together for the family. And so, I actually think that that experience, in particular, in a more fresh way, and being able to be around all those women and then all my high school friends who, of course, all came back and gather around me, I think really contributed to the character.

BIANCULLI: It actually makes, you know, Tami sort of in one small respect, a way of keeping your mom alive if you started the series right after that.

Ms. BRITTON: Uh-huh. Yeah. Yeah.

BIANCULLI: So, have you ever gotten coached on your accent or corrected for your accent, or how does that work behind the scene? How did you nail that?

Ms. BRITTON: I have not been coached. You know, I think I'm lucky because I think I have a pretty good ear. And again, being in Austin helps so much. There was one time that I had to say the word pecan. And everybody - and see these are my coaches, everybody in the crew. They were like, I said it wrong. And by the way, I can't tell you if its pecan, pecan or pecan.


Ms. BRITTON: Which I still right at this moment can't tell you, because I kept doing it wrong. And first they laughed at me and then they said, they kept correcting me over and over again. And I think we may have gotten one take where I actually said it properly in the correct Texas way. But that was tricky.

BIANCULLI: You couldnt just change it to a different kind of pie?

Ms. BRITTON: Oh gosh, that would've been real smart, wouldnt it have been? Yeah, no.

BIANCULLI: Well, it depends. I dont know how much they're spending but, you know, four or five takes in...

Ms. BRITTON: I really...

BIANCULLI: could've been a pumpkin pie.

Ms. BRITTON: No. In fact, youre right, though. Now that you say that, we had pecan pie. That's what we had and that's all that we had, you know, if we could've made it, you know, lemon meringue it would've made things a lot simpler.

BIANCULLI: But I guess if it was the only thing on set, that's it.

Ms. BRITTON: Yeah. Exactly.

BIANCULLI: As we speak, NBC is midway through broadcasting Season four while youre in Texas, if I'm right, filming the final episodes of Season five.

Ms. BRITTON: Yeah, that's right.

BIANCULLI: Okay. Word is they're intended as a probable finale, but ABC Family has recently acquired rerun rights for the first five seasons and it's not inconceivable they may want more. Is there any chance of a Season six or do you sense the end is near?

Ms. BRITTON: Oh gosh. I have never in the history of our show felt more confident that the end is near than I do now, as we are about to embark on episode 10 of Season five.

BIANCULLI: And these are 13...

Ms. BRITTON: It's 10 out of 13 exactly.


Ms. BRITTON: And I actually just read that episode this morning and I actually got a little teary, because I thought wow, this does feel like we were ramping up to the end. Everybody is saying that Season five will be our last. And that said, because of the history of the show, I would not be surprised if suddenly in the 11th hour we were suddenly hearing about a sixth season.

BIANCULLI: Well, best of luck with whatever is next. And thank you so much for some really great years of television. So Connie Britton, thank you so much for being on FRESH AIR.

Ms. BRITTON: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

GROSS: Connie Britton spoke with FRESH AIR TV critic David Bianculli. She co-stars on NBC'S "Friday Night Lights."

I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, what most of us never knew about the dangers of deepwater oil exploration. New York Times science writer Henry Fountain explains the risks and challenges of dropping a drill bit through a mile of seawater then grinding through two miles of rock to reach oil and gas deposits held at dangerous temperatures and pressure.

Join us.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.