The long and winding career of actress Connie Britton has seen her appear in many films and TV shows, including The West Wing, 24, Spin City, and Ellen, among others. Now starring in Friday Night Lights (playing the same role she played in the film version), Connie is relishing her role as the coach’s wife/school counselor. Connie, during a break in shooting, kindly took some time to talk with us at BuddyTV.
How did you get into acting and break into the business?
It’s something I’ve wanted to do for, really, most of my life. I was definitely acting in plays in high school, I was writing and acting in my own little plays in elementary school as well. And then I went to college and I was like, “Okay, now it’s time to do something really grown up and mature and that was just a hobby.” Pretty soon I realized that that was what I wanted to do and I got out of college and went to a two-year acting program at The Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. I started pounding the pavement in New York, really had a bunch of years where I was doing off-off-Broadway shows and started my own theater company and all kinds of stuff like that.
My big break came with the movie, The Brothers McMullen. I answered an ad in Backstage, which is what you do when you’re an actor in New York and trying to do anything you can to get a job. So I sent a picture and resume to Ed Burns, at that time nobody knew who he was, and he called me in and I auditioned and he cast me and we shot it on weekends, just kind of whenever he had enough money to shoot it. He was just amazing with getting that movie out and getting it to Robert Redford and it went to Sundance and that was kind of it. From there, everything changed. It’s what you always read about; a very “big-break” experience because I went right out to LA and got an agent for the first time and so everything really changed after that.
You’re well known for your comedic work on TV, especially Spin City, but lately it seems like you have been doing a lot more drama. Is that a conscious choice or something that just sort of happened?
No, you know, it actually really wasn’t a conscious choice. But I am glad that it happened that way because I’ve always, always loved comedy and dramatic work equally. In an ideal world I’m in a role where I get to actually do both just because the truth is, in my experience, a rich life has extraordinarily funny moments and also extraordinarily intense moments and those are the kind of lives that I want to portray in characters.
Friday Night Lights is really a dream because I really do get to play both aspects of that, which I just think is much more human. So often, especially on TV if you’re doing a sitcom, things are very comedic and every once in a while you have “a very special episode.” You know? Then you have something like 24 where there’s just no room for a sense of humor anywhere. So it’s nice to be doing something where I get to go to all ends of the spectrum in terms of that and in terms of the character.
What was your experience on 24 like?
I was so psyched to get on that show, and I wasn’t even really a 24 watcher so that was really about all the people in my life who were 24 addicts. I just hadn’t even started watching it yet, but I went in and I auditioned and they cast me. I think everything is so much about the reality on that show so then, when these extraordinary things happen, you really buy into it because the characters seem so real and so true. For me, that was such a fun experience because it was like no other television I’d done before and there’s no other show on TV that’s quite like it; that shoots like it. So everyday was an adventure. Even down to the idea that every day your shooting, weeks in and weeks out, it’s the same day. I was in my fourth episode of shooting and I was sitting in hair and makeup one day and it occurred to me like, “Wow, this is the worst morning of this woman’s life.” It’s a very intense thing to realize that you’re filming all this stuff but it’s all happening in one hour. As an actor it’s really great because it makes the stakes so high all the time.
You were cast in Friday Night Lights the movie as the Coach’s wife and then the TV show comes along and you again are cast in the same role. Did you get any sense from Peter Berg (the director) during the filming of the movie that there was going to be a TV spin-off?
No way, no way. I mean, if he had any idea about it, it wasn’t something that he was talking about or thinking about at that time. It kind of came up out of the blue. I actually bumped into Sarah Aubrey, Pete’s producing partner, at a movie theater in LA and she’s like “Oh my god, your ears must have been burning because we’re about to start making the TV version of Friday Night Lights and we were talking about you.” And I was like, “What?” I had no idea. I doubt that Pete even knew at the time. When he was shooting the movie, it was all about the movie. It was all about really trying to be true to those characters and that story. Our show is so different in the sense that we are not having to do what we did in the movie, which is to duplicate a time period and try to duplicate people who were and are real people. So it’s pretty different in that way.
The Coaches you’ve played opposite, Billy Bob Thornton and Kyle Chandler, are both great actors, but very different. Did you have to adjust to each, playing off each of those actors?
Luckily it was pretty easy in both cases. I didn’t have to adjust much. Playing opposite Billy Bob, he’s such a great actor that everything just becomes really organic. The relationship just sort of emerges really naturally and it’s the exact same thing with Kyle. So, even though, obviously, they are completely different men and completely different actors, they’re both really good actors and that’s all you need. As long as you’re working with someone who is really good and also who I have a connection with and I really did create a connection with both of them.
With Billy Bob it was a finite period of time and after a couple of days working with him I figured him out, it was “Okay, so this is who this guy is.” And then we shot it over a few months. But with a TV show, it’s ongoing and a little more risky. You just kind of hope that you’re going to have that chemistry and that dynamic and I just couldn’t have gotten any luckier than being able to work with Kyle. It was the biggest fluke. I’d never met him before, he didn’t know me, I didn’t know who he was and we just hit it off and kind of have the same sense of humor and love to laugh at ourselves and laugh at each other. It just worked out perfectly.
How is it working with all of these new, fresh actors; do you get to impart some of your wisdom?
It’s funny, I never think of it that way. I get asked that a lot and I never think of it as “Oh, well these kids, you know, listen up kids!” Once we’re all working together it’s really important that we’re all working together as peers. So I never look at them as inexperienced or even really younger, I look at them as they are characters in the show. Certainly sometimes we’ll be in a conversation and I’ll realize like, “Oh, are they asking me for advice?” I’ve actually resisted that dynamic a lot just because I respect all of them and I think they’re all great. It would be such a different dynamic on the show and as people who work together if there was some kind of weird mentoring situation I think it would get in the way of the performances and how we act.
Can you give us any hints on what’s coming up next in the next few episodes?
I know I’ve got some stuff coming up with Adrianne Palicki’s character (Tyra Collette). This is something that’s been really great about the way they’ve drawn my character on the show; by making me the school counselor I get to interact with all these characters in really cool ways. We’ve got a couple things coming up where she sort of becomes my next project and that’s pretty cool.