INTERVIEW: Friday Night Lights Star Taylor Kitsch Talks Hockey, Future Of Show
Monday, October 27, 2008 Posted By Chris Littmann 9:30 AM
Like The White Shadow long ago, and Sports Night a decade ago, Friday Night Lights is one of those shows that takes sports as the spine of a series and makes for a really compelling watch.
On Friday, I had a chance to chat with Lights star Taylor Kitsch, who plays Dillon Panther Tim Riggins. Read on to find out about his passion for hockey, his role on the show and its future.
Littmann: Thanks for taking a break to answer some questions. Before we get to the show, let’s talk about your personal favorite sport: hockey. This has to be a great time of the year for you with the NHL season under way again. Are you catching a lot of the early-season action? With no team in the area, what do you do to keep up?
Kitsch: Yeah, I think I’m the only one in Austin with the hockey package. If I do miss the games, because I get home at like 1, 2 in the morning, I’ll just go over on TSN and what not to watch the highlights.
CL: Any other hockey fans on the cast, or are you by yourself watching games on DirecTV?
TK: Nope, you’re looking at it. They catch games, but they don’t want to talk hockey like I know. I’m in a league here right now, which is great. It’s therapy for me. I’ve got a motorcycle and hockey; those are my two things that are therapy for me. I’ve missed like the last six games due to work, but I think I’m still the leading defensive scorer in the league, so that’s nice.
CL: So you played for quite a while growing up, right?
TK: Yeah, I played a good 20 years, so it’s shaped a lot of my values and everything else. I love it.
CL: I know you’re a big Wings fan: Tell me, how does someone from Kelowna become a Wings fan?
TK: It’s all Yzerman. He’s a Cranbrook boy. My oldest bro was an Yzerman fan, and since I was like four, I think I always just loved his posters, and collected only his cards.
CL: I saw you say in an interview you grew up as a big Steve Yzerman fan. Any favorite memories from Yzerman or the Wings growing up?
TK: Basically when he was playing on one knee during the playoffs, he’d have to use his stick to help him up. He was in Vancouver and got the game-winning goal and could barely skate and barely take warmups. And it was like, “Are you kidding me? This guy’s just a (expletive) animal.” I love that kind of stuff and I think he’s just a class act.
I finally met him last year. One of my best mates was playing exhibition games with him in Detroit, so I flew in just to see an exhibition game and I was sitting underground waiting for my buddy to come out and I was like, “Watch this, Stevie Wonder’s going to walk around,” and low and behold, he does. He walks like 20 feet past me and I’m like, “Kitsch, if you don’t say anything right now, you’re just a little bitch.” So finally, I just introduced myself and said I’m a big fan growing up with you and everything else. He just graciously said thanks. Hopefully I’ll get to meet him again.
CL: Are you able to make it to many games?
TK: I’m going to L.A. In a couple weeks, and I have a few buddies who play on the Kings, so I’ll go watch them. It’s really hard for me to get up to Dallas because it’s a three-hour drive and I’m not a huge Stars fan.
CL: You said you had some friends on the Kings. Who do you know there?
TK: Rob Blake, even though he’s in San Jose now, and Derek Armstrong (pictured), he’s a good mate of mine. I was hanging out with a lot of those guys back in the summer, so we have a lot of fun.
CL: Is that a connection from back home?
TK: Just through going to games and what not. I just met ‘em after and we kinda kicked it. We just have a lot of laughs and I think they get kick out of what I do, and I obviously get a kick out of what they do.
CL: Make it to any of the Stanley Cup Finals?
TK: No, you know what it was, I was in Australia doing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but what I would do, literally, we were on this huge FOX lot and they had a bar there, and, because it’s all footie and rugby there, I made them turn on the Red Wings games. It was just me and a friend of mine, in between takes or my lunch, I would go make sure what’s going on. It was pretty fun to watch being in Australia and being such a good series.
CL: How are you feeling about the Wings this year?
TK: They’re just going to be solid all the time. I love Babcock. I got to meet with him for a bit at the All-Star Game last year. I don’t know, I think they have a good chance to repeat this year.
CL: See any similarities between Kyle Chandler’s character, Eric Taylor, and Mike Babcock?
TK: I mean I don’t know how Babcock does his thing, but I think the intensity and everything else. The way players trust in him, you could definitely make that kind of segue between those guys. They buy into it, that’s the biggest thing. The players on our team and the players on their team. You have to, otherwise you won’t win.
CL:You were part of the NHL All-Star festivities last season. What’s your lasting memory from that whole weekend?
TK: Being on the ice with the boys was fun, but I brought my two older brothers and just for all of us to be together and for them to just take it in and enjoy was the biggest thing. That’s one of the biggest perks of my job. My brothers can come to Atlanta, hang out on the ice and meet all these guys. For all of us to be together at once is really a rare thing. They’ve all got their own deal with their family and work but we all kind of managed to get together and it was just a lot of fun and hopefully we can get together and do it again this year.
CL: One quick question about shooting in Austin: Did you make it to the big music festival, Austin City Limits? If so, who did you catch and who were your favorite acts?
TK: Derek Phillips, who plays Billy Riggins. I made him come with me to see John Fogerty and once he got there he just realized who he really was. Like all the classic tunes, and I love camping, road trips and all that kind of stuff and his tunes are the king of that, and he was great live. The crowd was great and we just had a lot of fun.
CL: Back to the show itself, I know you were on set today, where are you guys at in terms of the progress on the third season?
TK: Right now, we’re shooting the tail end of episode 10 of 13, so we’re almost done. We have a few more weeks and we’re done.
CL: It’s been a great season so far. It really seems to be a return to the way things were in Season One without any murders or sex scandals. Zach Gilford was pretty outspoken about his disappointment during Season Two in a recent Los Angeles Times article. How did you feel about last season’s changes?
TK: Everyone was surprised. Even from the actors that were involved with the storylines. Yeah, it just didn’t feel genuine to our show. That’s why our show is our show. I think anyone can relate to these characters and we stay true to life, and yeah it happens, that stuff, but it just felt like we were taking away from it, and getting back on track has been a lot of fun. Even taking that break and coming back, there’s a new life and we just enjoy it. A lot of us do other gigs and we realize how special this job is with how much freedom and everything we have.
CL: Let me say what a lot of guys are probably thinking about Season Three: We’re all kind of jealous they hooked Riggins up with Lyla. But outside of that this season, Riggins seems like he’s slowly but surely evolving. Everyone seems to be hell bent on getting out of Dillon, but what about Riggins?
TK: That’s a good question. Personally, I’d love to play the train wreck even more. I do think there’s more to this kid still. I think it’s almost endless where we can take him. There’s an episode coming up where Jason and I go to New York, and that’s been my favorite shoot by far because it breathes a lot of new life into the character and for me to send off Jason and see a different part of Riggs ... He kind of realizes that his best friend, the only cat that he can trust, and he’s leaving. I’ve heard nothing but really strong things from that episode and we did a lot of good work there in New York. There’s just a new energy and really revealed a lot with our characters through these little scenes that build up and it’s great.
I just think there’s a lot going forward with Riggs, and hopefully we can dabble into that. I know now, we’re more into the State and the college stuff, I just know there’s a lot left. I think a lot of this season has been the relationship side of Riggs, but there’s a lot. Dabble into his family, his brother and that relationship. Saracen’s stuff has been incredible this year. It’s (expletive) great. It’s been a pleasure to watch.
(Editor’s note: At this point, we ran into a few cell phone difficulties from here on out, so there’s a little bit of dropped conversation.)
CL: Speaking of people leaving, Smash’s swan song aired this week, Street isn’t far behind, and of course we’ve got a whole class of seniors. Tell me a little bit about how it feels to start losing some of these original cast members.
TK: Williams, how good was that? The Williams stuff was really strong. Some of the scenes with his mom were the best of the episode and maybe the season thus far. Porter had a great little arc, four strong episodes. Heartbreaking stuff. And we got to go to New York and we had a lot of fun doing that. I’m glad it ended on the notes they ended on ... (inaudible) ... even though he had all these setbacks. That’s part of life as well. It feels a lot truer than some of the other stuff.
I’m excited. I still talk to Gaius (who played Smash Williams, pictured) weekly and they’re moving on. Three years in this character, and they’re going and doing their movies and dabbling and challenging themselves on another level, which all of us are hungry to do. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve been super fortunate to do some great stuff in between and I’m excited for that as well.
CL: Talk to me about the DirecTV deal. This is really uncharted territory for any show. Have you guys as a show been given any indication of what NBC and DirecTV want to see in order to keep this show alive for a fourth season?
TK: No, I don’t think any indication and they kind of left it open. Obviously, this is the first time it’s been done so I know DirecTV is very happy with what we’re doing right now, and I know the fans have been and I think that’s what their main concern is: let’s get the show back on track. It’s done that an exceeded I think. I don’t know what NBC expects. I think they can know we’re putting out the best product possible and that’s all they can really hope for. The best part of it is, they haven’t asked us to change anything and I think they’d know the answer if they did (laughs). I think that’s what makes the show: the process.
CL: Final question: What’s your ideal ending for Riggins on and off the field on FNL?
TK: That’s a hard question. I think there’s so much to tell with this guy. I’ve thrown out a lot of storylines. I think kids can learn a lot from this guy with his drinking and driving and something happens with that. Just the lack of family, I think we could dabble into a lot more. I’ve gotten letters from therapists who use Riggins as a character study and that’s pretty darn flattering.
To deal with some more real-life stuff, I could see this cat going into the army, especially because that’s a big thing here. I don’t know, I think maybe he finds a purpose or something where he feels he’s kind of proud to talk about and be a part of. I don’t know, that’s what part of it is. It’s so wide open, you can take him any direction you want.
Friday Night Lights airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET, commercial-free, on the DirecTV 101 Network.
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Obligatory shirtless Taylor!