Nine words I hoped I’d never have to say: Eric and Tami Taylor have gone their separate ways. I’m not talking about the ironclad couple at the heart of Friday Night Lights but rather their exceptional portrayers, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. Although the show’s fifth and final season has yet to air (it premieres on DirecTV this fall), the cast and crew wrapped weeks ago in Austin, at which point Britton moved back to Los Angeles, leaving Chandler behind in Texas with his wife and their two daughters. Here, in their first interview together since production ended, the actors look back on their five-year work marriage, reveal the secret behind that groundbreaking onscreen relationship, and argue over whom they’re rooting for most come Emmy night.
It’s been two weeks since FNL wrapped. Are you guys suffering separation anxiety?
KYLE CHANDLER: I’m happy as can be.
CONNIE BRITTON: [Laughs] You are not.
CHANDLER: You mean from Connie, right?
Yes. I mean specifically from Connie.
CHANDLER: Specifically from Connie, I don’t think I could be happier. I know she couldn’t be happier because she doesn’t return my phone calls anymore.
BRITTON: [Laughs] I did! I called you back.
CHANDLER: Yeah, you called me a name when you called me back.
BRITTON: I called you Sugar. I only called you Sugar.
CHANDLER: She only calls at, like, between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. and leaves quick little expletives.
BRITTON: Obviously, he’s thrilled about our separation.
All joking aside, you’ve had a professional relationship for five years and it just came to an end. What has that been like for you?
BRITTON: It’s been weird. I feel like it’s been a roller coaster. We actually haven’t really talked much. I feel like we were ripped from each other by circumstance. I don’t know. How’s it going for you, Sugar?
CHANDLER: Since the show’s been over, everything in my personal life has been moving at such a fast pace—so many things are happening—I don’t really think I’ve sat back and acknowledged the fact that we’re not just on hiatus. One thing Connie and I didn’t get to do was go out and drink a half bottle of whiskey together and talk about all the old times and really mourn the loss of the professional relationship, the show, and the end of a five-year period doing something we love so much. So I don’t think it’s sunk in completely for me.
BRITTON: It hasn’t really hit me either because I’ve also been so busy/crazy, which I think is a good thing, to keep preoccupied a little bit. But I feel like we still have to go do that, Kyle. I mean, we sort of did that in Philadelphia. We went and had our champagne.
CHANDLER: It’s one thing having champagne while you have a job. It’s far different having a bottle of whiskey while you don’t have a job. That’s where the country songs come from.
BRITTON: That is so true. So we still need to get together and write a country song.
CHANDLER: That’s right.
Is it fair to say lifelong friendship has been forged here?
CHANDLER: I wouldn’t doubt that.
BRITTON: They’ve built a new house, and he’s already built me a guesthouse. And it’s mine; I know it’s mine. I feel like that’s very positive for the future.
What do you guys remember about your first meeting?
BRITTON: Kyle has a different memory entirely of the first time we met.
CHANDLER: I met you on the street corner, and we went and had sushi that day. That’s the first day we met.
BRITTON: No. No. No. We didn’t have sushi until the night after we shot. The first day we met was in the first scene. I came to your trailer and said, “Hey, I’m going to be playing your wife.”
CHANDLER: We hadn’t shot yet by then.
BRITTON: Yeah, we did.
CHANDLER: No, no. We had not worked together yet.
BRITTON: I think we had.
CHANDLER: Well, I think that you’re crazy.
BRITTON: How did we meet on a street corner? So we called each other and said, “Hey, let’s go have dinner at Kenichi”?
CHANDLER: That sounds about right.
BRITTON: No. We went and had that one scene together and I knocked on your door and said, “Hey, I’m going to be playing your wife.”
CHANDLER: This could go on forever. The battery on my phone’s not going to last. We’ll just agree to disagree. But I’m right.
Let’s forget about the specifics…
CHANDLER: I paid for lunch. I know that.
BRITTON: It was dinner! It was dinner!
What were your first impressions?
BRITTON: He was sitting in his trailer, listening to some goofy radio station, and I think we immediately started making funny jokes or something. I thought he was goofy.
CHANDLER: My immediate reaction on the street corner where we met the first time was…
BRITTON: [Laughs hard]
CHANDLER: …it took about two or three minutes to get a feel for what kind of person she was just because I think it’s safe to say we’re both people…
BRITTON: [Deadpans] I think it is safe to say we’re both people.
CHANDLER: …we’re both people persons. I can gab with pretty much anyone. I think you pretty much can too, Connie. Once we started talking just for a few minutes, we started kidding around with each other. It became obvious it was going to be a lot of fun. Connie has no bulls—. It’s all out in front. She’s a very sweet person, very intelligent, very witty, and loves to play the fool. As soon as I found someone else who liked to play the fool as much as I do, I think we both knew pretty soon it was going to be a fun relationship.
BRITTON: That’s what I meant by goofy. As opposed to if I had walked in and he had been some sort of arrogant, wanting to be bigger and fancier than he was. He’s the most authentic, real person, and you get that right off the bat, of course.
The Eric/Tami marriage was always the show’s strongest asset. Why do you think it worked so well?
BRITTON: You want to go first?
CHANDLER: Yeah, sure. I think the most fun and why we had so much fun—at least for myself—was that it’s the first time I’ve been able to play a married person, with kids, obviously. I’ve never done that in my professional life, so I had a lot of material to draw from. That’s one. Two, [exec producer] Pete Berg was able to tell us—he confirmed this for Connie and I—that the relationship wasn’t going to break up from divorce. We weren’t going to be sleeping with other people, there weren’t going to be drug or alcohol problems. It was going to be a regular marriage, with two people who were dedicated to each other and loved one another. That gave Connie and I the ability to do what married couples really do, which is when big, big, big things happen, people come together and stand with each other. They work their way through it however it happens. But it’s the little tiny things, “Where are the keys?” “I don’t know where your keys are.” “Well, what did you do with the keys?” These little fights that we could create and turn into these explosions. So we had the ability to have all the fun we wanted. To be honest, whenever they wrote us being happy, we tried to find a fight. If they had us fighting, we tried to love on each other. We had fun no matter what when we went to work. That’s what made it very creative, for me anyway. It felt like a real marriage.
BRITTON: I think to add to that—because that’s exactly, exactly right—we established really early on that there was a sense of trust between us. With Kyle, he brought the experience of his marriage into what he was doing. He felt very trustworthy, and that felt very trustworthy. That made me feel like we were safe together. We have often said that we both felt that if we fell backward, the other one would catch us. And in doing that, we were able to relay that level of trust into the relationship as actors.
CHANDLER: I think we both always searched for comedy. I would always search for the point of being right, strong, and firm, keeping in mind that Connie’s dialogue down the line was going to turn, and I was going to have to have egg on my face and be wrong within the scene. That was so much fun, to have Coach be so adamant and then be so wrong and contrite about it. It was just always fun.
BRITTON: I think that sense of humor is important in marriage. A sense of humor gets people through marriage. I think if you’re doing something that’s considered a “drama” you don’t always get room for that sense of humor. That was something that was inherent to both of us as individuals but also in our characters.
Are you both satisfied with how the relationship played out in the final episode?
CHANDLER: Oh, yeah. To have us shooting each other at the exact same moment and then the screen going black. That was genius.
BRITTON: It really is amazing.
CHANDLER: I loved that.
BRITTON: And then it’s incredible that he dies and I live. I think it’s just so fitting.
CHANDLER: Good going, Connie; you just gave away the end of the show.
BRITTON: I’m sure they would have done spoilers.
CHANDLER: We should do a remake of The War of the Roses, you and I, except it would be reality TV.
All joking aside, are you happy with how things ended?
BRITTON: Yes. I thought we got to play some stuff in the end that we hadn’t gotten to play yet in the show. It was very interesting and exciting. I think the last two episodes—not just for our stuff but for everybody—were so great. A lot of characters came back, and they felt like a very true end to the world of Dillon that we had created.
CHANDLER: I absolutely think we went out with a touch of class.
Kyle, who are you rooting for more on Emmy night: Yourself or Connie?
BRITTON: I can answer that question!
BRITTON: [Laughs] You would flip out!
CHANDLER: I just, I don’t know how to answer that one.
BRITTON: I’ll answer for you. He’s rooting for himself, but I know I’m a close second.
CHANDLER: Let me answer your question with a question: Which benefits me more? That’s my answer.
After being overlooked for so long, had you guys given up on the Emmy thing?
CHANDLER: One, it was more people telling me “You should have been nominated.” It never quite bothered me as much as people might imagine just due to the fact that what we did over the five-season period was so incredible, so unbelievably creative and satisfying, it was secondary. It was completely secondary. I never enjoyed doing what I do more than when I did it. I’ve never felt safer with the people around me that I worked with. And not just cast, but crew, producers, writers. The whole thing was such a classy ordeal; it was wonderful. I told someone the other day, this Emmy situation, it’s icing on the cake. If it never happens, I am so satisfied with what we did and proud. There’s an amount of ownership that goes along with it. I was never upset that I did not get an Emmy. That I did get an Emmy nomination, I couldn’t be happier and prouder.
BRITTON: I completely agree with everything he said. We have been so fortunate on this show because people have been appreciative of the work we’ve done. The audiences and people who come up to us on the street out of the woodwork who love the show, the critics, so many people have been so genuinely appreciative of the show. Having the Emmy nomination, initially you think, this somehow is different, but it really changes nothing. It’s just nice to have respect and this standardized acknowledgment. But the truth is, the work will still be the work; it will always be the work. It’s no different having been nominated or not nominated. At the end of the day, our greatest prize and greatest honor was doing this show with the people we got to do it with because it was such an inspiration.
What’s next for you both?
BRITTON: I love TV. I’m not looking to stay anywhere. I sort of just feel like I haven’t quite come to the surface yet. I’m not sure what’s going to be the next move, but I’m enjoying the feeling of a blank palette again. But I do love TV, so I certainly hope in addition to doing film and theater, I hope to continue doing that. I think it might be fun to develop something. There will be lots of options.
There’s a mini-movement afoot to get you cast on the remake of Prime Suspect at NBC.
BRITTON: [Laughs] I’m aware. I love that you have spearheaded that.
What about you, Kyle?
CHANDLER: I’m just playing it by ear.