Although Connie Britton’s most known for playing Southern matriarchs on shows like Friday Night Lights and Nashville, she’s also made her name as a fast-talking campaign consultant on The West Wing and the emotionally ruined Vivien on American Horror Story, among other high-profile roles. And at Saturday’s Vulture Fest in New York, the star talked about all her projects, new and old, plus how she and Larry King ended up holding hands on the set of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, what Jessica Lange taught her on another Ryan Murphy show, and which real-life politician she’d like to play. Read on for 12 things we learned from the panel — appropriately titled “Connie Britton, Y’All.”
1. She’s had two famous roommates.
She went to Dartmouth with New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and the two — who both majored in Asian studies — ended up living together in Beijing one summer. “It was a very big culture shock,” says Britton. “It was very primitive. It was a unique experience and very important and adventurous time.” Famous roommate number two was Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls): They both had the same acting coach and were in class together in New York, where they became friends. “Both of us decided to give L.A. a shot,” she says. “We had a friend who was going through a divorce so she had a house that was mostly empty. Thankfully, there were a couple of bedrooms with a couple of beds in them, so we were set!”
2. She almost played Dorothy in 1996’s Jerry Maguire, but the role ultimately went to Renée Zellweger.
After auditioning for director Cameron Crowe, she landed a screen test with Tom Cruise in New York. “I’m sure for him it was real relaxed,” she recalls. “For me, I don’t think that I could breathe for most of it.” At the time, they were only screen-testing one other actress, Renée Zellweger. “I kind of probably bombed,” says Britton. “I’ve mostly blocked it out.” Though part of her is grateful since she was new to the industry that she didn’t end up learning on the job with a huge star like Cruise. “I was such a deer in headlights, it was astonishing,” she says. “But I really was so sad when I didn’t get it.”
3. Her new movie Beatriz at Dinner is “reflective of a trend that’s brought us to where we are.”
“The film is about greed and how it impacts people in different ways and how destructive it can be,” Britton says of the movie, which stars Salma Hayek as the title character. “The timing of it is important and interesting and I hope that’s really going to appeal to people. I think it’s important to see the movie now. We tend to use art to reflect our lives and our culture and this movie is one of the first ones to do that. It is reflective of a trend that’s brought us to where we are.”
4. When she found out Ryan Murphy was making The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, she immediately asked if she could play Nicole Brown Simpson.
“He was like, ‘Well, Nicole’s mostly dead so that’s probably not going to be that great for you,'” she remembers. Instead, Murphy cast her as Brown Simpson’s “best friend” Faye Resnick, who wrote a salacious best-selling book about the late Brown Simpson. And transforming into the current Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star meant plenty of conversations about lips: Britton wanted to get prosthetic ones, but Murphy told her just to pout in a specific way instead. “It’s daunting to play a real living person. I really wanted to try and get the physical stuff as well as I could.”
5. She was super nervous for her scenes with Larry King in American Crime Story — and then he ended up hitting on her (maybe).
“I was so nervous about that Larry King interview because Larry King knew Faye — that actually happened.”” she says. “I hadn’t played Faye in awhile because I’d been off playing [Rayna on Nashville]. So I finally went in to shoot and he’s sitting on that set, and he’s so into it. So I sat down with him and we hadn’t rehearsed or anything and we did one take and he leaned over to me and said, ‘You are Faye! Oh my God, it’s like she’s sitting in front of me.’ I was so happy, so relieved! And we did one more take and he said, ‘Someone get us a room.’ And that was it — we only did two takes. So then I’m walking off with him holding my hand and I think he maybe thought it was going to happen!”
6. Jessica Lange taught her you don’t always have to get it right the first time.
“She is just astonishing and incredibly generous,” she says of the actress, who she appeared alongside on American Horror Story. “She’s hard on herself too and seeing someone of her stature also feel like, ‘That scene sucked’ was very relieving in a way. I watched her make adjustments and discover scenes as we went, and it almost gave me permission to do that. I got to watch her craft these wonderful moments.”
7. Learning lines written by Aaron Sorkin is as difficult as you’d imagine.
There was definitely no ad-libbing on the West Wing set. “It’s a lot of words!” says Britton of Sorkin’s scripts. “I remember spending a lot of time in my trailer writing it out over and over again because you had to get it spot on. The writing is flawless so you don’t want to miss one word of it.”
8. She would love to star in a Wendy Davis biopic.
“She’s an amazing woman and she has an amazing story and her story continues to be amazing so I would love to do it,” she says of the Texan lawyer and Democratic politician. “It’s always in the back of my mind. I’m just trying to find a great writer — I’m putting it out there: Maybe Aaron Sorkin?”
9. She was not going to allow the whole story of Nashville to become a battle of young vs. old.
“When I read the pilot I never saw it like that,” she says. “I really saw it as an opportunity to show something that’s happening very currently in the culture; the idea of the internet and all the new media and how it’s changed the music business. It was an opportunity to reflect the culture. Sometimes things go through marketing and get watered down to the lowest denominator and it was starting to be like young vs. old has-been and I hit the roof. I was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, that’s not the sorry we’re telling or who the character is.’ It was important to me because I want to be reflective of the women that I see in the world. It’s not my life experience that when you get into your 40s suddenly you’re irrelevant and don’t have anything to offer. It’s the opposite. That’s never a story I want to tell.”
10. At first, she thought she’d made a mistake taking on the role of Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights.
After signing on to play Mrs. Coach in the high school football series, Britton worried she should never have taken the part. “I thought it was a terrible idea being a supporting character on a football show,” she says. However, it wasn’t long before she fell in love with Tami Taylor. “She’s brave; she’s just such a ballsy woman. Living in a small town world, for a woman to be as strong and powerful as she is takes skill and effort. She lives in that world in a very brave way and I love that about her.”
11. Whenever they were cooking in the Taylor household on Friday Night Lights, they were really cooking.
“Kyle [Chandler, who played Coach Taylor] would always come in and make bacon. There was always bacon cooking on the stove and then everybody would get to eat bacon and pass it round,” she says. “We wanted all of these things to feel as real as possible so we were always doing those things.”
12. Britton and Chandler’s relationship on Friday Night Lights was “unique” and they plan to work together soon.
“We both were very fortunate because we really shared the same values in terms of the the stories we wanted to tell about marriage,” she explains. “We wanted these people to be real partners and that was first and foremost. Sometimes it doesn’t look very pretty. TV loves to bring in affairs — as soon as you have a relationship, let’s screw it up. We were very adamant that wouldn’t happen.” She adds that even the small story line where co-worker Glenn develops a crush on Tami was too far for her and Chandler. “Kyle and I were like, ‘We see what you’re doing here.’ If cheating and jealousy weren’t on the table, then we could really tell the stories of people just trying to make their marriage work and just trying to make their lives work and be the best parents they can be and be good humans to each other.” As far reuniting with Chandler on a new project? “Every time we get together it’s like, ‘How much time has to pass until we can do that thing that we want to do?'” she teases.