Beloved for series such as Homefront and Early Edition, Kyle Chandler scores a touchdown as Coach Eric Taylor on NBC’s critically acclaimed Texas-set high school football drama Friday Night Lights, now in its second season. An Emmy nominee (for playing a doomed bomb squad leader on Grey’s Anatomy), this good ol’ Southern boy really blew our minds with the news that a group of crazy gays helped shape him into the man he is today.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: Are you surprised to find out that you have a big gay following?
Kyle Chandler: Well, I hadn’t thought about it, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t. I didn’t do anything to y’all! [Laughs] Actually, I told a friend of mine that I was doing this interview, and he said, “What gay people follow you?”
We tend to follow handsome men. Do you work hard to look good?
Not as hard as I should. I’m 42 now, and I find myself slowing down a little bit. Doing the show and flying back and forth from Austin to Los Angeles takes it out of you. And I’ve got a wife and a couple kids, so I have to deal out all my attention and time there. When the show shuts down, that’s when you get to reinvent yourself, recuperate, get back in shape, and get ready to do it all over again.
Was the big 4-0 a difficult milestone?
No. I don’t worry about age. I figure every extra year is a good thing. I’ve got enough things to worry about it in life than getting older. I like living.
But is it a bit depressing to be surrounded by a bunch of 20-year-olds in their physical prime on Friday Night Lights?
Hell, yeah, it’s depressing! Bastards. Especially that Taylor Kitsch, showing himself off in all those damn muscle magazines and everything. Meanwhile, I’m counting my extra gray hairs every morning. But it’s neat to see those guys do well. I was there at one point, so I know where they are. They’ve got great years ahead of ’em.
You couldn’t be in those magazines?
Hell, I guess I could. As long as it’s from the neck up or the ankles down.
Is it a very “boys will be boys” atmosphere on set, particularly during those locker room scenes?
Yeah, they’re usually smacking each other with towels, pulling the towels off of each other, bragging about their virtues here and there -- you know how it is.
You paint a beautiful picture, Kyle.
[Laughs] And those shower scenes that are not on film sure have sparked some curiosity on the set.
The show has dealt with racial tensions but no homophobia among the teammates. Since you have freedom to ad-lib, you should throw that topic out there.
Maybe I’ll do that this afternoon. I’m gonna tell Smash Williams that I think he’s gay today and see what he says. [Laughs]
But seriously, what might happen if a player came out?
I think it would make a pretty interesting story line, but it’s a rough time to be bringing that up seeing as though we’re in the middle of a strike. Now you call me and suggest it!
Have you ever been offered a gay role?
I remember there was one role, but I don’t think the show ever got made. But it could be that the next role I play will be gay. I’ve got a good friend of mine, Butch Hammett, who’s working on a play, and he’s literally taken it around the world and done very well with it. And he’s got a role for me in it as the gay boss of a catering company — based on a boss that he had years ago. I told him I’m all with it. So that could be my first gay role, which is going to be a hell of a lot of fun.
Did you know any gay people growing up?
The first friends I had that were openly gay had to be in college. My second year of college, a good friend and I were walking around late at night, and we bummed a cigarette from some guys up across the street from the Waffle House at Five Points in Athens, Ga. We started talking, laughing, jabbing back in forth — just one of those encounters at 3 o’ clock in the morning with strangers. By the time we’d finished, we’d probably smoked about 10 cigarettes together. I found out they were in the theater department, and one guy, Tyre Patterson — who ended up being a dear friend of mine for many years — said, “Hey, you oughta go audition for this play down at the Cellar Theatre.” I did, and it was that audition that got me the lead as one of the brothers in The Comedy of Errors, and it was the applause when we did that that kept me in the theater. But it was also all the crazy, weird, bizarre people. I don’t consider myself to be normal, but actors are fun, strange, gypsy people, and I fit right in completely. That’s how I got to meet the gay culture to begin with. But it was never an issue — at the University of Georgia, at least. It was a different lifestyle, for sure, but good people all around. Of course, Tyre and the other fellas that were there that first day, and so many others of them, they’re not alive anymore.
Who’s the most important gay person in your life now?
Well, if I say one person, I’m going to get in trouble with all the rest of ’em, aren’t I? You know how gay people are!
I read that growing up in Loganville, Ga., you reenacted old movies in your backyard. Did you do the female roles and dabble in drag?
[Laughs] I don’t remember doing that, but I did take on a lot of characters. We moved down there in ’76 from Lake Forest, Ill., which was not rural by any means, to this really rural area, so it took a while to meet friends. It was sort of a shock for an 11-year-old kid. So I’d watch all these old black-and-white films on TV, whether it was John Wayne, Cary Grant, or Clark Gable, and get completely lost in them. My father died three years later, when I was 14. Once he passed away, I lost that father figure, but I had those figures on the screen. Most of those old movies are based on the good guy versus the bad guy, so I’d go out there and play the good guy.
On Early Edition you averted disasters thanks to a prophetic newspaper. If you got the tabloids a day early, which celebrities would you try to prevent from making a fool of themselves?
God almighty. I don’t check on the tabloids, so I only know of the big ones that are always interrupting my news. Maybe I’d give some marital advice to some of ’em. But I don’t even want to get myself in trouble with any of that — you’re just trying to start some shit here! [Laughs] I don’t mind talking about the gay thing, but I’m not going to attack the celebrities!
Friday Night Lights has a devoted fan base that organized a petition to save it from cancellation. Which show would you sign a petition to save?
Man, you’re getting me again. I don’t watch many television shows, but there are a lot of great shows out there. Who wouldn’t have wanted to see another year of Sopranos? I tell you what, though: I’ve been working pretty much consistently for damn near 20 years now. I’ve been able to survive and stay on some really nice quality shows and enjoy myself. I’m very thankful.
C’mon, are you at least keeping up with Grey’s Anatomy?
I don’t watch much Grey’s Anatomy. I pretty much fly from Los Angeles to Austin, work five days, then fly back to L.A. and get a weekend at home, then fly back to Austin. In between, I’m doing everything else you do during life. But you know what? Just to make you happy, I’m going to watch more TV, damn it.
Do you think you’ll reappear on Grey’s as a ghost again? Someone needs to scare some sense into Meredith.
I don’t know. I was surprised I got back on the damn show once — I blew up the first time! When they called, I was wondering if they were going to bring me back as a twin brother or something until I got a hold of the script.
What’s your fondest memory of playing opposite Joan Cusack on the short-lived series What About Joan?
You know what Joan did to me? Every time I walked into my trailer, I heard these church bells ringing. I’d stick my head out the door and think, What the hell is that? Because I did Early Editionin the same studio, and I’d never heard church bells. Then I thought the bells were coming from inside, so I started rifling through my trailer trying to find out where the hell this sound was coming from. Then it dawns on me, like, the third week, that every time I pop my head outside, there’s someone up above me on the balcony by the production office entrance. So I started putting two and two together. What she had done was take a remote-control doorbell and stick it under my trailer, and she gave the clicker to whoever was out there up top so they’d push it as I went in. It was one of the greatest stunts that anyone’s ever pulled on me. I almost bought her a puppy Great Dane to send her for Christmas, but I didn’t have the heart to do it. Her joke was fun, but mine would’ve been 10 years of cruelty.
Tell me about your appearances on Martha and Rachael Ray.
When I went to see Martha [Stewart], I told all my friends, “I’m flying to New York City to have a billionairess cook me breakfast.” She made me eggs and this and that. She’s a neat lady. I enjoy her. And Rachael Ray and I made meatballs for tailgating. That was fun too. I like cooking. I’m the cook of our household, and I’ve always enjoyed it.
How are you at crafts?
I’m not very crafty. Although I’ve got a 6-year-old and an 11-year-old daughter, so I can do the crafts. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty goddamn good at the crafts when I have to do the crafts. I might be the best craft person in the house!
The Advocate, January 2008; extended online version.