With just a few episodes of Friday Night Lights remaining in Season 3, SI.com's Jimmy Traina spoke with Zach Gilford, who plays quarterback Matt Saracen, about the show's future, his own future, various FNL storylines and, of course, Minka Kelly. Zach was also kind enough to answer some reader questions.
SI.com: There have been rumblings about the show coming back for two seasons. Is there anything new on that? Anything you can tell us?
Gilford: Everyone I talk to at DirecTV or NBC or from the show says, "You know, it looks good, but we don't know." So I've heard the same thing that's been in the news, which is kind of frustrating because I wish you had an inside scoop or something.
SI.com: Is there a timetable for an announcement or non-announcement?
Gilford: NBC usually announces its fall lineup the second week of May. So within the next month we'll know -- hopefully.
SI.com: If the show returns, would you definitely be back next season?
Gilford: I don't know. They kind of left it open. They told me, "We're not sure what we're going to do if we come back, yadda, yadda, yadda." So I have no clue. I can see it going either way. Matt can go off to college or he can stay and take care of grandma. They have options. It's just a matter of what they feel like doing.
SI.com: One of the big storylines on the show this season was how Saracen lost his job to J.D. McCoy. When you saw that in the script, was there an art-imitates-life thing going on where you got a little ticked off that your character lost his job?
Gilford: A little bit. You know, it's like, "I've been doing this for three years. Why are you benching me?" But at the same time, it was fun playing wide receiver and doing something different. I got to run all the routes, which is way more tiring than playing quarterback. But I actually feel more like one of the guys playing wide receiver.
SI.com: All the game action we see is real, right? You're doing all that stuff out there?
Gilford: Yeah, it's all totally real. We have a full team of guys. They all played college football. Some of them played in the NFL, some in the Arena League. They're great guys and good football players. And all those hits are because they know when they're going to hit each so they go full force.
SI.com: Have you suffered any injuries as a receiver this season?
Gilford: Nah. I tore up my legs with a lot of turf burn, but that's it.
SI.com: The other big storyline this season is the deteriorating health of Saracen's grandmother. First, tell me about Louanne Stephens, who plays Matt's grandma.
Gilford: She's awesome, dude. She's a totally normal, completely with-it woman in real life. She's my Texas grandmother. She lives in Dallas and she comes down to work for a day or two for an episode and she'll bring newspaper clippings to me and stuff like that. When we're on set, I'm very protective of her.
SI.com: You guys have had some intense scenes.
Gilford: She's so good. And in some of those scenes where she loses it and freaks out, it's kind of scary. When you're there doing it, it's freaky to see her flipping out like that.
SI.com: In the episode that aired two weeks ago, Coach Taylor caught Matt in bed with his daughter, Julie. How was that to play?
Gilford: It was cool, man. I like the way we did it. It was more about the coach. And his reaction was typical of how he is on the field. He's not a screamer and yeller. That scene after when I went out to the back porch to talk to him while he's grilling was memorable. He just had this crazy look in his eyes. Kyle Chandler has two daughters, so you could tell he was thinking about that. We did just two takes on that scene. He totally had it. I couldn't even look him in the eye.
SI.com: If you and Matt return, what would you like to see him do?
Gilford: I don't know. It'd be interesting. You'd have to come up with a whole new thing because I'm not on the team anymore. I think you'd see Matt figuring out what he wants to do. He knows he's not going to the pros or anything like that. I think it would be interesting to see what he does now that that part of his life is over and to see him figure out where he's going to go and where he's going to take himself.
SI.com: I think there was a cool scene between Matt and Julie toward the end of the season where he shares his doubts about his future, right?
Gilford: Yeah, and that's what made Matt a little different than other characters on the show. He's definitely a realist. He doesn't have any delusions of grandeur. He said to his mother in one scene, "I'm just the quarterback because the quarterback got paralyzed." He doesn't think he's a superstar. He knows he's just there because no one else could do it and as soon as they got someone else, they replaced him.
SI.com: A lot of SI.com readers sent in questions for you. Can I ask you a few?
SI.com:Doug Ferguson, of Ridley, Pa., asks, "How does it feel to create one of the most realistic portrayals of teen life in the history of TV? Was Matt Saracen's background based on anyone in particular having to deal with so much at a young age? Keep up the good work!"
Gilford: Oh, wow. Well, [executive producer] Peter Berg came up with the character. I don't know if he based it on anyone, but there are different parts of it from people I know growing up or people I'm tight with now and knowing where they came from. They've written him very well. I've been fortunate enough to have some of the most realistic and heartfelt storylines. The material I've had to work with has just lent itself to being able to make a character that people have gotten attached to.
SI.com: Will, of Montreal, asks, "Are you frustrated that the general public hasn't caught on to your show more despite such great critical praise?"
Gilford: Yes and no. Yes in the fact that it's a show we're all so proud of, so you want to share it with as many people as possible. But it's not frustrating in the sense of "I wish we were bigger and more famous." That would be fun and exciting, but who cares? It's cool when people love what you're doing, so I'm just glad that we've been doing it for them.
*** SPOILER QUESTION ***
SI.com: Matt, of Grand Rapids, Mich., asks, "Next season, will Matt be an assistant coach at East Dillon?
Gilford: [Laughs.] You know, I thought about that, but they did that with Jason Street already. So I think we need to come up with something new. I thought it would be fun, if Matt were still around, if he coached pee-wee football.
*** END OF SPOILER ***
SI.com: Cameron Watkins, of Chicago, says, "Please ask Zach Gilford how old Carlotta was supposed to be. I mean, did she come from Guatemala and somehow get a job as a nurse as a 17-year-old? Was Matty hooking up with a 25-year-old?
Gilford: [Laughs.] I think she was supposed to be 20 or 21. I don't really know to be honest.
SI.com: Sara Nguyen, of Harrisburg, Pa., asks, "Of all the actors on the show, who do you think would be picked highest in an NFL draft? Scott Porter [Jason Street]? Gaius Charles [Smash Williams]? Taylor Kitsch [Tim Riggins]?"
Gilford: Probably Taylor. He's a good athlete, but Scott will kill me for saying that. Scott played football growing up and he has a good arm, but Taylor is faster and I think that would help his draft status.
SI.com: Mike Romaszka (no hometown given) asks, "If you weren't playing Saracen, what other character would you like to play?"
Gilford: That's so tough because it's gotten to the point where the characters have become so much of the actor who plays them. For example, it would be fun to play Landry, but Landry isJesse Plemmons. I couldn't do that. But just on paper, as the character, it'd be fun to be Riggins and play the bad boy and just drink all the time.
SI.com: You have great chemistry with Jesse Plemmons.
Gilford: He's my best friend on the show by far. We got so lucky because we hit it off from Day One. It's funny because in real life it's a little bit of a reversal. I usually give him crap and mess with him, but on the show Landry always gives Saracen crap.
SI.com: Hey, I know this is going long, but I just have a couple of more questions if you don't mind.
Gilford: Don't worry about it. I'm on a road trip anyway, so my girlfriend just has to overhear everything.
SI.com: I'm glad you brought up your girlfriend. Are you still dating former Seahawks cheerleader Amber Lancaster?
SI.com: We had some fun with that piece of information in Hot Clicks a couple of months ago.
Gilford: Yeah, I know. I saw that.
SI.com: I should've saved some of the e-mails I got about how impressed my readers were. There was a lot of "Way to go, Zach" and "Zach is the man."
Gilford: That's funny because the ones that my friends forwarded on to me from blogs they read were all like, "How did he pull that?"
SI.com: That's funny. I only got ones praising you.
Gilford: I need you to send me those so I can show them to my girlfriend. She was showing me all the ones that said she was out of my league.
SI.com: That's rough. Since you mentioned blogs, do you do Facebook and Twitter?
Gilford: I don't Twitter. I'm on Facebook, but just as a means to keep in touch with people if I want to, just to be aware of where people are and what they're up to. But I've never updated my status. I find that so annoying and obnoxious. I updated my status once on my birthday. I said, "Zach appreciates all the birthday wishes." I hate it. I don't know why people feel the need to every five minutes let people know what they're doing. I was working on this thing a few weeks ago and every five minutes the producer and the director were like, "We have to Twitter a shot of this." I was like, "What the heck?" ... And I read that [Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie] Villanueva Twittered at halftime the other day. Dude, focus on the game!
SI.com: Do you have any bizarre fan stories, since the people who watch the show are so passionate about it?
Gilford: Not really. But since we were talking about Facebook, I thought I had Taylor as one of my friends on Facebook. And then one day we were talking and Facebook came up and he said, "Yeah, I've never been on there." And I was like, "Really, I have you as a friend." Someone had made a fake Taylor page, so I had to delete "him" right away.
*** SPOILER QUESTION ***
SI.com: What has been your all-time favorite scene to film?
Gilford: I really liked filming all the football stuff for this year's championship game at Memorial Stadium. It really hit Taylor and I both that even if the show stayed on the air and even if we stayed on the show, that was our last time putting on a Panthers uniform. We played every down. We didn't let our doubles do anything. Even if we weren't on camera in that last championship-game episode, we'd run the routes because we knew it would be the last time. So that was really fun. There was a lot of stuff toward the end of this season. It just had a lot of weight to it -- [like] that scene when Taylor and I were on the front lawn of the capital in Austin playing Frisbee.
*** END OF SPOILER ***
SI.com: What about your favorite episode?
Gilford: The first two of the first season and the last two of this season are my all-time favorite episodes.
SI.com: Is there anyone on the show you would've liked to have worked with more?
Gilford: I've gotten to work with pretty much everyone, but I've never had a single line of dialogue with Minka Kelly, the girl who plays Lyla.
SI.com: Oh, we know who she is around here.
Gilford: [Laughing.] Yeah, I know you guys like her. Minka and I are good friends outside of work but we've never exchanged a line. We're always joking around, trying to come up with storylines that would connect us, but it's never happened.
SI.com: Well, since you brought her up, I told my readers I'd ask if Minka is as hot in person as she is on TV?
Gilford: I think more so.
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.