Saturday, February 12, 2011

Today's Laugh Track: John Pinette

"Friday Night Lights" Comes to An End: Producers and Cast Remember Building Dillon

by Denise Martin
February 6, 2011

A closely observed drama about boys becoming men, the comforts and frustrations of small-town life, a family's growing pains, and the lessons learned from football, Friday Night Lights will not soon be forgotten. The show wrapped filming of its fifth and final season in July, and on Wednesday, the lights will go down forever on Dillon, Texas. (For those without DirecTV, NBC will re-air the final season beginning April 15 at 8/7c.) spoke to stars Kyle Chandler (Eric Taylor), Connie Britton (Tami Taylor), Aimee Teegarden (Julie Taylor), Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins), Zach Gilford (Matt Saracen), Matt Lauria (Luke Cafferty), Michael B. Jordan (Vince Howard), and executive producers Jason Katims and David Nevins about the long road to that final Texas sunset. This is the first in a three-part series.

Before Friday Night Lights became a TV show, it was a movie based on a book. The film's director Peter Berg, however, felt there was more story to tell about a Texas town obsessed with its high school football team and the challenges for an incoming coach and his family.

Nevins: I had read and fallen in love with the book when it came out in 1990. I remember my very first year as an executive, I was 26 years old at NBC, and a show went on the air that was like the poor man's version of this book. It was called Against the Grain, starring a young Ben Affleck as the quarterback. So ... it had been messed up. Then the movie came along, and it really captured Texas and that sense of place and the role football played in that culture. When Pete said he'd be willing to write and direct a pilot, to remake his film as a TV show, it was a no-brainer for me.

Katims: I wasn't initially attracted to the project at first because I'm not really a football fan, and this on its surface was going to be about football. (My sport is baseball.) It wasn't until I watched the pilot that I realized what Pete was trying to do was pretty brilliant, and it was much more about the people in this town. I had only two questions: What happens to Jason Street? This star quarterback who's supposed to lead the Panthers to victory is injured in the first episode, he's paralyzed — how does that affect the team, his girlfriend, his teammates, his town? It seemed like such a great way to start the series, with this one small event that really does ripple out and hit everyone. My only other question was: Could we shoot this in Texas? It seemed to be that it would be a deal breaker if it did not film in Texas.

Kyle Chandler, star of TV's Early Edition would play the Panthers' coach Eric Taylor. To play his wife Tami, Berg turned to Connie Britton, who had played the coach's wife in his film — but she wasn't sold on re-creating the part. Zach Gilford, then fresh out of college, almost didn't get to play the sweetly awkward second-string quarterback Matt Saracen ...

Britton: I was absolutely adamant that this was a terrible idea. I had loved working with Pete and Billy Bob Thornton [who played the Panthers coach in the film] but my character wasn't huge in the movie, and then got cut to smithereens in the editing. So when the TV show came along, I thought it was going to be the same, only the show would be on TV for six years and I'd be the glorified wallflower, you know? The wife of a coach on a football show. No, thank you.

It wasn't until Pete left me a voicemail that, right now, I'm really wishing I kept. He was so enthusiastic. "Connie, you gotta do this. I promise you, we are going to make this woman smart and strong and sexy and f---ed-up and crazy and weak and it's going to be awesome." ... I look back on that now and I'm so honored that he wanted to do that with me, but at the time, I thought I was making the biggest mistake of my life.

Gilford: It was actually the casting director, Linda Lowy, who put me in Friday Night Lights. She got me the job. There was someone else they wanted the whole time, and Pete, because he's used to movies, was like, "No, that guy is the guy I want" and Linda had to tell him, "Well, you need to give the network a couple of choices, so bring Zach. Just bring him." So there I was.

The cast and crew got the sense that they weren't working on your typical high school drama -- or even your typical TV show — while filming the pilot. That first episode followed five days leading-up to the first game of the season at Dillon High. Coach Taylor's rally cry? "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose!"

Chandler: One of the two things I miss the most are doing those speeches. The emotions would just overwhelm me. You get that little tingle, you know? I'd even get to rework them, and I'd talk to real-life coaches about what they'd say in the locker room. I loved it. It was like we were really going to play a game after them.

Nevins: When I saw the first cut of the pilot, I thought it was just gorgeous film. There was something so emotional about it, and in quite unexpected ways. That's when I figured out that this wasn't going to be your average series ... It felt like an extended tone poem. There was a real sense of poetry to it.

Gilford: I remember calling Pete after seeing the pilot and saying, "Look man, even if this doesn't get picked up to series, thank you. I can't believe what we made."

Kitsch: It was so good because it was so raw. ...I remember doing that "Texas forever" speech like it was yesterday. I had time to work on it, and it just really encompassed Riggins, and his kind of contentedness at that moment.

Taylor Kitsch went with his own instincts in figuring out Tim Riggins, the popular but troubled friend of Jason. Along with the Taylors, Tim would stick around for all five seasons of the series.

Kitsch: I think it's so boring to watch that partier, that loud, obnoxious guy who drinks too much. He'd get boring. The actors that I admire are the ones who do so much by saying so little, and on this show, we had the power to try things. With Riggs, I just felt his lack of words was intrinsic. ... He's been jaded so many times, it's just a means of energy-saving, saving yourself from being jaded even more.

Unlike other network dramas, Friday Night Lights was not high on gloss. Hand-held cameras made for an extra-gritty feel. Actors were encouraged to improvise and try things off-script.

Teegarden: It was very much left up to us as to how things were going to go in a scene, how the action would play out. I was 15 when we started and it took a little getting used to. We didn't have any set marks. But it all comes off very organic when you watch.

Gilford: The scripts were almost something just to show the network, and then we'd just do whatever we wanted.

Chandler: You could find emotions and humor and even anger in places you wouldn't have expected. You'd use your surroundings and your dialogue in ways that weren't necessarily on the page. ... I had never done a show or a film that was open that way except for in college when you're experimenting. I think all of the cast pretty much closed their eyes and jumped off the cliff together, and all that trust went with it and it was so much fun.

... But not everyone was OK with the show's fluid format.

Britton: We definitely had some actors come on to the show who were a little freaked-out by it. We just tried to make them feel comfortable and let them know, "Hey, no, no, no, trust me. This actually isn't scary. In fact, you get to do what you want to do." ... For people who weren't used to it, it was very uncomfortable.

Chandler: I always thought of it like back before the USSR fell, and you'd have a defector come to the United States and he'd stand in a grocery store with all of these thousands of products and he'd freeze. I think our show was like that for some actors and even some directors early on. There were just no guidelines.

For me, it's why the show was exciting. You know when you get to set, you're going to throw all the preconceived ideas out the window. It really is like rehearsing a play for the first time. I've felt that way for five years, and I loved going to work because of it. I even loved driving to work, the anticipation of it.

On Oct. 3, 2006, the show premiered to spectacular reviews and not-so-spectacular viewership. It didn't help that it debuted against ratings giant Dancing with the Stars. But the show managed a full-season pickup (and eventually a Season 2 renewal), and the crew kept chugging along.

Gilford: You know, at first, it hurt. I had thought, "I'm on this amazing show. It's going to be huge. Everyone's going to love it." And then it just wasn't. But once we were renewed for our second season, and then thereafter, it was like, "Whatever, we're still here. We're still doing it. We're still loving it" — which is to say, we got over it pretty quick.

Britton: It's funny, because we were shooting in Austin and we were so in our little bubble of Dillon, it was almost like that ratings stuff never seemed that important to us. Ignorance is bliss, basically. ... I do remember how great that first season felt. It was a real time of discovery. We'd shoot things and go, "Oh wow! Cool! Look what we found. Look what we learned about Tami. Or Julie." We were creating a world, and that was very satisfying.

Kitsch: If we were going to get picked up or not, I just love that we never truly waivered. We never tried to become some soapy, mainstream thing to get ratings.

Nevins: I always knew it was an oddball, but I would say there was some degree of disappointment. You don't realize as you're shooting it, but looking back, there were a lot of commercial challenges to the show.

Friday Night Lights was initially marketed to boys and football fans, which made it difficult thereafter to sell what, essentially, was a character drama to women.

Nevins: Here's the thing: It's a show about football, but it's primarily for women. It's a show about teenagers, but it's primarily for adults. It's a show about the economically disadvantaged by it's got some real upscale appeal. So there were a lot of contradictions built in.

Kitsch: I think they didn't how to market it. It was tough. There's not a specific tone to it where they could just label it something easy to sell.

If nothing else, the first season established that Friday Night Lights was anchored not by the players, but by the Taylors, a husband-wife, best-friend pairing unlike anything else on TV.

Teegarden: Nobody's relationship is perfect, and that was always the good thing with the Taylors. Every time a script came out, Connie and Kyle would go through it together. They'd say things like, "Our relationship is solid at the end of the day." It was really admirable.

Britton: We just got really lucky. That first day, we were kind of cracking jokes and making each other laugh at the goofiest, dorkiest things, which we then proceeded to do for the next five years. We just kind of instantly got each other and sort of shared the same values about how we wanted to play that marriage and who we each wanted to be in it.

Chandler: I think throughout most of the show, it always ended up that Eric's wife was right in the long run. [Laughs.] What I liked were the scenes that they shared silence, where they were feeling the other out or discussing the family moving or money or loss, and they do their talking by just looking at one another. There aren't many shows that I've done that allow you that silence on screen, and it wound up being so powerful. These are two people with history. They know each other that well.

Katims: The ongoing theme of the show has been about family and, especially, surrogate families. Eric and Tami have nurturing relationships with the teens in the school and on the team, and it's all rooted in the strength of their own marriage. The compromises, the friendship, the love.

Friday Night Lights Comes to an End: Cast Talks Series-Saving Fans, Turning on the Panthers

by Denise Martin
Feb 8, 2011

In the second part of our farewell to Friday Night Lights, producers and cast talk about the show's controversial storylines (murder! abortion!), the show-saving fan campaigns, sending the Taylors to East Dillon and (unbelievably!) hating on the Panthers. spoke to stars Kyle Chandler (Eric Taylor), Connie Britton (Tami Taylor), Aimee Teegarden (Julie Taylor), Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins), Zach Gilford (Matt Saracen), Matt Lauria (Luke Cafferty), Michael B. Jordan (Vince Howard), and executive producers Jason Katims and David Nevins about the long road to that final Texas sunset. The series finale airs Wednesday at 9 pm on DirecTV.

The show emerged victorious, scoring a renewal even after being clobbered by American Idol at the end of its first season. But critics were not immediately as in love with Season 2. In particular, the decision to have the lovable Landry (Jesse Plemons) kill Tyra's (Adrianne Palicki) attacker did not sit well. At the time, Katims said that story had been planned since Season 1 as a way for Tyra and Landry to become deeply connected.

Kitsch: I want to tip my hat to Jesse for making that sh—so real. It was incredible what he did with that. Just both him and Adrianne playing it... story aside, he was just unbelievable.

Teegarden: I kind of throw that whole thing under the rug.

Britton: It didn't feel off to me as we were shooting the way it did for people who watched afterward. Here's my feeling: I feel like because of the reality and honesty of our show, it can pretty much handle everything. Adrianne and Jesse gave fantastic performances in those scenes.

My only complaint would be not that the storyline was inherently bad, but that because of the nature of our show, because it's an ensemble and there's so many different stories being told, that we weren't able to really tell that one with the depth it needed. If we could have really focused in and showed what happens to this teenage kid who is trying to save his friend and inadvertently kills this guy, if we could have showed what it would do to the town... Because the idea that it would happen and nobody in Dillon would know is, like, absurd... It was maybe a little too ambitious for us.

The second season was then cut short because of the writers' strike. For the cast, it was just another wave of uncertainty about the series' future.

Teegarden: The strike put not only the actors out of work, but also the crew and so many businesses. We went from being able to make this amazing show to, "Uh oh, should I keep my apartment? Do I move back?" ... Plus, we had been trying to get through the whole murder thing, and it just didn't quite work out. It was a hard time to go through.

Britton: The hardest part of this whole thing has been those times where we didn't know whether we were coming back. Meaning, we had grown to love each other so much. Having to leave Austin and not be sure we were going to come back together, it just sucked.

Kitsch: I don't know that I was really conscious of what was going on. But what are you going to do? I just thought, "You know what, man? I'm going to enjoy it. I love Austin. I love playing this cat. If we get to go, we're going to just keep knocking it out." That's as simple as it was for me... And you know, I'm actually glad the show didn't become this massive thing. It let us keep our head down and just keep going to work.

The fans had always been vocal bunch, but their passion saved the show from being canceled after two seasons. They launched a campaign to save the show, raising cash for charity, DVDs for the troops overseas... and the purchase of more than 18,000 mini footballs (many of them sent to NBC in a show of support.)

Kitsch: It was nothing but flattering. And I think it actually worked, that it's the main reason we're still talking.

Britton: You could never hope for something like that to happen. To see how passionate the audience was, it was just so wonderful. And we were so grateful because it demonstrated that people were really being impacted by this thing that we love doing ourselves.

I have to say, we really started referring to the show as the little engine that could... I know it sounds goofy, but I'm telling you, there was something that just felt so special about it and we kind of knew that it would always work out. It felt kind of miraculous that way. Magical.

It didn't hurt that not only the critics but the executives liked it, too.

Nevins: I was coming off Arrested Development, so I was used to doing a show that's not in the mainstream. But sometimes in network television, it helps to be good. I always like to make shows where you're almost daring the network to cancel you. If you can actually be the network's favorite show, they sometimes keep you on.

With a third season secured, Katims made the gut-wrenching move to graduate some of the Panthers. Peter Berg had initially told the cast that this wasn't going to be a high school show where the kids didn't stay in high school forever. So in the third and fourth seasons, the show sent beloved characters Street (Scott Porter), Smash (Gaius Charles), Saracen, Lyla (Minka Kelly) and Tyra out of Dillon. (Oh, the tears!)

Katims: I've always felt that one of our important recurring questions is "Am I going to live a life that goes beyond Dillon?" Many of the characters are asking themselves, "Am I going on to bigger and better things, or is high school football the pinnacle?" When you think about Tyra's story or Smash or Jason... this has always been the struggle. With Tim, in the final two seasons, you see it's really his ongoing struggle. So he graduates, but he doesn't leave like the others, which was an interesting story to tell.

Also, up until the third season, we had kind of avoided putting an age or grade level on anyone [laughs]. That had to change.

Kitsch: It wasn't like my final episode, but the state game where Riggs hangs up his cleats, it was such a big moment for me. Being taken out of the football stuff, I just missed it immediately.

Gilford: Letting go was weird. I loved what I did in Friday Night Lights. I would have done it forever on that show.

Chandler: Of course, you're sad because some of the actors are leaving, but to be fair, Pete had always said, "You guys aren't going to be in high school for eight years." Watching Smash go, that was hard one.

Teegarden: Pete did tell us when we were doing the pilot that this would be like real life. People will come in, and people will go out, and some will come around again. I don't think we comprehended it until the third season and all of a sudden, people were leaving. I was like, "Oh my god, oh my god... Is Julie going to come back?"

Fans also had to wrap their heads around a new team of players when Coach Taylor was fired by the Panthers — curse you, McCoy! — and forced to start over with the East Dillon Lions at the beginning of Season 4.

Katims: The idea was basically Bad News Bears. This time, Eric would have to build a franchise out of nothing.

Chandler: When we were nearing the end of Season 3, the show was about to get canceled, it was going off the air, I had no doubt. Then Jason delivered that final episode that left off with the move to the new school -- that was the first time I thought we could come back. It was so enticing. They basically found a way to recreate the show ... It could have been a jump-the-shark moment, but it wound up being bold and brilliant.

And it really was great to do a story about the underdogs because that's not what the Panthers were. The Lions were the kids who couldn't do anything right. It's quintessentially American, rooting for the little guys.

Britton: It was a full-on reboot. Pete even flew in to give us a pep talk. It felt like exciting though, like we were taking our show and giving ownership to these aggressive new actors.

Matt Lauria was already a huge Friday Night Lights fan when he got cast as Luke Cafferty, one of the only promising players for East Dillon. Both he and Michael B. Jordan, who would play badly-in-need-of-a-break Vince Howard, said the roles were a gift (even though Jordan first had to learn to, uh, play football.)

Lauria: I had just signed with a new manager who used to represent Gaius. I didn't watch much TV at the time, and he said, "Look, you have to watch Friday Night Lights. It's the most awesome show..." and I was like, "Whatever, okay, okay." I pop in the DVD and my wife and I were immediately hooked.

I was also livid, like "I should have been on this show!" I was so jealous. Then, right when we were finishing Season 3, I get an audition. I couldn't believe it, I was such a psycho fan.

I think there's an implicit courage that goes with writing that show. It's not Hollywood. It's grainy and choppy and fast, it's like we're breathing right on these characters, everything is living and dying in the moment, white hot, right there. As an actor, you yearn for that kind of danger, you know?

Jordan: I had thrown a football maybe five times my entire life before I went down to Austin. So 6 am mornings, waking up to practice with the stunt coordinator? It was a blast. I liked going the extra mile. What I loved about watching the show — just from a straight viewer perspective — was feeling like you're a fly on the wall. They just keep things subtle, they keep it real. I loved that less was more.

Lauria: I remember my first fitting, I came in and they had me in one of those worn-out Panther T-shirts and I was taking pictures of myself and e-mailing them to my wife, like, "Check me out!"

Jordan: I got to be a little more badass than I probably have the balls to be in person. I'm a little shy, so when Vince starts to let everything go to his head, it was cool.

Suddenly, the Panthers were the enemy.

Katims: It was such a big gamble, the idea of literally switching teams, changing our allegiances. I kept thinking, "Is this idea going to work? Is the audience going to believe it?"

I remember watching the second episode of that fourth season, the episode where Tami basically gets booed off the stage at the Panthers pep rally [because Eric's with The Lions at that point], and it was amazing: I was in the editing room, watching the episode as a viewer would and thinking to myself, "I hate the Panthers. I hate them!"

The crew quickly followed suit. In fact, they ditched the Panthers blue entirely.

Katims: The switch didn't just happen on the show, it happened with the entire culture in production. You never see anyone in a Panthers T-shirt, or wearing blue, period. They're all wearing red. That really is true.

Chandler: The paraphernalia that I have left over? I think I've maybe got two blue hats and four or five red and black ones. Also, here's something I'll say, finally: I never liked that Panther blue. At all. When we got red, I thought, "Well, the red is cool, but on camera, it's too much. Why can't we just have black?" I started scheming, trying to find a way to get the Lions to use black shirts instead. Finally, we did. Now you tell me: Did it not look great?

The show finally — finally! -- got some major Emmy recognition in 2009, when Chandler and Britton were both nominated in the lead acting categories. Britton, in particular, had a meaty storyline in which Tami advised pregnant student Becky (Madison Burge) of her options and in so doing upset the town.

Britton: The abortion was such a big issue for us to tackle and it was really important to me to make sure that we were true to Tami's behavior in the situation, but also to the external argument in the town of Dillon. I didn't want to depict these Southern fundamentalists who were anti-abortion and completely irrational and just have that be it...

We wanted to show the complexities of the situation, and not have it be, "Oh, an abortion comes up in small-town Texas, so they're going to drum the principal out of town." ...I wound up calling around to see what the facts were in terms of how a principal could be removed or couldn't be removed and what the protocol was in terms of what Tami's position would have been. I didn't want it to be some sort of TV-ified abortion story.

Friday Night Lights Comes to an End: The Cast Says Good-Bye with Clear Eyes, Full Hearts

by Denise Martin
Feb 9, 2011

Friends, the end is here. The series finale of Friday Night Lights has aired, and it's time for us to bid our final fond farewell.

But first, a spoiler warning: What follows are reflections from the executive producers and cast about the events and outcomes of the fifth season. If you have not been watching on DirecTV, or are waiting for the NBC premiere, know that certain plotlines are discussed in some detail below. spoke to stars Kyle Chandler (Eric Taylor), Connie Britton (Tami Taylor), Aimee Teegarden (Julie Taylor), Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins), Zach Gilford (Matt Saracen), Matt Lauria (Luke Cafferty), Michael B. Jordan (Vince Howard), and executive producers Jason Katims and David Nevins about the long road to that final Texas sunset.

Not many in the cast have brought themselves to watch this season yet, though they wrapped last summer.

Britton: I haven't seen much of the season. Because it's our final season, I've been very resistant to watch it. Every time I think I'll sit down to do it, I think, "Nope, too sad. Too soon."

Gilford: To be honest, I'm a real fan of the show. I didn't even read the scripts of the episodes I wasn't in for this last season because I was excited to watch it as a viewer. I can't wait to get the DVDs.

Jordan: I don't know how it turns out. We do every scene five ways, every time, and we shoot a lot of footage that doesn't make it into the episodes, so I'm really anxious to see how everything turns out. I hope it turned out as good as we felt while we were making it. But then, it never felt like work being on the show; it was always fun.

Chandler asked to direct an episode at the start of the season. He stepped behind the camera for the series' penultimate hour, "Texas Whatever," which featured the return of Tyra among other original cast members.

Chandler: I was nervous. It's like the show was going so good, I didn't want to be the one to screw it up. But we're a tight-knit group, so it was really a fun and relaxed creative atmosphere. Directing on this show is great because everyone is eager to create something that is fresh and new... to try and find that unexpected thing that pops up... That stuff is what makes the scenes you remember.

It was the perfect episode to do too, because after five years it's the one where everyone sort of comes back... some of them say good-bye, wrap up stories. So I got to work with everyone a bit, and we had time to really say good-bye to each other. It worked out really well.

Because producers knew in advance that the fifth season would be the show's last, Katims and his team had time to craft the ending they wanted — and the ending they hoped their loyal fans would love. Every character gets their due.

Nevins: I felt total satisfaction. The thing to do these days is to end your show like, "Hey man, it's just life. Life goes on," and there's no attempt at closure... I think that's a little bit of a cop-out. What Jason did was take these characters and their stories to a logical conclusion. He wraps up every character in a way that didn't seem forced or fake. I really appreciate that he didn't do the "There's no beginning and there's no end, it just goes on" thing.

Teegarden: Well, Julie's been slapped twice this season, so... [Laughs]. Once by her mom and once by some crazy lady who's not even in love with her husband, so it's all fair game anyway... yes, I really said that. No, Julie's come a long way. She started as this whiny teen with raging hormones, at times horrible to her parents, but I think a lot of the fans are going to be really happy with the series finale and where she ends up. You get a sense of where she's heading — well, obviously in one big way -- but it's not the end for her...

Lauria: I think they handled it sensitively, bringing back everyone's favorite cast members for parts in significant ways. Somehow, Jason and the whole crew managed to pull it off without making it a big cheesy Hollywood ending.

Kitsch: I'm happy with five seasons — that's more than most, you know? And I think the series ends the way it should. Me, looking at the sunset, as it were.
Katims: We don't have the largest fan base in the world, but we do have the most passionate one, and we wanted to give them the best ending we could, one that would live up to everything that came before it.

Perhaps the most surprising ending is that of Luke Cafferty. He's last seen boarding a bus in Army fatigues.

Lauria: That surprised me too. Like, "What? Doesn't anyone remember how awesome Luke was in the beginning of Season 4? What happened? But then I thought, "That's real. That's life." What's a kid in Luke's shoes going to do? Stay at home with his folks and do all the farm sh--? No. Becky's not about to sit down and be a wife, football ain't working out, what else is he going to do? I think it's just really logical, and I think it's his best opportunity, that he could go far with that. I think he's going to be a lifer.

The one guy who doesn't really get much of a send-off is... J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter). In fact, one of the last things we see him do is tell Saracen: "This is my Dillon now!" Aside from a few scenes in which the Panthers are tormenting Luke, we never really hear from him again.

Katims: I think he and his dad went back to Dallas. I think they could never really conquer Dillon the way they thought they were going to. So that's where J.D. is [Laughs].

The season builds to a real boiling point for the Taylors. Eric and Tami come up against a very difficult, trying decision. Both of them are offered bigger, better jobs — in different places. Resolution comes very late in the game.

Katims: We felt very strongly that we wanted there to be a compelling story for them that would be front and center leading up to the end... Again, I've always felt that they're the heart of the show... The strength of what they have between each other, it allowed the writers to throw anything at them, and that is kind of what we did. We challenged that relationship in a way that it hasn't been challenged before.

Britton: Their conflict was very... provocative for me. That's a real issue for people, and it was just such a cool thing for Kyle and I to play after all these years. I have to say Kyle did a really courageous job with it because he was playing such an a--hole and Tami's gotta be like, "Dude, what is your problem?" Tami was rocking his world. Also, those were the last episodes ever of our show, so a lot of those raw emotions were at a peak. We were already on edge. I think that contributed to some great stuff.

Chandler: Tami had given Eric so much and in the long run, from my perspective, I think Eric is going to be a better, stronger person in having done and started a new life outside of Dillon.

You can only push your loved ones so far. At some point he said to himself, "I love this woman. I know she's right. That's why I'm married to her. So I must stick by her and give her her dream while I try and make mine over again." I think this probably happens quite often with couples and I just think we ended it the right way.

Britton: The last thing we shot was the scene in the restaurant with Julie and Matt, telling us their news... but the very last scene was outside of the restaurant where I'm bawling because our marriage is really being tested by this problem. Oh my God, I'm going to start crying just talking about it! So we're doing that, and all of a sudden, they're yelling, "That's a wrap," and everyone, the entire crew, just started bawling. The restaurant said we could stay and have a margarita or something, but I don't even think anyone did. It was an emotional time and nobody was dealing with it very well.

The person who has always seemed anchored to Dillon is Tim "Texas Forever" Riggins. Kitsch wasn't in every episode throughout the final season, but he was never out of mind — a deliberate choice, Katims says.

Kitsch: All I kept asking was for it to be real — and we knocked it on the head with that. Jail would change an 18-year-old kid with no purpose, with no sense of direction. I think as simple as that life is in Dillon, he often felt so f---ing out of place. I think that hurts a lot more than anything else he's dealt with.

But then he figures out what he wants, and the beauty of Riggs is that you can truly give him anything, put him anywhere, and he can deal. A trip to Mexico to help a friend? Let's go. New York? Let's do it.

Katims: What's really wonderful is that while Tim isn't around the whole time because he's in jail, he's always present in the show. He is Dillon. I particularly like what we wound up doing with his brother Billy and Billy's wife Mindy (Stacey Oristano). I love the surrogate family that happens with them and Becky (Madison Burge) — and that happens because of Tim. it's at once hysterically funny and very moving to watch them. There are certain characters and stories that reach me, that grab me in ways I didn't expect. For me, it's watching scenes in that house with the Rigginses.

Kitsch: There were things about Tim that really resonated with me and what I've been through in my own life. His father, or lack thereof, was huge. Tim's relationship with his Billy... man, that scene where Tim tells him that he's going to give himself up and take the fall. Huge. There was just an immense amount of trust between me and Derek Phillips [who plays Billy]. I've been through all the brother drama too, but maybe not as intensely as their fight outside The Landing Strip. You always come back around; that's just the way family works. No better way to go out than to be building a house with him.

In fact, the building of that house on Tim's land was the last scene ever shot.

Kitsch: There's so many ways we could have taken him at the end, but I love the simplicity of his "ending." That he's still out in Dillon somewhere. That you could drive through that fictional town and just run into that cat. It doesn't get more real than that. Pete flew in. We had a bunch of cast. We were all there, ending it all on Riggs' property. So it was quite full circle.

Britton: It was at sunset, and we all went out in that beautiful field, the writers, our producers, the crew... It was really a beautiful finale to everything. It felt very Texas, very much our show.

Gilford made sure they all had a good time on the way out and organized an all-night pub crawl. Still, some of his castmates can't let go.

Jordan: I mean, I'm ready to come back for a sixth season, have Vince graduate at least, right? No, for me to be able to sleep at night, I had to let it go. You can't hope and wish and dream for more, so I'm doing the best I can to put it to rest.

Kitsch: I've got the hair extremely short right now [Laughs]. Pete was sitting with me when I did it. It was comical, and probably a bit more dramatically short than it needed to be in the end. ...You come out of this show with a lot of -- how would you say it? -- respect from the industry. Everyone knows it's a great show, and I think Riggins has just tracked really well with people. It was a showcase that you really rarely get, a springboard that I'll never forget.

Gilford: The pub crawl was huge. We had T-shirts made. And, I mean, it was serious sh--. We had all the A.D.s make a schedule, we had a map and a route, we hit 10 bars, all 60 of us. It was amazingly perfect... I had to do it. Friday Night Lights gave me a career. It really did. I've learned so much. It's done everything for me.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Defund the Predators of Planned Parenthood

It is an organization with blood on its hands.

By Michelle Malkin
February 11, 2011 12:00 A.M.

Thanks to the persistent investigative work of young pro-life journalists, Planned Parenthood’s ruthless, money-grubbing colors are on full, fresh YouTube display. But as shocking as the illicit new videos from Live Action Films are, the routine, parental-authority-sabotaging advice the taxpayer-funded abortion racket gives teens every day deserves more front-page headline news, too.

Live Action is a California-based “new media, investigative and educational organization committed to the protection and respect of all human life” led by Internet undercover pioneer Lila Rose. The group’s latest video footage at abortion clinics in Perth Amboy, N.J., the Bronx, and four cities in Virginia shows Planned Parenthood officials aiding and abetting individuals posing as criminal sex traffickers seeking abortions for underage girls.

Abortion activists first attacked the videos as “doctored,” then claimed they had already taken steps to rectify problems at the targeted clinics, then fired a worker after the tapes had been released, and finally denied any systemic failures while patting Planned Parenthood on the back for ordering new retraining measures for their employees this week.

Those who dismiss the scandal as an anomaly are in denial or abjectly ignorant.

In 2007, while an undergrad at UCLA, Rose visited a local campus Planned Parenthood clinic posing as a 14-year-old minor seeking an abortion after being impregnated by a 23-year-old man. California’s mandatory-reporting laws require abortion providers to report statutory rape involving girls under the age of 16. Rose secretly captured video of her visit in which the staff advised her to “figure out a birth date that works,” to obtain the abortion and avoid getting the man in trouble with the law. Instead of vowing to do more to protect girls from predators, Planned Parenthood threatened to sue Rose to shut her up.

That same year, a teenager came forward in Ohio to blow the whistle on how a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Cincinnati had ignored her cries for help after her father — who had been molesting her for three years from the age of 13 — forced her to have an abortion. She told an abortion staffer, who was required by state law to report suspected abuse to police. But the women’s-health provider so beloved by liberals on Capitol Hill did nothing.

Another Ohio teenage victim of sexual abuse filed suit against Planned Parenthood after the soccer coach who abused her at age 14 forced her to undergo an abortion. “Although she used a junior-high school I.D. and the coach, 21, paid with a credit card and driver’s license,” the Coshocton (Ohio) Tribune reported, “Planned Parenthood failed to report the abuse.”

Pro-choice radicals assert that butchers like Philadelphia Horror abortion doc Kermit Gosnell — charged along with his baby-killing death squad last month with multiple counts of murder, infanticide, conspiracy, abuse of corpse, theft, and other offenses — are an exception and that young girls and women who choose Planned Parenthood are “safe.”

Tell that to the Washington, D.C., family of 13-year-old Shantese Butler, who was left permanently injured and infertile after a botched Planned Parenthood abortion. Students for Life of America reported that Shantese was left with “severe abdominal bleeding, severe vaginal injury, severe injury to the cervix, significant uterine perforation and a small bowel tear.” In addition, parts of the unborn child were found inside Shantese’s abdomen.

And don’t forget the Nebraska Planned Parenthood clinic that refused to disclose the terms of a settlement with another victim whose botched abortion resulted in a perforated uterus, massive blood loss, an emergency hysterectomy, permanent infertility, seizures, and lifelong pain and suffering. According to the suit obtained by Life News, the woman told the abortionist and his assistants to stop, but was told: “We can’t stop.” The Planned Parenthood employees held her down to complete the procedure.

None of this is disclosed on Planned Parenthood’s informational website aimed at teenage girls, of course. Instead, the group aggressively advises pregnant girls under 18 on how to avoid telling their parents about visiting their abortion clinics through a process known as “judicial bypass.”

Through its “award winning” website Teenwire, Planned Parenthood ideologues normalize teen sexual activity, peddle their “family planning” services, whitewash the physical and moral consequences of abortion, downplay the long-term psychological consequences, and circumvent parental authority at every opportunity. What other enterprise receives taxpayer support to entice children to hide their health decisions from their own mothers and fathers?

Planned Parenthood is a $1 billion–plus business that rakes in one-third of its budget from government grants and contracts at both the state and federal levels. Congress has interrogated banking, energy, health insurance, tobacco, and oil execs — treating them like serial killers before the cameras. When will they finally defund a corrupt industry that has real blood on its hands?

— Michelle Malkin is the author of Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks & Cronies (Regnery, 2010). © 2011 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

In ‘Justified,’ a growing crime world

By Matthew Gilbert
Boston Globe Staff
February 9, 2011

When you think “crime family,’’ you probably envision bad guys playing cards, chewing toothpicks, and carrying a few extra rolls of fat. But I’m here to write about — and sing the praises of — FX’s “Justified,’’ a winning crime drama that brings its own unique spirit to everything it touches. On “Justified,’’ which is set in backwoods Kentucky and based on characters created by executive producer Elmore Leonard, the crime families are far skeevier — a lot more “Deliverance’’ than “The Sopranos.’’

In the season 2 premiere, tonight at 10, the “Justified’’ writers quickly wrap up the story of the nasty Crowder clan that dominated last year, and they introduce a fabulously distorted new Harlan County family called the Bennetts. Indeed, if you missed last season, jump in around the 15-minute mark tonight, when the show moves forward in earnest to some extremely promising new territory. Walton Goggins’s Boyd Crowder is still on the scene, but the marijuana-growing Bennetts are the new creeps that US marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) must reckon with.

Mags Bennett is the cross-wearing matriarch, a lady who’ll lie to your face and kill your father if she has to, to keep her business going. In a brilliant casting choice, Mags is played by Margo Martindale (“Dexter,’’ “The Riches’’), an actress whose trademark is her deeply loving, trustworthy face. The irony is consistently amusing. Mags has three rotten sons, including a crooked cop and an emaciated varmint played by Jeremy Davies, who was Daniel Faraday on “Lost.’’ Here, he’s a rascal with a menacing smirk. On one level, the Bennetts seem like comic relief, the marijuana to the Crowder’s meth — but wait, they’re as lethal as the Crowders, and just as ugly.

Whoa. I’ve gotten this far without writing about Olyphant, who has found the perfect role as Raylan. It’s hard to imagine any other actor in the part, as Olyphant milks Raylan’s smooth, laconic cowboy style for as much wry humor as he can. He is riveting without a lot of noise — both his body language and his conversation are pared down, and yet his presence is always resonant. This season, Raylan is in Kentucky because he wants to be, and he is as confident as ever — but his romantic life continues to stumble, as he and his ex-wife, Winona (Natalie Zea) try to figure out their future. When Raylan takes off his guns, he loses his self-control and his aim.

The first season of “Justified’’ was excellent, especially after a few bumps in quality in the earlier episodes. And based on the first three episodes, I’m thinking season 2 is going to be even better and certainly more consistent. As the population of the show expands, and as Raylan runs down his childhood demons and adult foes, “Justified’’ keeps on justifying — and demanding — our viewership.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at


Timothy Olyphant is completely 'Justified' in his role as three-dimensional Kentucky good-boy cop

By David Hinckley
Wednesday, February 9th 2011, 4:00 AM

Early in the second season of "Justified," Raylan Givens gets a chance to leave his old Kentucky home, again, and go be a U.S. marshal in more glamorous places.

He hesitates, which is good news to every TV viewer who thinks Timothy Olyphant's Raylan Givens is exactly where he belongs.

Based lovingly on the character created by Elmore Leonard, Olyphant's Givens just wouldn't feel quite as right in any other place.

He's a Kentucky boy who knows the bad side of Kentucky boys because he was raised by one - his father, Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) - and spent his childhood palling around with a few others.

That includes Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), who at some point graduated from shooting squirrels with BB guns to blowing up black churches with rocket launchers.

This isn't one of those stories where the cop is one skinny millimeter from being the crook. Raylan seems to have this inherent nagging honesty that puts him firmly on the legal side of the law.

That doesn't prevent him from having a drink, or two, with the folks on the other side. But both sides understand there's a cat in this game and there's a mouse. Their only disagreement concerns who is which.

Olyphant plays all this beautifully. Taking a great serial character from a novel and giving him the same feeling on the screen is devilishly difficult. It's hard to imagine nailing Givens more elegantly than Olyphant does in "Justified."

He's even a little better this season than last, as he settles further into the Givens skin. He captures the marshal's essential confidence while never giving away one syllable more than he wants to reveal about the hand he's holding.

Further enhancing the fun, there's a new crook in town. Well, she's not new exactly. Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) is the local Ma Barker, matriarch and legacy inheritor of Eastern Kentucky's largest pot-growing business.

Mags is known for her "apple pie" - a potent homemade cider - and her low tolerance for anyone who wants to grow weed without her prior clearance.

Early this season we see what happens to those who violate that second rule. Don't try this at home, kids.

The arrival of Mags gives Boyd a bit of a breather, though he isn't disappearing. One advantage of basing a TV series on a series of Elmore Leonard books is that the show never runs out of new twists, new characters and interesting situations.

Leonard himself has enthusiastically endorsed "Justified." That shows his taste in TV is as admirable as his skill at writing.

'Justified' aim is true as Season 2 kicks off

By Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
February 9, 2011

It's feuding time in the hills in Season 2 of FX's Justified

In the first season, Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a throwback in manners and marksmanship to the guns of the Old West, returned to his native Kentucky and toppled the violent Crowder clan. (The critically acclaimed show averaged a solid 3.4 million viewers.)

This season, the skilled lawman, a character created by novelist Elmore Leonard, faces the pot-farming Bennett family, who harbor a long grudge against the Givenses. Raylan stirs up the Bennetts' hornets' nest while pursuing a sexual predator.

"It's a little bit of a Hatfield-McCoy situation," Olyphant says. "We get into that as we go further into the history. Like the limp you see that Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies) has, all these little details get fleshed out as we go."

Matriarch Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), with three sons as accomplices, proves a challenging adversary. "I think she's just as wild as they come, a very strange combination of things, surprisingly maternal and ruthless.

"She has her own set of values and does not think she's wrong. 'So, if you step out of my values, you are wrong and I will fix you,' " Martindale says. "I don't think she is a bad person. I think she's a person who's learned to survive in the world that she lives in."

The second season is full of second chances, says executive producer Graham Yost. Raylan has another chance with ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea), and the chance to get back in his department's good graces by not being so quick to draw. Mesmerizing nemesis Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), who became an unlikely ally at the end of last season, has a new opportunity, too.

"Raylan continues to want to have a different life. He's got a second chance with Winona. ... He's going to try not to kill so many people. Very damaging to his career," Yost says. "One of Elmore's themes is that character is destiny. It's hard for people to change."

Leonard, whose novella Fire in the Hole was the basis for Justified, isn't just some distant inspiration. He's directly involved, offering character and story ideas to the show's writers as he works on his own new novel, which has a working title of Raylan. They get to take whichever elements they want, with the series and the book diverging at points.

"I was going to get into something else, but then I thought, why not do a book on Raylan?" he says. "It could even help them out. I can't imagine just sitting there — I think I'm an executive producer — and not doing anything. I get a check every time they put on the show."

When Olyphant met Leonard, he says, it took just a few minutes before he asked the novelist to write more Raylan material. He wanted more of that distinctive voice. He says everyone on the show this year knows Leonard's style.

Last year, "we had some people who thought they were doing a drama. That's not what we're doing. We're doing Elmore Leonard. Elmore's cool, but there's a light touch to it, a bit of a dance. You want some comedy in your drama, some drama in your comedy. With Elmore Leonard, it's guaranteed you're in that kind of territory," Olyphant says. "When you're operating that way, firing all those guns, you're in good shape."

Timothy Olyphant Interview

by Christina Radish
Posted February 10th, 2011 at 10:15 pm

On the hugely popular FX drama series Justified, actor Timothy Olyphant plays U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a modern-day 19th century style lawman who faces off against the criminal organizations in Harlan County, Kentucky. Having just kicked off its second season, things are sure to quickly heat up between Raylan, his nemesis Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), his ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) and the Bennett family, headed by Mags (Margo Martindale), who are looking to fill the void left by the removal of the Crowder family’s criminal grip on the town.

During a recent conference call to promote the return of the series, Timothy Olyphant talked about the appeal of the show, the challenges of playing Raylan Givens, the strength of the writing, his duties as a producer this season, and the fact that he knew right away how special the role was. Check out what he had to say after the jump:

Question: What have you learned about Raylan, from filming Season 2?

TIMOTHY OLYPHANT: Well, he’s not any taller than he used to be. I’m not sure. You know, I’m terrible at that. I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m just trying to figure out what to do next. But, he seems like he’s got a lot problems, as usual.

What keeps challenging you about playing this character?

OLYPHANT: The character is just a joy to play. It’s more just about the beast of television production and just trying to keep your head above water and stay in front of it, and just remember how much fun it is.

Why do you think people keep tuning in to watch Justified?

OLYPHANT: Well, if they are like me, they think it’s really good. I’m proud of the show. I think it’s good story telling. It starts, first and foremost, with Elmore [Leonard], and I’m a big fan of his. I think Graham [Yost] and the rest of the writers have just really sunk their teeth into it and done a wonderful job. It’s good stuff, and it’s hard to find good stuff.

Are there actors from westerns or cop shows that influenced your take on Raylan?

OLYPHANT: No. I really didn’t look past the books. After that, I tend to draw inspiration from whatever just floats my boat, for the moment. But, I really spend a lot of time with the source material and I read those books constantly, and spent time with Elmore [Leonard]. And then, I had conversations with Graham [Yost]. And, there were some conversations with U.S. Marshals.

Have you gotten any chance to go to Kentucky and associate with life down there?

OLYPHANT: We are currently filming a great deal of the show out in Santa Clarita. In the summertime, you just head straight towards the sun and, just before you catch on fire, there it is. Our producers and locations managers are doing a hell of a job. They’ve got their work cut out for them. I haven’t actually visited that part of the country. I spent time with people and talked to a lot of people. Over the break, our writers all went down there as a group. A lot of characters that you’ll see this season are based on people they’ve met. I’m thrilled that it feels like we’re capturing it because, Lord knows, we’re giving it the old college try.

Now that you’re a producer this season, what made you want to get involved on that level? How much are you involved, behind the scenes?

OLYPHANT: Last year, I just pretended to be a producer and I rather enjoyed it, so I thought I might as well get the credit. It’s really one of the great joys of the job, and one of the real challenges of the whole thing.

How does it feel to get to play a modern-day cowboy every week? Does it feel like you’re living out childhood games of cowboys and Indians?

OLYPHANT: I can’t take full credit for it. I’m really just saying the words and trying to bring it to life. It’s all cowboys and Indians, when it comes down to it. It’s child’s play, and I get a great deal of fulfillment out it. It just so happens, every now and then, that you put on an actual cowboy hat and it brings it all home. It’s always fun to play cops and robbers and, in this case, it’s more like cops and hillbillies. It’s a blast. It’s a kick to be able to play what they call a drama, but day in and day out, I think we’re making a comedy. It’s a lot of fun.

Raylan can be compared to a modern-day John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, who is rough around the edges and smooth with the ladies, and who has his own set of right and wrong. Have you ever thought about it like that?

OLYPHANT: Not until just now. You know, when I read the books, that was in the ballpark of what I was thinking. The books are great. The character is iconic.

This show is presenting a world that is really terrifying. How do you balance presenting something that we don’t want to see, in a way that makes it compelling, so that we really want to see it?

OLYPHANT: You know, it’s scary out there, and our job is to try to make that entertaining. That’s more or less the deal that we all signed up for. Life moves pretty fast and it’s pretty scary, but at the end of the day, the show’s about a guy who’s trying to do the right thing and get through the day with some sense of his reality intact. I think there’s a certain comfort in that.

How do you enjoy the opportunity to build a character over time in television versus building a character for a film?

OLYPHANT: In a film, you more or less know the beginning, middle and end, and you might have some wiggle room in there. But, this really is a journey and I’ve been very fortunate to be allowed in on a part of that process. That is one of the real challenges for me, that I’ve really enjoyed. I don’t think of it as building a character. I just think of it as telling a story, and I don’t know how it’s going to end. That’s the fun of it. At the end of the day, the same things apply. I’m still trying figure out what is going on, from scene to scene, and basic rules still apply. The tremendous upside here is that it’s such a great character, and it’s really tough to get your hands on a great character.

What sort of impact will the relationship between Raylan and Mags Bennett have on Season 2, and how has it been to work with Margo Martindale?

OLYPHANT: The whole bunch of them are just fantastic – both the characters and the actors playing the Bennetts. Margo’s just the real deal. I don’t know what else is on TV, but I’m pretty sure that’s something special. It’s a pleasure to work with her and Jeremy [Davies], and all those guys. They’re just great, and I thought we were onto something special. The inspiration for the character came from Elmore [Leonard]. He had a character in one of his books that was a man, and Graham [Yost] wanted to make the character a woman. Margo is just such a fantastic choice. As far as the families and the history, that’s something that Graham and I were both really interested in exploring this year, in that Hatfield-McCoy kind of culture and styles. It’s been really nice, throughout the season, to keep deepening that history and peeling back the layers. You find out more and more as we go. As the story goes, we come back around and get a little deeper. The world we created this year is just really rich.

How is the Raylan/Boyd relationship changing in Season 2, and what has it been like to work with Walton Goggins this season?

OLYPHANT: Walt’s fantastic. Anytime he’s on the call sheet, I know it’s going to be an easy day for me because I just sit back and let him do all the work. When you’ve got someone who’s going to take things moment to moment and keep you on your toes, it reminds me of my acting teachers saying, “Just work off the other person.” When you’ve got someone like Walt, it makes that real easy to do it. As far as his character goes, it’s really great. We had a lot of fun with him this year. As Elmore [Leonard] has said, he’s one of these guys where I don’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth, but I can’t stop listening to him. He just seems like he could be whoever and whatever he needs to be, given the situation. We really had a lot of fun watching him start out lost in the woods, and then regain his footing and find his way, and come back to life. He’s in a completely more dangerous and compelling way this year than last year.

How do you think Raylan sees Boyd?

OLYPHANT: I honestly don’t think he sees him as a friend, in terms of their relationship. All we’ve told you, according to my scripts, is that they have a history. There’s an understanding between them, but beyond that, I think that’s it. Their worlds collide. Given what he does, and given what my character does, they’re going to keep running into each other.

How is the dynamic between Raylan and his ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) changing this season?

OLYPHANT: Natalie is fantastic. The same things I said about working with Walt Goggins, I’d say about working with her. They’re just great, as is Nick Searcy. He’s just a pro, but he’s not as good-looking as she is, so I’m less interested in that storyline. Graham [Yost] is the one who started the idea of these two getting back together. It was a broken relationship, but there was still some sexual tension. After we shot the stuff, it just seemed like there was a lot more going on there. It was a lot more interesting. So, when Graham and I got together, before we went back to work, that was a relationship that we were both really interested in exploring. I said to Graham, “If one of my buddies comes over to the house and tells me he’s fucking his ex-wife, we might not talk about anything else for the rest of the evening. I’m curious. I want to know how that works. And, if he tells me he’s in love with her, then I’m really interested.” We had a lot of fun with that relationship this year. I think it’s really one of the more interesting things we’ve done.

What are some of the moments that have made you stop and think, “This is great television”?

OLYPHANT: I’m not a huge fan of every episode, but there’s not an episode that goes by without me finding something where I’m like, “That’s just good drama. It’s good storytelling.” The examples are countless. This season, where do I start? From an acting standpoint, it’s fun to be in a scene where me asking Mags, “How’s business?,” is both conversational small talk, and yet feels so loaded. That’s part of the brilliance of Elmore Leonard, and it’s very difficult to replicate, week after week. I think our writers just do a fantastic job. Those moments are a blast. I could just go on forever. Honestly, the job is just a joy, day in and day out. I’ve never left that set and not thought to myself, “That was great. That was just a great scene. It was a great moment. It was a great performance.” Not mine, but I’m just talking about the ones around me. I put in long hours on this puppy, but at the end of the day, you just always walk away going, “God, you know, there’s something to be proud of. It was pretty cool.”

Deadwood, and your work on that show, started the whole western coming back again, and now there’s Justified, as well as True Grit. What do you think it is that keeps westerns cool?

OLYPHANT: First of all, I just showed up to work on Deadwood. That was David Milch’s baby. That’s a genius at work, just turning a genre on its head, and it was really something special to be a part of. I read this fantastic interview with Walter Mosley, in the L.A. Times, where he talked about our show. He said that westerns were made during a time where people really believed in America, and that Americans believed in something very clear about good versus evil. And, as that got a little more foggy, the westerns went away. And, he was really curious about this guy, Raylan Givens, who appears to be born maybe 100 years too late, and stuck in a modern world, asking those questions again.

Do you think that Raylan Givens will become one of those iconic TV characters?

OLYPHANT: I really appreciate that. That’s very generous of you. I knew when I read the thing that I had to close the deal before somebody else got a whiff of this thing. I trust that I know a good part when I see one and usually, when I see one, I have to wait for seven people to pass, in order for me to get it. I knew it was a good part. I knew it was good writing. I knew that Elmore [Leonard], when done right, is just something that I love. Beyond that, when I run into people on the street, they have been very generous and complimentary. It’s nice. You’re out there telling stories and you’re hoping to find an audience, and it’s very appreciated.

Every character that you play, whether in this show or in films, just seems completely unique and different. Is that because of your choices as an actor, or is it the quality of scripts that you get offered?

OLYPHANT: I don’t know. I’ve been really lucky, especially the last two years. I’ve been working for a long time and I’ve just really been allowed to work, with very little of the baggage and the pressures that can come with my job. Year after year, for quite some time now, I’ve just been allowed to keep doing it and just get better. When you do it for 10 or 12, or however many years I’ve been doing it, if you’re not good by now, then I think that’s going to be about it. I’ve really realized how much I enjoy the job and, at this point in my life, I show up to work with a real interest and a real commitment and a level of confidence. I’m not looking for answers when I show up to the set. I’m just asking the questions, over and over. I think I’ve been given some great material. In the last couple years, I did a small movie called High Life that went to the Berlin Film Festival, I did A Perfect Getaway, I did The Crazies, and there’s this TV work that I’ve been able to do, like with those guys in Damages. They’ve just been really great roles, and I’ve been able to have a meaningful dialogue and collaboration with the filmmakers on each one of those projects. Each time, it’s led to work that I’m really pleased with and proud of.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Steven Tyler Escapes From Idolatry

The New York Times
February 9, 2011

FAME isn’t all gold, honey and massage oils; it’s also the successful navigation of a steady stream of unlikely and uncomfortable situations.

At this, the first few weeks of the 10th season of “American Idol” have proved, Steven Tyler is an unalloyed genius.

The moment when Mr. Tyler, one of this season’s new judges, claimed the show as his own came during the third night of auditions. Chris Medina tried out with a muscular version of The Script’s “Breakeven” after telling the story of how his fiancée, Juliana Ramos, suffered a brain injury that left her in a wheelchair, able to move her left arm and little more.

After he sang, he brought Ms. Ramos in to the audition room at the judges’ behest. By any measure it was difficult to watch, testing the viewer’s urge to turn away, to wish for a speedy change of scene.

Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez introduced themselves to Ms. Ramos, but Mr. Tyler took charge. “Hi, girl,” he said, shaking her hand. “I just heard your fiancé sing, and he’s so good.” At this point, as she teetered back and forth, he was gripping her shoulder and staring at her comfortingly: a rock, a confidant, a seducer. “You know, because he sings to you all the time,” he said, leaning in to her, stroking her hair, kissing her warmly — all with tenderness — then whispering in her ear, “That’s why he sings so good, because he sings to you.”

It was a stellar embrace, the sort of practiced sincerity that’s one of the wages of extreme celebrity. Except that, over time, it can shake free of its dishonesty, as was the case here. In that moment Mr. Tyler was both deeply practiced and deeply humane. It made for a stunning display of kindness unusual not just for “Idol,” but for all of popular culture in matters of dealing with the severely disabled.

Whether Mr. Medina was being fair to his fiancée by bringing her on the show may be an open question, and whether “Idol” producers were being fair to both of them may be one as well.

But the moment Mr. Tyler embraced Ms. Ramos was galvanic. Until that point Mr. Tyler — who has long had a bad-boy reputation as the frontman of the commercial juggernaut Aerosmith, which has sold approximately 60 million albums over 40 years — threatened to be an amusing attention hog on the show and, in the minds of some, a buffoonish liability.

But in this moment, and many others, his sheer ease of presence was overwhelming. Simon Cowell’s departure after last season left a vacuum at the judges’ table, but the original “Idol” panel, even with Paula Abdul, who left after the eighth season, never had the genuine star wattage it does now with Mr. Tyler and Ms. Lopez. Mr. Cowell’s cocksureness gave him gravitational pull, but never magic. Mr. Tyler happens to know what he’s talking about, but that’s secondary to his charisma.

Mr. Tyler, who will turn 63 next month, has done much of the heavy lifting for “Idol” this season, helping keep the show within striking distance of last season’s ratings and ensuring that even though certain things have been lost in transition, the show still has a steady center. That role should fall to Mr. Jackson, who has been retained as an obelisk of institutional memory. It’s clear that in between bumbling appraisals he feels the urge to play bad cop à la Mr. Cowell. But watching Mr. Tyler yelp and Ms. Lopez cheerily prevaricate trumps any need for a chaser of harshness. Mr. Jackson could go.

A star like Mr. Tyler or Ms. Lopez has nothing to lose when offering a contestant, entrée into their rarefied space. They’re not just pushing someone’s career forward a little from behind, they’re welcoming them from the top.

Ms. Lopez has been unexpectedly charming as well, though at a lower volume than Mr. Tyler. On TV that matters.

Mr. Tyler’s face alone is worthy of a weekly show, loose skin slippery over a distant skeleton. He’s a Claymation figure come to life, all elasticity and wrinkle. He dresses like a shaman, a time-traveling dandy or a runaway hippie teen. His grin is wide and white, like the Joker’s, and when he’s laughing, really he’s braying.

But mostly he’s been great because of his words, which veer from insightful to empathetic to cutting. It’s only a month into the season, and already the show has generated signature Tylerisms — bon mots that stick. To a gravel-voiced young country singer, he exclaimed, “Hellfire, save matches,” do something untoward to a duck and “see what hatches.” To a contestant whose last name was Muck, “You know what rhymes with Muck, don’t you?” To others: “That was delicious. That was the dessert to the lunch.” “I found you to be disturbingly great. Weird, compelling great.” “I think you got the what-it-is.”

What’s most overwhelming about Mr. Tyler is his sheer affability, especially since it wasn’t clear whether his aesthetics and those of “Idol” would match up. So far he’s been an astute critic, quickly cutting to the bone of a performance and articulating what was executed well, and not. He’s learned to keep his eyes shut during grating performances, and to tilt his head back just enough to feign attention. Occasionally he’ll regard the performers with exaggerated attention, as if happening upon zoo animals mating.

Thrill Mr. Tyler, and he’ll sing along with you, pound out a drumbeat on the table, howl like a feral cat in his blues-influenced scratch. Sometimes it’s to prove a point — it’s doubtful Ms. Lopez will be doing much singing this season — but mostly it appears to alleviate his restlessness. (He does it sometimes even with awful singers, probably to make the time pass.) The payoff isn’t the same as the thrill of pleasing a beautiful woman that Ms. Lopez can provide, but in Mr. Tyler contestants have a compatriot who knows all the words.

So far he’s been given toward the more eccentric singers. After one scruffy young man gave a Taylor Hicks-ish audition, Mr. Tyler insisted he play some melodica. After Ashley Sullivan’s manic show tune performance, followed by a crying fit, Mr. Tyler barked, “I’m going to personally work that into something good! Personally!”

It’s all part of Mr. Tyler’s air of indestructibility, of untethered masculinity, dulled just enough by age to seem harmless. But it threatens to be reprehensible: nowhere else on television is a 62-year-old man able to make eyes, and loose comments, at young women roughly one-quarter his age. It’s sanctioned catcalling, with moist remarks aplenty: “You had me sold from the second you laid eyes on me.” “Where is your pitchfork, you little devil?”

He hasn’t yet earned a slap from Ms. Lopez for stray lasciviousness, though the season is young still. “You will have your turn in the barrel,” he told her at one point, a flirty threat. When she was hugging one contestant, he turned to Mr. Jackson and said, “You looking down, boy?” — at Ms. Lopez’s endless legs, that is. He doesn’t even fear Ms. Lopez’s husband, the smoldering salsero Marc Anthony, teasing him, “You don’t kiss me like that,” after he’d planted one on his wife’s lips.

Though he treats his alphaness as a punch line, he’s serious about it. “Steve, you want to go first?” Ms. Lopez asked him after one audition. “Steven,” Mr. Tyler replied, not joking.

He’s allergic only to precocity. Lauren Alaina, one of the best contestants of the season, nudged Mr. Tyler into a duet of “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” but he seemed a bit put off by her temerity.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that this frenetic energy extends off camera as well. “I’ve got to get up every 20 minutes,” to go to the bathroom, he recently told TV Guide. “It’s gotten me in trouble, the fact that I can’t sit still. Remember, I just came off tour with Aerosmith, so it’s like I live on the tail of a comet. It’s hard, being addicted to adrenaline. There’s no rehab to go to for that.”

It’s worth remembering that the last year of Mr. Tyler’s life hasn’t been without tumult. After leaving rehab for his dependence on pain medication, he chose to join “Idol,” a decision that was met with sneering consternation by his Aerosmith bandmate Joe Perry. “It’s one step above Ninja Turtles,” Mr. Perry said. “It’s his business, but I don’t want Aerosmith’s name involved with it.”

Mr. Tyler may be interested in shaking loose of Aerosmith a little too. In 2011 “Idol”-level fame trumps even that of Aerosmith, which was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, the year before the debut of “Idol.” Mr. Tyler, who is scheduled to release a memoir — “Does the Noise In My Head Bother You?” — this year, may well be interested in reframing his legacy. It’s possible he decided that the key to staying on the straight and narrow was to place himself on America’s biggest stage, accountable to millions.

But generally the move from creator to teacher is one of reflection. By sitting in the judge’s chair, marketing his eccentricities and shouldering the burden of keeping television’s most precious franchise afloat, he’s ensuring people understand that it takes a true star to make a new one.

Smith's heart just too much for North Carolina to overcome

February 10, 2011

DURHAM, N.C. -- We were ready to count them out. Again.

Down 16 points to archrival North Carolina, the fifth-ranked Duke Blue Devils looked the furthest thing from defending national champions. They could not even defend their home court against a team with a freshman point guard making his sixth career start, and they certainly couldn't defend the Tar Heels' big men.

But to count out Duke is to count out Nolan Smith. Bad idea. The Blue Devils' latest four-year star doesn't play to the crowd like J.J. Redick, doesn't emanate charisma like Shane Battier or Grant Hill. He does, however, possess the biggest heart on the court most nights no matter the opponent -- and against hated North Carolina, it practically jumped through his jersey.

Nolan Smith hit 8 of 11 shots for 22 points in the second half, finishing with a career-high 34. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Smith's career-high 34 points helped Duke (22-2) take command of the Tar Heels (17-6) in the second half for a 79-73 victory that tightened the Devils' grip on first place in the ACC. He didn't do it alone. On the contrary, he got help from an unlikely sidekick, sophomore Seth Curry -- whose torrid shooting paved the way for his own big night (a Duke career-high 22 points) -- as well as a relentless effort from Blue Devils forwards on the offensive glass.

But Smith was the guy in the locker room afterward smiling like a proud father, the ambassador for a team still carving its identity 24 games into the season but continuing to lord over its rival and its conference.

"In the second half we showed who we can be going forward, once we get closer to March," said Smith, who hit 8 of 11 shots for 22 points in the second half. "We definitely needed a performance like this to show we're a tough team."

The Blue Devils didn't look so tough in the first half. With the help of North Carolina's upstart freshman point guard, Kendall Marshall, putting the ball in all the right places, Tar Heel big men Tyler Zeller and John Henson made mincemeat of Duke defenders Mason and Miles Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. In building a 43-29 halftime lead, UNC outrebounded Duke 27-18 and outscored the Devils 28-12 in the paint.

"We had to really face the facts and get real and know that we had to turn it around in the second half or we were going to get embarrassed out there," said Curry.

After a halftime speech in which coach Mike Krzyzewski urged them to "settle down" ("They were nuts is the word," he said), Duke came out in the second half like an entirely different team. Twice in the first 2:40, Kyle Singler grabbed offensive rebounds off missed second free throws and kicked them out to the perimeter. Three-pointers by Smith and Curry made for a pair of four-point possessions. Duke just kept pounding the glass and grabbed nine offensive rebounds in the second half. The Blue Devils scored 10 points off turnovers after notching none in the first.

"They were so much more aggressive on the offensive boards in the second half," said Tar Heels coach Roy Williams. " ... And we were going down and turning it over."

But what the Blue Devils truly started doing well was running their offense. It's no secret they go into every game wanting to knock down threes, but in the first half Smith seemed to be the only one getting looks. Enter Curry, who recently lost his starting spot to freshman point guard Tyler Thornton but has also started to look for his shot more.

Over a roughly eight-minute stretch of the second half, Curry scored 14 of Duke's 20 points to finally tie the game for the first time at 54-54 with 9:45 left. His hot streak included a pair of three-pointers and culminated with consecutive baseline jumpers -- the second after a nifty pump fake -- to elevate the Cameron decibel level from thunderous to earsplitting.

"It was fun," said Stephen's little bro. "I was on a roll. Teammates were getting the ball to me, plays were being called for me. I got into a good rhythm."

It's taken more than two months for the Liberty transfer to find that rhythm. On a team with two senior alpha dogs, Smith and Kyle Singler, and a freshman phenom, Kyrie Irving, who initially dictated the team's offense before his December foot injury, Curry had just one double-digit scoring night in his first six ACC contests. He exploded for 20 points against Boston College on Jan. 27, then vanished against St. John's and Maryland. Against NC State, he scored 13 points on 3-of-5 three-pointers but few could have seen a night like this coming.

"At times during the season I do stand around and watch Nolan and Kyle," said Curry. "But coming into tonight, I knew I had to be another punch out there for us. Nolan and I got going in the second half."

Duke needed Curry's big night because Singler, for the second time in four games, struggled mightily with his shot. UNC freshman star Harrison Barnes harassed him into a 3-of-17 shooting night, including just 1-of-6 from three. But Singler was equally effective bottling up Barnes, who came in averaging 22.7 points over his last three games. On Wednesday, he scored just nine.

By getting out on the wing and helping lock down UNC's perimeter shooters (the Tar Heels went 0-of-6 from three in the second half), Duke was also able to get a handle on sparkplug Marshall.

"We were able to make Marshall more a shooter than a passer," said Krzyzewski.

Toward the end of his postgame news conference, Krzyzewski was asked what the thrilling game meant for the ACC. The league has been much criticized this season, punctured by perceived mediocrity throughout its ranks. Entering Wednesday, Duke and UNC were the league's only teams ranked in the RPI Top 40.

Krzyzewski, understandably, defended the league, calling it "better than advertised," and singing the praises of both his team and the Tar Heels.

"The team we played tonight can play with anybody, and we're getting to the point where we might be able to play with anybody," he said. "Going forward, both teams will have a chance to cause trouble for some people."

It remains to be seen whether Duke's emotional second half Wednesday will serve as a sparkplug. Right now, the Blue Devils remain very much a work in progress. They need Singler to hit outside shots more consistently. They need Curry to be as aggressive as he was Wednesday. They need their big men to be ... well, bigger. If they runs into a more mature version of St. John's and North Carolina come March -- a team full of length and athleticism -- it could be in trouble.

But it still has Smith. The national player of the year contender and his teammates proved a lot of us wrong in last year's NCAA tournament, and he sure looks like a guy who wants to do it again.

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Dynamic duo: Smith, Curry lead Duke

By Mark Schlabach
February 10, 2011

DURHAM, N.C. -- What did Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski learn about sophomore guard Seth Curry in Wednesday night’s 79-73 victory over North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium?

“That he’s pretty damn good,” Krzyzewski said.

Just a week ago, Krzyzewski wasn’t sure if Curry even knew how good he could be in his first season with the Blue Devils after transferring from Liberty University in 2009.

Curry, the younger brother of former Davidson and current Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, was struggling with his confidence and struggling even more to find shots.

Duke sophomore Seth Curry had reason to scream against North Carolina after scoring 22 points off the bench. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

“The last two weeks or so, he was really challenging me and telling me to play with some confidence,” Curry said. “He said you’ve got to go out there every night with something to prove and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Curry certainly did it against rival North Carolina on Wednesday night, as he and senior guard Nolan Smith combined to score 56 points, helping the No. 5 Blue Devils erase a 16-point deficit to defeat the No. 21 Tar Heels for the third straight time.

Smith scored a career-high 34 points on 13-for-23 shooting, and Curry scored 22 points off the bench, the highest scoring output in his 24 games with the Blue Devils.

“Seth knows he’s a very good player, and he knows he can play in this league,” Smith said. “Tonight he showed that -- on the biggest stage. He showed up tonight and played the way we know he can.”

After the Blue Devils fell behind by 16 points, Curry and Smith took over the game. Curry made a jumper with seven seconds left in the first half to cut UNC’s lead to 43-29, and then the Blue Devils scored the first eight points of the second half to make it a game again.

“It wasn’t an X's & O's adjustment,” Krzyzewski said. “It was [an adjustment] to calm them down. They were too excited -- nuts is the word. It was like, ‘What are you guys doing?’”

Smith and Curry sparked Duke’s 10-0 run with a pair of 3-pointers. Both 3-pointers came after the Blue Devils grabbed offensive rebounds on missed foul shots.

“I felt he had excellent quickness,” Krzyzewski said of Curry. “The thing he’s learned to do is get his shot off quicker. He was really coming off screens well and went right into his shot.”

Curry’s breakout performance couldn’t have come at a better time for the Blue Devils. Senior Kyle Singler, the team’s second-leading scorer with 18 points per game, labored through one of his most difficult performances of the season against UNC.

With the Tar Heels hounding him on nearly every possession, Singler scored 10 points on 3-for-17 shooting.

“At times during the season, I do stand around and watch Nolan and Kyle,” Curry said. “But coming into tonight, I had to be another punch out there for us. Nolan and I got it going in the second half, and it felt like we were turning everything around.”

UNC coach Roy Williams wasn’t happy with how his team defended Duke’s guards.

“Seth Curry was big, to say the least,” Williams said. “We didn’t give Kyle as many open ones as we gave Seth and Nolan and some of the other guys. We gave them more open shots.”

Much like his older brother, who was also largely overlooked by bigger schools, Seth Curry had to prove he was good enough to play at a school like Duke. After starring at Charlotte Christian School, Curry was named the Big South Freshman of the Year after averaging 20.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists at Liberty in 2008-09.

But doing it at Duke was an entirely different matter. Curry’s open looks weren’t as open and defenders were taller, stronger and faster.

“This is a different league,” Curry said. “You’re not just going to be out there shooting every night. You’ve got to do more than shoot and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

While Curry’s career at Duke is in its infancy, Smith’s is nearing its end. Smith said beating the Tar Heels in his final home game against them was the crowning achievement of his career -- even bigger than winning a national championship last season.

“I’ve watched a lot of Duke-Carolina games and this is definitely one of my favorites,” Smith said. “This is the biggest win of my career. The championship was great, but I’d say my last home game against Carolina was the biggest game. To come back the way we did, it can’t get any better than this.”

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Today's Tune: The Outlaws - Hurry Sundown (Live 1977)

Larry Drew's departure disgraceful

February 7, 2011

I consider myself a big "freedom of movement" guy. I don't like the NBA's age-minimum rule because it denies players an opportunity to meet the market's demand. I never criticize a coach for bolting for a more lucrative job or an underclassman who turns professional. I don't like the National Letter of Intent because it binds a recruit to a school even in the event of a coaching change, and I don't like the fact that schools have the option of denying a release to a player who wants to transfer.

I cannot, however, support Larry Drew II's sudden decision to leave North Carolina last Friday. The facts behind his decision and the manner in which it was carried out are deplorable. Drew didn't just quit on Roy Williams. He quit on his teammates at the most important time of the season. He did so without letting on that it was coming or informing them what he had done. Worst of all, he left it to his father to deliver the news to Williams via a phone call on Friday morning.

Former UNC point guard Larry Drew was unhappy he lost his starting job, but he had played better coming off the bench.(Icon SMI)

To say that Williams and the players were surprised is a mass understatement. Yes, Drew, a 6-foot-2 junior point guard, had lost his starting point guard to freshman Kendall Marshall on Jan. 18, right after the Heels had been blitzed by 20 points at Georgia Tech. But in the four games in which Drew came off the bench he played some of his best basketball. Not coincidentally, North Carolina won all four games. During that stretch Drew had a total of 19 assists to just four turnovers, and Williams twice paid him the ultimate compliment by naming him the team's defensive player of the game. What's more, even though Drew was coming off the bench, his minutes had not declined all that much. He averaged 19.3 minutes to Marshall's 21.3.

Drew had by far his best game of the season last Tuesday, when he had nine assists and one turnover in 19 minutes during North Carolina's 106-74 win at Boston College. The team was off on Wednesday, and from what I'm told Drew had an excellent practice on Thursday. He even showed up early for the weight room session, which has not been his habit. Drew has never been a come-early, leave-late kind of guy. For a long time the feeling around him has been that he was a little spoiled having grown up the son of an ex-NBA player. Drew's father, Larry, played nine years in the league and is currently the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. (Larry Sr. declined my request for comment through the Hawks.)

Sometime late Thursday night, Drew went back to the North Carolina locker room to pack up some belongings. By morning he was gone. He left without saying a word to the coaches or players -- including his roommate, Justin Watts, who was supposedly his best friend on the team. The fact that he left it to his father to deliver the news to Williams was the ultimate cowardly act. It does not speak well of the player, but frankly it also does not speak well of his parents. Instead of doing the dirty work for him, Larry Sr. should have told his son, "If you want to leave, you go into that man's office and tell him yourself, to his face." It would have been the honorable thing to do.

Much has been made about the role that Larry Sr. might have had in his son's decision, but Drew's mother, Sharon, is a far greater problem. Sharon is the one who would call the coaches to complain about how many minutes her son was playing or how many shots he was getting. The news site Inside Carolina reported that in 2009 Sharon called the basketball office irate after she heard Williams spoke with John Wall, who was then a high school senior, about coming to play in Chapel Hill. Sharon was the one who would protest how many tickets she was getting to games, and where her seats were. She is the one whose meddlesome tactics led the coach at Drew's former high school to dismiss his younger brother, Landon, from the team in the spring of 2010. The coach, Derrick Taylor, told the L.A. Times, "I informed [Landon] and his mother he could no longer be on the team. He's a great kid, but the circumstances are too unbearable." The school's principal later instructed Taylor to reinstate the player, saying "Landon can't be punished for adult behavior."

There is a strong argument to be made that Drew's departure is a classic case of addition by subtraction. In North Carolina's first game without him, Marshall played 36 minutes and had 16 assists to just three turnovers in a 20-point thrashing of Florida State. But that's not the point. Ironically, as selfish as Drew's actions have been, they are also self-defeating. Though his father told the Raleigh News and Observer last week that "this was a decision that was made long before this season even started," Larry's decision to wait until after the start of the spring semester means that he only has one year of eligibility remaining. If he had transferred during the semester break, he would have retained the option of becoming eligible in midseason next year.

What options will Larry Drew have moving forward? Hard to say. His talent has often been called into question -- with good reason, I might add -- but now he has raised troubling issues about his character. If you're a coach and you need a point guard, are you going to take someone who might quit when the going gets tough? Is this guy really good enough to make it worth all this trouble?

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