Kyle Chandler doesn’t need an S on his chest to feel the locomotive chugging inside him every time he addresses his young football charges on NBC’s “Friday Night Lights.”
But he says there is definitely some kind of transformation taking place in the moments it takes him to get out of his car and walk onto the set, when Kyle Chandler — Georgia-raised actor with 20 years of experience in the TV trenches — becomes Eric Taylor, Texas high school coach and maker of men.
“When I get to the set, I am Coach,” Chandler explains in L.A. during hiatus from the series that shoots in Austin. “It’s like Superman with the cape: All of a sudden, the accent pops up strong.”
After a solid career with starring turns in “Homefront” and “Early Edition” (and a prominent guest role on “Grey’s Anatomy”), Chandler says the ironic aspect of his “Friday Night Lights” role is that he wasn’t at first convinced he was the right person for the part.
“Initially, I thought I was too young,” he explains. “I had seen the movie, and it was Billy Bob Thornton who had such a big presence. And it wasn’t so much the script that got to me, either, but rather, it was sitting with (exec producer) Pete Berg and telling me who Coach was. It was a no-brainer after that.”
Grounded by his family — supportive wife Tami (Connie Britton) and teenage daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden) — Taylor’s the rare football coach who isn’t so obsessed by wins and losses that he completely loses perspective on decisions that really matter in life — what play to run on third-and-10 not being one of them.
Chandler calls Taylor a combination of “a mellow W.C. Fields, an Archie Bunker type and Donald Duck, who kicks a rock and then the rock kicks him in the head.”
Ruling the sidelines while Britton and Teegarden are mostly running roughshod over him at home is fine with Chandler, who says Taylor’s balancing act — and ability to know when he might need a second or third opinion — makes him most appealing.
“He realizes he doesn’t have all the answers,” Chandler says.
An evolving man, indeed.
Favorite scene: “I like the scene when I catch Matt and my daughter with the blanket over them. I take the blanket off and Connie says, ‘What are you doing?’ And I say, ‘They had a blanket!,’ and Connie says, ‘You’re an idiot.’ ”
Where you’d like to see your character go next season: “He’s going to follow his dream while she’s pregnant. I want to see Coach in as much trouble as possible. I want him in a dilemma.”
TV guilty pleasure: “I’m a History Channel fanatic. I’ve always loved history, especially those war books and books that cover everything from turn of the century to mid-’40s. I love it.”