Matt Saracen had a lot of standout moments on and off the Panthers football field on Friday Night Lights, but perhaps the most heartbreaking was when he exclaimed that “everybody leaves me” in a tearful bathroom scene opposite Coach Taylor.
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“I was so young and dumb. I mean, I’m pretty sure that was in season 2, so I was, like, 23 or 24 years old,” Zach Gilford exclusively told Us Weekly while promoting his new film, Something Is Wrong With the Children. “The way we shot that show was very much just show up, we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna figure it. We didn’t rehearse, we didn’t block. What I learned from that is you really need to be present in the scene. All you can do to prepare is know the lines that you might say and then you just have to go with what everyone else is doing and what you think your character would do.”
In the season 2, episode 14 episode titled “Leave No One Behind,” the high school quarterback begins to spiral as he experiences multiple setbacks and ultimately is caught drunk by Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) at the hospital while watching over Grandma Saracen (Louanne Stephens). Once back at Matt’s house, Coach drags Matt into the shower and turns on cold water before telling him to shape up.
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“Do you know how many people depend on you to make the right decisions? Huh? Do you have any idea? Your grandmother, your friends, your teammates. You better start making them. You better stop being so damn selfish and stop feeling sorry for yourself. Do you hear me?” Coach says.
“Shut up! You don’t care about me. You left me for a better job,” Matt interjects. “Your daughter left me for a better guy. Carlotta left me for Guatemala. My dad left me for a damn war. Everybody leaves me! What’s wrong with me?”
Despite the stellar performance, Gilford thinks “it kind of sucked” looking back. “It felt kinda crappy. I hate saying, ‘Oh there’s no preparation,’ but you can only prepare so much and the best preparation you could do is being present,” he said.
“It was probably two takes. We did so few takes on that show. We moved fast and shot quick,” he continued. “You had to bring your A game every time because there was no, ‘Oh let me just, can I take one more? Can I do another?’ Or ‘Oh, I’m gonna save it because I know we’re gonna do this five, six, 10 times.’ From the first time you rolled, you had to make sure it was a performance that you were cool with because the directors would be like, ‘Cool, we got it. Let’s move on.’”
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The beloved NBC drama ran for five seasons from 2006 to 2011 and also starred Connie Britton (Tami Taylor), Aimee Teegarden (Julie Taylor), Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins), Adrianne Palicki (Tyra Collette), Minka Kelly (Lyla Garrity), Gaius Charles (Brian “Smash” Williams) and Jesse Plemons (Landry Clarke), who played Gilford’s onscreen best friend.
“He’s still a super close friend of mine and I learned so much from him,” Gilford said of the Windfall actor, 34. “He is such an amazing actor and I’m doing this rewatch podcast right now of Friday Night Lights (“It’s Not Only Football: Friday Night Lights and Beyond”) and I haven’t watched any of it since it aired. And every scene with Jesse — and I’m only on season 1 — I laugh and I’m like, ‘Oh my God. That’s right. I remember that. I remember when he said that and the random stuff that he would say.’ He’s such a genius because so much of that is just stuff he just came up with.”
As for his favorite scene with him? “Literally every single one,” Gilford added. “I’ll never forget one that sticks out for no real reason. I think he was hyping me up to ask Julie to marry me or something. And I remember just a scene in his garage and him coaching me on how to talk to her. It was toward the end of the series, and I don’t remember what it was about, but I just have such a vivid memory of that moment in our lives and just laughing so hard.”
In 2017, Gilford told Us that it was “crazy” to think that Plemons was just 17 when he started on FNL. “But in the same respect if you think about it, it seems like it was just yesterday that we were in Texas filming that show,” he said at the time. “In real life, he is one of my closest friends, which makes me sound like a loser that I was 23 and my best friend was a 17-year-old, but oh well. But he’s an old soul.”
The Fargo actor even performed at Gilford and wife Kiele Sanchez’s wedding in 2013. “He played guitar and sang when my wife walked down the aisle. It was amazing. We had this song that was special between her and I and I texted him and was like, ‘Hey, do you think you can do a version of it?’ And he was like, ‘I’m honored,’” he recalled. “Kiele and I were actually looking at wedding venues in San Francisco when we listened to his voicemail and we both just started crying because it was so beautiful. His soul is a very special one.”
Since saying goodbye to Dillon, Texas, the pals have continued to have successful careers. Gilford, for his part, has appeared in Good Girls, L.A.’s Finest, Midnight Mass, The Midnight Club and Criminal Minds.
“I was pickier when I was young,” Gilford told Us of choosing roles. “But I’ve been very lucky, thankfully, to build a career where people are asking me to be involved in projects that I wanna be involved in. I’ve never had a job where I just go for a paycheck.”
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He added, with a laugh: “I say yes more [now] because I have two children in the house!”