Kyle's Career Filmstrip: TV Series and Movies

Aug 28, 2013

Dialogue: Kyle Chandler Explains Why 'The Spectacular Now' Scared Him and What He Learned from It

Aug 27, 2013

Kyle Chandler is the Man. All fans of Friday Night Lights know that. But if you've never seen that fantastic television show, you still probably recognize his status as the Man thanks to roles in movies like Super 8, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, where he tends to always play, well, the man in charge. That is not the case in The Spectacular Now.

Yes, Chandler is great (as always) in the film, but this is a different sort of role for the film and TV veteran. In it he plays the absentee father of Miles Teller's character, Sutter, who is more like his father than he'd like to know. Chandler is only in the film for a few scenes, but they're some of the most meaningful and potent in it--and that's saying something considering The Spectacular Now is bursting with heart from beginning to end.

James Ponsoldt's film expands nationwide this week, which gave us the honor of chatting with Chandler on the phone about the role, why he was afraid to accept it, as well as how it's changed what kind of movies he'd like to make. And, of course, we had to ask about the rumored Friday Night Lights movie. One of the most compelling things about this film is how it approaches the idea that you can become your parents even if they're not in your life. At what point in your own life did you realize that you were becoming your father, for better or worse?

Kyle Chandler: Every day. Every day I've been a parent, literally. I know the good things of my father, and the bad things of my father. He passed away when I was younger, but nonetheless, the bad things I always keep an eye on and try to not let come out. The good things... I hug my kids every day. Every single day, tell them you love them.

Another thing that's interesting, as I get older. My dad was 54 when he died, and he'd always wear bifocals and this and that, and now that I'm wearing glasses I know for a fact that I have the same exact gestures, the same exact tone in my voice. I am my father. There's no other way about it, and that's really interesting. You play a lot of characters that just exude authority, like you can always tell they're in charge of a room. And here your character has that same air, but for a very different reason. Did that change your approach to it at all?

Chandler: This character was really strange. It's the smallest part in the film, but it's arguably the most important part of the film when Miles meets his father, so when I looked at the script and read the book and everything, my biggest concern was, "I am going to f**k this up." [Laughs] "I am going to ruin their film if I take this role and don't do it right."

I was really hesitant to take the role because it's a really hard role to grab. It seems simple enough. There's only a few scenes when you go in to do this thing, but it scared the hell out of me. There's nothing to grab onto in the character, and I don't think it was until it was done and I could see what ended up on-screen that I could tell how I came to that performance. I realized that the key to doing that role was to let everything go and just trust it. The guy has no rhyme or reason. He doesn't go from A to B to C. It just doesn't work that way. He goes from A to Z to G, and it's sort of hard to play that and make all of that happen.

I was concerned that it wouldn't come out that we wouldn't get a good sense of this guy with what little time we had to do it. And the material... as an actor and a playwright, you're used to an arc. This guy is just out there. There's no path to anything. It was all, "Create your own path and just come out to Georgia and let's shoot this thing!" [Laughs] It just all worked out the right way. I'm glad I didn't ruin their film. Was there something about James Ponsoldt that convinced you to take that risk both personally and professionally?

Chandler: I liked the film. I've done a lot of small parts in little movies because I just like the films and there's great people doing it. You get the sense that these are little key roles. They're important. They're not the main characters, but they're supporting and they mean a lot, and it's fun to get in there and carve a niche out of characters like that. This one was more difficult because it was like trying to climb a stainless steel wall.

Towards the end it all just happened and what I did to get there worked, but at first I just had no way of jumping in there. But one of the reasons I had to is because of exactly what I'm telling you. The second and third times I read the script my stomach hurt, because I knew. I mean, it physically hurt, and I knew I had to do it because I was scared of it. And I'm really glad that I challenged myself with that because what I learned coming away from it is one of the greatest lessons I've learned in my acting career in quite some time. It's like a new set of tools in your toolbox, and it also made me realize I need to kick myself in the ass and jump outside of the box more often. Has that seen any fruition yet? Has it actively changed what you're pursuing as an actor?

Chandler: There have been a few things that have come up that I've certainly considered far differently. I guess my next project didn't reveal that to be the case, in the sense that I'm playing a priest, but the truth is that it's a little like that because I didn't want to play a priest because you're sort of confined. It's a different kind of deal.

I watched Bonnie and Clyde not too long ago. You watch that, and it's a pretty simple movie, but it's all about those characters. In that final scene, when they look at each other before getting all shot up, it all comes back to that. And that's what you look for. I'm always looking for those moments inside of characters that really grabs you. So it's changing the type of role you're looking for? Or is the challenge also the scale of the production?

Chandler: I'm a family man. I like spending time with my family. If I was going to go to another state and do 23 episodes of another television show, I'd be spending nine months away from my family. But if I can go somewhere and do a 12-episode show, that gives me time to work and time to be with my family and maybe do other projects. So in that sense, timewise, sure it's changing. But once my kids are graduated and in college, I can pretty much go anywhere and do anything because my wife and I can pick up and head out. But right now my family is a big consideration with what I do and where I go. One theory is that you prefer to do smaller roles in big ensembles because it fits your lifestyle as a family man.

Chandler: Well, hold on. It's not just because of my family that I don't do bigger roles in bigger films. It's also because I don't get offered bigger roles in bigger films. [Laughs] I appreciate the compliment, but I'm still plugging along here, trying to make it happen, too. But that is a big consideration, especially in television. If you're a lead character, you have to be there. Features are a bit different because you can go away and do a feature in two to three months.

I miss the idea of movies of the week. Remember when they used to do movies of the week? Event television does seem to be making a bit of a comeback as miniseries.

Chandler: I would think it'd be for the writers as well, but even as a performer, to be able to go in and do four good hours of television that are split up... I remember doing a few of them when I was younger, and it was a nice way to do it. NBC seems to be getting back into that, with Rosemary's Baby and a few other pieces of "event television."

Chandler: Isn't that funny? It seems to be coming full cycle again. Did you watch Elisabeth Moss in Top of the Lake? My wife and I watched it in two days. It's great, and she's great. I really love her. She's a great actress. Do you have any interest in moving into feature directing?

Chandler: Not right now. It's too many questions you gotta answer and I'm still trying to learn how to act, yet alone direct. I've directed two episodes of television since I've been doing this and I think I would love to direct a play. I don't know about directing a movie. That's way above. I am not in that area.

I like working with the actors for sure, but with TV, a lot of it was just time management. That's what a TV director's life is. But with Friday Night Lights, it was really enjoyable because of the way we shot the show. And of course everyone has your back. Are there any on-the-record updates about the rumored Friday Night Lights movie?

Chandler: I don't have any, no. Are you trying to get any films or TV shows back in Austin?

Chandler: I have tried to get two projects to come into town here, and I've come really close with both of them, one even closer than the other. That's a big goal of mine, and it's possible. I'm waiting to find out about a show, and if that doesn't go, there may be some other possibilities to bring it here. But I definitely – definitely – always have in the back of my mind of working in Austin and with the Austin crews and bringing back together all the Friday Night Lights people that I can. Absolutely. That is absolutely always in the back of my mind.

Thank you, Amazing Grace!

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