Interview: Matt Lauria Opens Up About ‘Parenthood’ And ‘Friday Night Lights’ Auditions, What Dillon Panthers He’s Kept In Touch With

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“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” Friday Night Lights may have wrapped production in Feb. 2011, but that doesn’t mean the dedicated viewers that watched the NBC series in its entirety don’t pretend all of the Panthers still live down in Dillon, Texas. (Oh, that was just what I imagined? Never mind then.) Executive Producer Jason Katims brought us those memorable characters, and he continues to create others with his current work on Parenthood. Actor Matt Lauria has had the opportunity to work on both projects, and I recently discussed with him about his experiences on both critically acclaimed shows.

First Luke Cafferty, and now Ryan York, Lauria has gone from playing on the football field to fitting in with the Braverman’s, with one important similarity: As FNL took its final pass, Luke went off for his first tour in Afghanistan, and in Parenthood Lauria now plays a vet returning home. Working on either of these shows seems like it would be a dream for any actor, and Lauria seems to have recognized that. Some highlights he revealed during our discussion include a breakdown of the two auditions, word on the future FNL film, and how he’s tried keeping in touch with his old football buddies.

Friday Night Lights alum and now guest starring on Parenthood. What’s it been like working with Jason Katims again?

MATT LAURIA: When this opportunity came around, it was mostly a no brainer. It was like, ‘so, wait: I get to work with Jason again? Okay, where do I sign up?’ [Laughs] The reason that it was such an obvious desire to want to work with him again is because we have a rapport personally, but more than that, when you feel like you’re working on something that matters, or something that’s really artistically fulfilling or exciting, and you collaborate with other artists on something like that, I think naturally you share this kind of bond. And I think that aside from that, most significantly perhaps, his writing is just such awesome fodder for fueling a character or for fueling relationships. He writes to people and relationships so beautifully and so honestly. And so, as an actor, you’re not sitting around, spitting out exposition or whatever. You’re dealing with real people and real relationships that feel like they matter.

As a fan of both shows, that’s definitely a main reason why so many viewers are drawn to such work.

It’s why people fall in love with the characters. I’m just as guilty as someone else, because my wife and I were big into FNL before we were ever in that world. It’s why you fall in love with characters that mean so much to you. You get to know them like they’re real people, like they’re your friends.

And you’ve played fantastic characters along the way. It’s interesting how your role as Luke Cafferty ended the FNL series by going into the army, and now you play a vet on Parenthood.

Yeah, it’s like a five-year older version or something. In some ways, they’re really similar in terms of farm boy, kind of like a similar type of integrity. But Luke was a lot more emotional and kind of more immature, kind of in that young man way, kind of overtly self-confident and cocky. And Ryan York is more soft-spoken, a little slower tempo. I think he’s less emotional. I think he’s more grown up. Being in the army – from all the guys I’ve talked to—or being in the service at all does a lot to you. I just think that there’s a lot more psychological stuff going on with this guy that he’s trying to figure out. Luke speaks with his mouth a little sooner than this guy does, but there are certainly some similarities.

What was the audition like for Friday Night Lights?

It’s tricky. For FNL, I got an audition for it and I couldn’t believe it, because I was just catching up on the seasons on DVD, and I thought the show was already off the air. And so I was like, ‘that show is still around? What?’ [Laughs] I kind of flipped out about it. And then I went in and auditioned for it, and had a great time the first audition. Then they brought me back for Pete [Berg] and Jason and some other folks. And when I went in for that callback, I went in there and when I auditioned he [Pete] threw all of this stuff at me. He’s like, ‘Just repeat this line over and over again. Give us a full spectrum of emotions.’ He got up out of his chair and he came over and he was like, ‘In this scene’—it was a scene where Tami kicks my character off the football team—and he’s like, ‘Just repeat your address over and over and over, and that’s all you’re allowed to say. But run the full spectrum of emotions. Try to plead with her. Try to convince her. You can get mad. You can use whatever tactic that you want to get her to stay, but you can only use these words.’ So we did that, and it was sort of along the lines of the performance that ultimately ended up in the show.

And then I came in and did it again and for my official test. It was on video. Jason Katims and Pete Berg and Taylor Kitsch is sitting there in the room, because he just finished reading with the girls who were going in for Madison and the part of Becky. And that’s where I first met Madison, actually. So, he just stayed in the room when the Luke guys came in. And I walked in the room and I was like, ‘Dude! Hey!’ I told him I was a fan of the show.

You and Mae Whitman have a wonderful storyline going on with Amber and Ryan’s relationship. What was Parenthood’s audition like?

Basically Jason Katims called me up and was like, ‘Hey, listen. Are you interested in this?’ He said, ‘We got this part coming up that could be a really nice recurring guy, young veteran, probably from Wyoming or something. It could be a pretty exciting role throughout the season. He’s coming back and kind of dealing with getting back in the swing of things.’ And he said, ‘So, I don’t know what your time is like in the fall, or if you’re interested…’ And I was thinking, ‘Oh, that’s very flattering that you think I’m so busy. [Laughs] Oh, let me see if I can squeeze you in Jason Katims. My old boss, and the guy who made my career for me!’

That’s hilarious.

 

It was just one of those – it’s just a gift. And here’s the thing about it: It kind of feels like everything that I’ve done so far I’ve loved. It’s just fed me really well and educated me really artistically. But this role feels the most important in terms of the story we’re telling and how critical it is and how timely it is right now.

 

Working on both of these series seems like it would be a dream for any actor. When did you know you wanted to perform for a living?

I think when I was 12. My dad’s an animator. He’s like a two-dimensional animator. And animators are really zany, eccentric people. They’re really creative and goofy. And so we did a lot of role-playing when I was growing up, whether it was pirates and cowboys or whatever. I would put on costumes. My dad was a very, very playful guy when I was younger. I grew up in Ireland between the ages of 7 and 13ish, and so we were forced to do a play. You had to audition for this play in school. You didn’t really have much of a choice. I ended up getting an understudy for a role, and the guy got really sick, and then I ended up on stage. My cohort and I – in the scene – there was some big musical number with the main character and we were sitting in the background, and each night we would get more and more distracting and upstaging and goofy. And we kept getting more and more laughs, and we kept blatantly stealing the scene away from the other person very rudely. But anyway, at that point, I was like, ‘This is so fun!’ And then I did it a little bit in 8th grade. I got back to the States, and the option was either computer science or theater. I was like, ‘Um, theater please.’

You’ve done a lot of television, but what’s your take on this FNL movie buzz?

I think I would be game. I don’t think that my character would be involved. I haven’t really heard anything about it other than it is potentially happening, and you get that they’re trying to work it out. Last I heard was that it would probably be a new crop of kids, or something along those lines. But I haven’t heard anything about it, so – would I want to do that? I think so. I think it would probably be pretty awesome!

So many FNL actors have gone on to other great projects. Connie Britton’s on Nashville, Zach Gilford on The Mob Doctor, Michael B. Jordan in Chronicle and Taylor Kitsch working a lot in film. Have you been able to keep in contact?

We stay in loose contact. Mike B. and I will shoot each other a text or a phone call once in a blue moon. Jurnee Smollett and us – my wife and I, Jurnee and her husband – we always have tentative 21 Choices… that’s a frozen yogurt place. On the sort of non-concrete books, we’re constantly like ‘yeah, let’s get frozen yogurt! Oh, yeah! Yeah, we’ll do it!’ But we’re so busy. Once in a blue moon I’ll run into Madison at stuff. I saw Jesse Plemons and Scott Porter and Kevin Rankin recently. Kevin played Herc, and you know Jesse and Scott. Scott had a football party a few weekends ago and we all went over and watched football. There was a bunch of people there so it was nice. Oh, and then Gauis and I have the same manager. You know, Gaius, he’s Smash Williams. We run into each other at different events, this and that, here and there. He’s working on Grey’s Anatomy and he’s been out in L.A. I’ve been meaning to get together and go go-karting or something like that.

The series just had a fantastic cast and characters fans wanted to root for. So I have to ask, where would Luke Cafferty be today?

I think that he would be finishing up his second tour in Afghanistan or Iraq. I think that he probably ended up in an infantry unit over there. I think that he was probably on the front lines seeing some really crazy stuff. And I think that he would be either back on leave right now, or probably begging Becky to marry him, and trying to have kids and all of that stuff. That’s probably what he would be doing.

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