'Friday Night Lights' star Kyle Chandler goes from small-town coach to small-town deputy in J.J. Abrams' 'Super 8,' where he's got a heckuva lot more to deal with than football lineups and troubled teens.
As Deputy Jack Lamb, he's a recent widower who's got to contend with a horrific train crash, mysterious disappearances (including the town's sheriff) and the ominous presence of the military, who assure him that nothing unusual is going on.
Chandler sat down with Moviefone to talk about working with Abrams, how he signed on to the project without a script or even the vaguest idea of what the movie was about, and why the movie meant so much to him, personally.
Moviefone: What appealed to you about this role?
Kyle Chandler: J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg. [Cinematographer] Larry Fong. [Producer] Bryan Burk. The whole gang. I went and I auditioned out here in L.A., I think it was the day after the Emmy nominations. And it was a last minute thing on the way to the airport. "There's an audition, would you like to go in?" and I was like, "Sure."
Did you have any idea what it was for?
No, because I was told it was for something else, like 'Little Darlings,' I think. Seriously. They were being secretive. So I auditioned and they called me back and said, "Would you like the role? We'll give you the script when you get there."
Have you ever been in that position before?
'King Kong.' I don't think I had a script on 'King Kong.' But usually you read a script and then you go and audition for it. It's rare when there's no script. I sort of like the latter better, because I'm more successful at it. [Laughs.]
Was it more of an adventure that way?
That was the fun of it. Of course it is. it's like jumping out of the helicopter into the brush, not knowing what you're going to face.
At what point did you realize this is kind of an homage to 'Close Encounters' and movies like that?
I did not honestly know what it was until a few weeks ago when I got to see about 35 minutes of it. It didn't take me more than five minutes of watching to know, Wow, I've been here before, I've had this feeling before, and that feeling came when I was 14 years old and these movies came out that you loved when you were a kid.
How cool was it for you to do this, since in 1979 you were the age that your son is in the movie? Was that really nostalgic for you?
Absolutely. The first time I walked into the Lamb house, I went straight back to 1979. Everything is so meticulous, the magazines, the carpeting, the glasses, the microwave, the stove, the lamps, the kitchen table. And then you go back to my son's room. Every single thing he had in there, every toy, was what was in my room in 1979. That was one of those moments when I can't really explain the joy that was in my gut when I saw that room, but it took me back to being a kid again. It was like seeing an old friend.
There's this one scene that reminds me a little bit of Indiana Jones where you put on the military uniform and you seem to be thinking, I'm not sure I'm going to get away with this. Was that something you were thinking of at the time?
When those things come up and you're an actor, you're knocking out a soldier and you're taking his weapon and changing into his clothes, there's a suspension of disbelief that you have to give yourself immediately or you're not gonna make it through it. I didn't compare it to anything other than the fact that you pretend and you pretend "I've got to get to my son." I didn't think about Indiana Jones or any of those guys. I was thinking about Jack Lamb getting his son.
It does play like that, a little bit.
I'm sure that there's going to be a lot of things that I see in this ... I did see that scene where I knock the guy out and we did that, I think twice, and that's a good scene. It really looked like I hit him and I did not. There were no stunt men hurt in the making of this film.
It is a good scene. The audience I saw it with clapped.
People clapped when that happened?
Oh yeah. So what kind of direction does J.J. give?
This is J.J.'s movie. It's probably run through his head for I don't know how many years now. So it's fun when you come to the set and you get an idea and you say, "J.J., so how about this?" And he's great because he very patient and he listens and takes the whole thing in. And then he goes, "Hmmm. You know what I was thinking ..." and then he gives his take on it, which is a far more -- for lack of a better word -- intelligent idea. Because he knows exactly the arc he wants to take the character. You've got a great director and you can argue with him all you want, but I have so much trust in what he's doing, so when he wants me to do something a certain way, I'm going to do it. And it makes it fun. What I do is not rocket science, but I sure do love it. It was really enjoyable to have him say, "No, do this," and he goes, "That's what I wanted," and now I get to see what he created.
What was your favorite part of making the movie?
That's sort of a hard question. My pop died when I was 14, so one of the cool moments was just at the end. [In a scene where Jack finds and hugs his son], because ... it sounds kind of crazy, but in my own little [version of the] movie that I'm making, it's my dad coming up and finding me and giving me a hug. But the whole thing was a joy and the whole movie was a challenge because, J.J. really showed me more to the character and more about storytelling than if I'd come on the set and said, "Here's what I want to do." That was a great lesson. I always treat all the jobs I do as an acting class. 'Till the day I'm dead, you're always learning the craft and it was a good class.
You've done some directing of your own, on 'Friday Night Lights.' Any urge to direct your own film?
I don't want to say I'm never going to direct again, but directing's hard work. I worked with [director and acting coach] Milton Katselas and he studied under Elia Kazan. Kazan said there's only one good thing a director needs and I was like, "Wow, what is that?" and the answer is "Everything." I just don't know everything. It's much more enjoyable being an actor. You can be a lot more lazy.
What kind of roles are you looking for next?
Um, paying roles. That's the kind I like.
['Friday Night Lights' producer] Peter Berg is doing the Navy SEAL film 'Lone Survivor' next, any chance you'd want to work with him on that?
Absolutely. I know Marcus Littrell and he's an incredible young man. If anybody can read that book without crying ... it's pretty incredible. And Pete Berg is one of the better people I've met in Hollywood. I think that story will be terrific in his hands and it'll be a honest, true story.
Do you think there's a part in there for you?
I think there's plenty of parts, I just need to call Pete up.