When you think of NBC's Friday Night Lights, you probably immediately think that it is a show for football fanatics. This new drama (which despite its title airs Tuesday nights at 8 pm/ET), however, really delves into the lives of the assorted people in the community who are affected in some way by the high-school football team, from the coach's wife to the fallen quarterback who was paralyzed during the first game of the season. TV newcomer Scott Porter stars as Jason Street, the attractive and popular QB who is currently confined to his hospital bed, if not life in a wheelchair. TVGuide.com spoke with Porter, who recently costarred in the energetic off-Broadway hit Altar Boyz, to find out if Jason still has all the right moves when it comes to his cheerleader-girlfriend, Lyla.
TVGuide.com: I'm a big fan of the show even though I honestly don't know much about football.
Scott Porter: That's what we're trying to let everyone know. You don't have to be a football fan to watch the show.
TVGuide.com: When you took this part, did you know that at the end of the first episode, Jason was going to be lying in a hospital bed?
Porter: Yeah, that's kind of the big reason that I wanted it.
Porter: This was my first pilot season and before I auditioned, I had been doing musical theater in New York. I auditioned for other musicals and I got an offer for Tarzan on Broadway and I turned it down. A [producer] asked me why and I said, "It's my first pilot season and I don't want to be in a year contract with no way out. I want to see if I can apply myself in a different field." And he's like, "You don't want to do TV, you'll just be the fourth handsome guy from the left on some WB show." I took that statement and used it as a word of warning. When I was reading through scripts for pilots I was really intrigued by Jason and how he was going to be more than just the quarterback. The typical quarterback you see in these shows and these movies is cocky and brash, but Jason is just not like that. He's a humble kid and now he gets this great emotional challenge. It is a much different place for me to go [as a young actor].
TVGuide.com: Will Jason be sticking around even though he's not in the games?
Porter: Oh, yeah. The thing is that Friday Night Lights is about the town and the people in the town. It is more about Dillon than about football, which is just the backdrop. You have perimeter characters that are going to be involved for the entire run of the series who are in no way involved in football, but at the same time are dragged into the mania of it.
TVGuide.com: You are shooting in Texas. Have you experienced any real high-school football obsession?
Porter: The town that we shot in, Pflugerville, has a population of 14,000 and the turf at their high-school football field cost $1.8 million. Just for the turf. The stadium seats 15,000 and the population is only 14,000. There's a school near Forth Worth called South Lake and there is a five-year waiting list to get tickets. Just because you are the parent of a player doesn't mean you get tickets. If you have a kid in fifth grade, you've got to sign up. It might as well be [for] a pro team.
TVGuide.com: Were you a fan of Friday Night Lights, the movie?
Porter: I was a huge fan, and I saw it twice in the theater. I saw it once, and then immediately called a bunch of my friends from high school to see it again. I played high-school football, and while we never won the big kit and caboodle, we went to the state semifinals two years in row. I had three future NFL players on my team, and I was an offensive wide receiver.
TVGuide.com: Sorry, I still don't know all the positions. What did you do?
Porter: [Laughs] I was the wide receiver I caught the ball. I caught the game-winning touchdown to send us into the playoffs my senior year. That was the last play of the game and I caught the touchdown pass. I had that game-winning moment that every kid dreams of when they are younger, so it was easy for me to walk away from the sport at that point.
TVGuide.com: How'd you go from that to dancing and singing in musicals?
Porter: My mom is a singer and my dad is a drummer, so there was always music in my house. I was always in entertainment, I was in an a capella group, we wrote and arranged our own music and promoted ourselves. Then I got my first job at Disney singing; by the time I left Orlando I knew just about every show at every theme park in Orlando.
TVGuide.com: What was the most embarrassing character you played?
Porter: My first gig was the Happy Campers, a children's sing-along group, and I did beatboxing. It was pretty embarrassing. I've done it all I was a pirate in a stunt show. I was Dracula and Frankenstein and the Wolf Man in Ghostbusters at Universal Studios; at Tokyo Disneyland I played Pierre the Mardi Gras king.... Then I went to New York.
TVGuide.com: What are the specific challenges of acting from a hospital bed?
Porter: One thing that makes it a little easier are the props like the neck brace, but I never realized how difficult it would be to act without being able to move. I've had to really focus on making sure that my eyes are the only thing that is moving. I've been involved in these productions that are so active and even in the pilot to be playing football and then to be in this bed. But there is some emotional depth that I get to show with this story line. He starts moving around a little bit more, but it is a pretty permanent injury. You'll see that journey as he rehabs. I just finished Episode 9 and I was really active in that.
TVGuide.com: So at least you are out of the bed.
Porter: [I'm now] in a chair, but I won't be lying down for the entire season. It is so important for us, me and [FNL creator] Pete [Berg] to keep everything as realistic as possible for the kids out there who are really going through this. It is really more of an epidemic than I think people realize. Over 10 high-school students a year become paralyzed through sports, just in Texas alone. We want to make sure it is real, that they can say this show is doing what they go through justice and it opens people's eyes to what these kids are going through. We're focused on making it as genuine and honest as it can be. It will be painful at times to watch, but at other times it will be rewarding. I think you'll be really rooting for him. All of a sudden Jason has become an underdog.
TVGuide.com: Have you met with any kids who have been paralyzed?
Porter: When I was doing character research I went to a rehab facility in Austin and met one guy in his mid-20s who became paralyzed by just lifting a box. He just tweaked it wrong and a blood clot had formed and when he bent over, it smushed his spinal cord and then he couldn't walk. I met an 18-year-old kid who had just graduated high school and had gotten his professional bull-riding card when he was bucked in the pen and hit his head against a metal door. Now he is a partial quadriplegic. They really were so helpful, and both of them had different attitudes about it, but they both were appreciative of how we were going about telling the story and how we were really dealing with it.
TVGuide.com: I've got to know what's going on with Jason and Lyla?
Porter: Well.... The great thing about Jason and Lyla is that they really do love each other. As young and immature as that love may be, they really do have strong feelings for each other. They are more than just that surface couple. I don't think [they got together] just because he was the star quarterback and she's the head cheerleader. They have known each other since kindergarten and have grown up together and have dated for a while and it just feels right to them. But they are definitely going to be hitting some speed bumps. There are going to be some issues. I think Jason is dealing with his paralysis better than everyone around him. He's come to grips with it already, but everyone else is in shock. Lyla is especially affected by that.
TVGuide.com: In last week's episode, she still seemed optimistic about Jason's future.
Porter: Yeah, she went online and found this remarkable story about this one guy who was paralyzed and is playing basketball again, and Jason's just not [in the same situation].
TVGuide.com: Anything else exciting coming up?
Porter: There are going to be some more football players introduced, and there may or may not be a new quarterback coming into play to kind of put Saracen back in an underdog role. It is not going to be an easy road for [Jason's replacement] Matt Saracen. There are also some new characters introduced into Jason's life so he doesn't just sit there feeling sorry for himself, and there may or may not be a little bit more adultery and cheating going on in the near future. I can't tell you involving which characters, but keep an eye out for it.