Gaius Charles admits he was a bit hesitant when he was first approached to play a football player on Necessary Roughness. After all, Charles had already clocked serious playing time on the Dillon Panthers' high school football team as Brian "Smash" Williams on Friday Night Lights — a role he is still widely known for four years after leaving the series.
"My initial reaction was: 'Do I really want to play another football character?" Charles tells TVGuide.com. "And then I had the chance to look at the material and see how different it was from [FNL]."
Charles, 29, makes his Necessary Roughness debut Wednesday (10/9c on USA) as the New York Hawks' potential draft pick, college wide receiver Damon Razor. While Smash was loud, outspoken and a show-off who loved being the center of attention, Razor is soft-spoken, unassuming and seems perfectly content to stay under the radar. "I can play the cocky, bombastic, extroverted jock but what about the other guy?" Charles says. "What about the guy on football team who is struggling? Who is introverted and who is not so sure of himself?"
At first, Razor seems like a good fit for the New York Hawks — especially considering the questionable health of the team's star wide receiver, T.K. (Mehcad Brooks), who was shot last season. However, when Razor fails to live up to his stats during a visit to the Hawks' stadium before the draft, Dr. Dani (Callie Thorne) discovers that Razor may suffer from imposter syndrome — a psychological phenomenon where people feel like they are a fraud. "My character is at the doorway to NFL success and somehow he feels like he doesn't deserve it," Charles says.
Charles says he is a "fanatic" when it comes to researching roles, and did lots of reading — in addition to listening to NPR — to educate himself on the rare disorder. "It was something that I could identify with just as an actor who is also in a very intense business and has either seen that in friends or has brushed with it in my own journey," he says. "I thought that that was a cool role to play, but because the actual diagnosis is very rare, I had to find a way to make this guy distressed enough to really have the diagnosis, but also not overplay it to the point where it is either melodramatic or not real."
Just when it looks like the condition will sideline Razor's football dreams forever, Dr. Dani comes to the rescue. "Dr. Dani helps Razor frame his situation to a point where it's manageable for him and he can deal with his past," Charles says.
Watch this exclusive sneak peek as Dr. Dani helps Razor get it together on the field:
Surprisingly, one of Razor's biggest supporters on the Hawks will be his competition, T.K. "There's a touch of rivalry, there's a touch of camaraderie," Charles says. "By the fourth episode, you really see these guys come to have a respect for one another and have a really great rapport."
Although the two characters are worlds apart — T.K.'s larger-than-life persona is much more reminiscent of Charles' Smash than Razor will ever hope to be — Charles appreciates their differences. "You have one character who is a classic jock, but then you put a character from a similar ethnic background right next to him so you're not getting a stereotype of what being an African-American jock is," he says. "You are getting the other side of the coin."
That's not to say T.K. and Razor's friendship won't experience some fumbles along the way. "They both come to realize that they have different value systems in terms of how they handle their success and their fame and the pressures of being a professional athlete," Charles says. "When you're dealing with imposter syndrome, you're still trying to figure out how to present yourself and how to fit in. There are a lot of moments where you see Razor just trying to fit in and not be the new kid on the block. Unfortunately, T.K. doesn't let him do that very much."
In real life, Charles has come to "love and embrace" the notoriety brought on by his time on Friday Night Lights. But he's excited to show fans how far he can go. "When you add on a character like Razor — now you have two bookends," Charles says. "Hopefully what people will be left [with] is, 'Wow, what an incredible range this actor has. I wonder what else he can do. I wonder what else he can play. I wonder what his next choices will be."
Necessary Roughness airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on USA.