After nearly half a decade dabbling in film roles and passing on television ones, Kyle Chandler is back on your TV screen.
On March 20, Netflix drops 13 episodes of the Friday Night Lights star’s next act, a decidedly darker drama series entitled Bloodline from the trio behind Damages. “It’s a riveting, superbly cast slow-burn family drama … serving up startling moments in meticulously measured doses,” wrote THR critic David Rooney of the Florida Keys-set noir, adding of its Emmy-winning lead: “The return of Chandler and his warm gravitas to complex TV drama will be cause for rejoicing for Friday Night Lights fans, and this looks to be a juicy role for him.”
In anticipation, I flew to Austin in early February for an expansive interview with Chandler, which resulted in a Feb. 25 cover story. Over the course of the reporting process, which entailed a few bars, multiple drinks and a sight-seeing tour of his Texas neighborhood, not to mention a dozen or so interviews with past and present colleagues and friends, much was gleaned about the Bloodline star. Below are 18 things — from his skills in the kitchen to the role that “scared [him] to death” — that didn’t find their way into the cover story.
1) If you believe the Chandler family lore, the actor was conceived at a New Year’s Eve martini party back in 1964. Having done the math, Chandler’s maternal grandfather wrote his mother a letter that said something along the lines of, “If it’s a boy, you need to name him ‘Martini.’ If it’s a girl, it needs to be ‘Olive.'” His parents settled on Kyle Martin Chandler.
2) Ask Chandler’s buddies to recount great days with the actor, and the stories often will include some variation on motorcycles, booze and long talks. Fellow FNL alum Taylor Kitsch had a few about the day trips he and Chandler would take on their bikes, stopping in tiny towns to have a beer and “talk about life.”
3) The most common descriptors for Chandler? “Great guy.” “Family man.” “Low-key dude.” His Bloodline co-star and close buddy Jamie McShane would add “extremely generous.” On their Netflix series’ Florida set, he’d be the one to host the BBQs for the cast and crew and would offer up his home, his boat and his Jeep at a moment’s notice. “He’d always buy all the food, fill up the boat and pay for things for people, too, and I remember I wanted to fill up his boat for him one time. I thought it would be $50, but it was like $250, and I just paid it. When he found out, he gave me hell about it,” McShane recalls. Later, the duo plus their co-star Ben Mendelsohn were headed to a local sports shop and Chandler had encouraged him to buy a pair of $250 sunglasses that were particularly great for being out of the boat. McShane goes on: “I tried them on and they were incredible, but if you know me you know there’s no way I’m spending more than $50 on shades so I skip them. We walk out of the store a few minutes later and he throws a bag at me. It’s the $250 shades. I go, ‘You shouldn’t have brought me that!’ And he goes, ‘You shouldn’t have paid for the gas!'”
4) Chandler and his FNL co-star Connie Britton, with whom he’s remained tight, shared many traditions during their time on the NBC drama. Before each episode, they’d meet at Jo’s Coffee in Austin to read over their scenes together, which often were ad-libbed. (Chandler says there were “a lot of times when [showrunner] Jason [Katims] would send us something where we’re loving and tender to each other, we would go the opposite direction. And then when we were fighting, we’d go the opposite direction.” He adds, “It was fun, and no one ever complained.”) When they ended early, which happened regularly, they’d head over to Guero’s for “the purist” margaritas. “We always had to figure out how we were getting home,” jokes the actress.
5) Chandler proudly admits that he became the go-to chef on the FNL set. When they were filming at the Taylor house — an actual house, rather than a set piece — he’d willingly whip up breakfast for the cast and crew. Chandler’s specialty: bacon sandwiches.
6) What’s the most frequent question Friday Night Lights‘ fans ask Chandler? “‘Is Taylor Kitsch really as cute as he is onscreen?'” says the actor, in an overtly high-pitched, semi-mocking tone. Ironically, Kitsch says “nine times out of 10” fans who stop him want to hear about Chandler’s Coach Taylor: “‘Is he the real deal?'” says Kitsch, adopting the same tone. “‘Is he really like he was onscreen?'”
7) Plenty of FNL fans also come up to him hoping he’ll utter one of the series’ famed lines (think “Clear eyes, full hearts”) or take selfies with him, and Chandler’s a good sport about both. But he does draw the line: “The thing that really just hurts the hell out of me is when people hold their phones pretending like they’re not taking pictures of you,” he says. “I immediately walk over and say, ‘Hey, let me see that’ and I take a picture.'”
8) Though many of his FNL co-stars popped up on Katims’ Parenthood, including Michael B. Jordan, Minka Kelly and Matt Lauria, the option was never presented to Chandler. “I only [cast an FNL alum] if I felt like I had a role on that show that was good enough,” says Katims. “When we had that role for Matt Lauria or Michael B., I felt like those were really roles where I could come to them with my head held high and say, ‘Hey, would you want to do this?’ I didn’t want to go to Kyle and ask him to do something that wasn’t that.” (Truth be told, Chandler didn’t watch much Parenthood, and was surprised to hear Scott Porter turned up for the series finale.)
9) When it comes to TV, Chandler’s more of a Game of Thrones guy. He’s a big fan of old movies on TCM, even silent movies, and says he’s gotten into binge-watching, a habit formed years earlier as he and his wife were blowing through 24. “My wife had me driving all around Los Angeles finding Blockbusters that had the cassettes,” he recalls with a smile.
10) As far as film work goes, Chandler’s résumé is lined with a mix of prestige hits (Argo) and indie fare (The Spectacular Now). The latter, he admits, “scared [him] to death.” When pressed, he says it was because there wasn’t much on the page, forcing him to dig deeper with the damaged character. “I was so nervous about it that after we’d shot it [in Georgia], I went to my hotel room, packed my stuff up real quick, got in my car and drove straight back to Texas,” he says of the 23-hour journey. “I was nervous for a while. Until I saw it and then I was like, ‘Oh, that was pretty good!'”
11) Chandler, who doubles as a volunteer firefighter and isn’t much for the Hollywood scene, jokes that he was secretly hoping he’d be called off to duty during the 2011 Emmys. “I was nervous about going, and there were some fires going on at that point in California, and I thought maybe I’d get called out,” he says. “That would’ve been a good excuse not to have to go, and then I wouldn’t have to deal with those nerves.” He’s glad he went, of course, since he won in the ultracompetitive best drama actor category.
12) Speaking of Emmy night, he holds no grudge about the fact that neither his longtime agent nor manager were there to see him win. In fact, he just chuckles when I suggest that the pair, to whom he’s fiercely loyal, still harbor guilt. As for the honor, he jokes that the only family member impressed was his wife of nearly 20 years. “My wife was very proud,” he says. “To the kids, it’s just something that’s in the way of their trophies from soccer and softball.”
13) Though there’s plenty of time to catch up on Netflix, his now-teen daughters were not avid FNL watchers. In fact, the only project he remembers his girls being impressed by was King Kong, and that may be just because it brought the family to New Zealand. “Peter Jackson and his wife gave them the grand tour of the Lord of the Rings [sets], so dad was a hero on that one,” he says, adding of the early years on FNL when he was still commuting from Los Angeles. “When dad had to go to Texas [before the family relocated] and he’d be gone for a long time and then came home without presents in his bag, dad’s a bum.”
14) In his early days in L.A., where he lived for some two decades before settling in Texas, Chandler studied with famed acting teacher Milton Katselas. “He taught you not how to act, but what’s holding you back from acting,” he recalls. (In those very early years, Chandler paid the bills by bouncing, bar tending and hocking souvenirs at the Museum of Natural History in L.A.)
15) Chandler loves the idea of a collaborative set, and got very comfortable ad-libbing during his time on FNL. He credits creator Pete Berg for instilling him with the confidence required to not only speak up but riff when appropriate. “When we first started, Pete literally said, ‘This is a physical sport. You’re going to do battle with the writers, you’re going to do battles with the other actors, everyone in a good-natured way is going to go fight,'” recalls Chandler, adding: “And what we came out of that with was a promise to ourselves that we were going to take that [philosophy] with us.”
16) Among the appeals of Bloodline for Chandler was a role and a world that differed from that of Coach Taylor and FNL. Having passed on dozens of projects in the few years following FNL, he says he was struck by the Bloodline pitch: “I’d been wanting to do something that was different, that had a little bit of darkness to it maybe and an edge to it.” (Co-creator Glenn Kessler flew to Austin to meet with him before writing the pilot script, which allowed him and his two co-creators to craft the character around Chandler, much as they had done with Glenn Close on Damages years earlier.)
17) But Bloodline wasn’t without challenges. The show had to go on a brief hiatus when the writers fell behind with scripts, so production ran longer than planned. Plus, it was being filmed in the Florida Keys, which offered the added complexity of heat, humidity and myriad mosquitos. Of course, ask Chandler about the locale and he’ll tell you he had a blast. “If you like boating, spearfishing, skin diving and that kind of thing, it’s awesome down there,” he says, “a sportsman’s paradise.”
18) If he had to choose, Chandler is more of a TV guy. “I like the idea of family, of knowing and growing with people over time the way you get to do with TV,” he explains, acknowledging that movies often are more nerve-racking for him. “The first films I did were awkward because you’re going to a set halfway through the shoot, so you don’t really get to know the people. I felt like I was getting on a speeding train: You grab on real quick and once you’re done they shove you off the other side.”