Over the last three seasons, there are few times that I can remember where I was and what I was doing the first time I read an episode of Friday Night Lights. The ones I can remember are somewhat random: Episode 104, “Who’s your Daddy,” August 7, 2006 (these dates are approximate so don’t get all “Smoking Gun” on me). I was sitting in my car, outside a coffee shop in Austin and blasting my AC as I battled a 100-plus degree wave (welcome to Texas). Episode 201: “Last Days of Summer,” July 16, 2007. I was lounging in my hotel room at the Beverly Hilton in L.A. (trying to resist the mini bar), and getting ready for NBC’s TCA convention later that evening.
But I’ll never forget where I was when I read episode 304, “Hello, Goodbye.” August 5th 2008. I remember coming home after getting some grub on another record hot day, which by now I had actually gotten used to. As I came up the stairs, I saw a package on my doorstep watching me, waiting for me…though I had also been waiting on it.
It was pretty easy to fall back into the rhythm of filming the show. I quickly reacquainted myself with the sights and sounds of Austin/Dillion and our outstanding cast and crew…but it was all of course all bittersweet. For as early as July, the announcement had been made that “the Smash” would only be around for a limited engagement. So from the beginning of season 3, there was always a lovingly sentimental vibe that trailed me on set.
Now the only question was, how would it occur? Jason Katims, our brilliant head writer, had given me some bullet points as to the overall arc of the four episodes, but he was keeping the details air tight. Now here’s a little TV production “inside baseball.” The crew of the show always gets a production draft of any given script ahead of the actors. And if you got a friend on the other side of the line, they’ll keep you informed in the gap as to what’s coming down the pipe. We had already started shooting episodes 1 and 2 of the new season and my sources were telling me I should be getting episode 3 any day.
As I picked up the package in my doorstep that night, I found thatnot only did I get episode 3, but I also got the long awaited, muchanticipated episode 4 – the final chapter in Brian’s saga. I rememberliterally sitting on the edge of my seat reading those episodes intothe wee hours of the night. I flew through episode 3, but when I pickedup 4 I remember pausing for a moment – wondering if I should read it nowor save it for the morning. I decided to go ahead and push the plunger,reading each page on that episode unusually carefully. I was like a kidreading his favorite bedtime story to himself for the first time – whoinstinctively knew the plot and characters but savoring each letter onthe page. And then I saw the last words of the script “Goodbye SmashWilliams.” I stared at those words for a long time, and then all Icould whisper was “Amen.”
As the next few weeks played out, I was hit with some genuineflashbacks from high school. Did you ever mull over that corny subtextat the end of a school year or just before graduation? “This is thelast time I’m gonna use my locker.” “This is the last time I’m gonnaeat lunch in the cafeteria.” “This is the last time I’m gonna see myfriends together.” Well, those moments started to take their place, butfor most part there was no sign of sappiness.
Shooting the last scene at the Williams’ house stands out in mymind. I remember laughing it up with my TV family – Corrina Williams(played by the incomparable Liz Mikel, a legend to the fans) and mytwo sisters (Brittany “Nieko” Mann and Whitney McCauley) – as we recappedall the anecdotes and bloopers that took place while bringing ourfamily’s journey to life.
In fact, it really didn’t hit me at all until I filmed my final scenewith Kyle Chandler. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we filmed it on myfinal day on set and it was the last setup of the night. I remembersitting in my trailer, trying figure out: What exactly should I play?How much should I play it? All that “actor stuff” that goes out thewindow when you realize life has given you everything needed to capturethe truth of those vulnerable moments.
Ever since the show premiered on Direct TV last year, I have tried tofind the words to sum up how I’ve felt about having the opportunity toportray Smash Williams. And now that it has premiered on NBC, I findmyself stumped once again. Blessed, honored, grateful, humbled, that’sa start. In fact, the only tough thing about having to say goodbye tothe show (at least as a regular) is having to say goodbye over and overagain, lol. But maybe that’s just a sign that my experience as Smashwill live on in the heart and minds of us all for a very, very longtime. So where was I when I ended my run as a series regular on FridayNight Lights? Only at the beginning….
Oh yeah, one more thing, “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. CAN’T LOSE!!”