What The Cast Of Friday Night Lights Is Up To Today

"Friday Night Lights" is an American treasure. Inspired by a true story about a West Texas high school football team, its first on-screen iteration was the 2004 film, which starred Billy Bob Thornton as legendary coach Gary Gaines, per Screen Rant. In 2006, NBC launched the TV series, with Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton headlining the cast as Eric Taylor, coach of the Dillon Panthers, and Connie Britton as his wife Tami.

"FNL" struggled in the ratings, despite the show's critical acclaim. Year after year, loyal fans rallied to keep it on the air for five seasons, per CBR. The series struck a chord with people in small towns all across America, where Friday night football is a favorite pastime. "Friday Night Lights" will "surely go down as one of the greatest television dramas ever," according to Odyssey

Of course, the show isn't just about football. It's about the players and the people around them, facing real-life challenges like racism, addiction, and mental health. More than anything, "Friday Night Lights" offers inspiration and hope. Coach Taylor would often tell his team, "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." It was his way of telling them to play with their hearts as well as their heads. The beloved series turned some established performers into household names and launched the careers of many others, including Taylor Kitsch and Jesse Plemons. We've got all the details about what this talented cast is up to today.

Kyle Chandler has his pick of plum roles

Kyle Chandler starred as the devoted family man and coach Eric Taylor on "Friday Night Lights." Chandler, who rose to fame on ABC's "Early Edition," worked closely with "FNL" producers on his scripts, sometimes cutting out his dialogue and saying it all with a look. Series creator Jason Katims explained to The Hollywood Reporter, "As much as any actor I've ever worked with, it was as much about what came between the lines as it was what he said."

After "FNL," the Buffalo, New York native picked up another sport, playing a young baseball player on ABC's "Homefront." Chandler next appeared in "Zero Dark Thirty," "Argo," and "The Wolf of Wall Street." All three movies were contenders for best picture. In the 2016 film "Manchester by the Sea," Chandler plays a father who knows he is going to die. "A lot of what my character goes through happens off-screen, but I still get to fill that in as an actor," he told Esquire in 2017.

Chandler also starred in the family-driven drama "Bloodline" for three seasons. And there was another part the actor couldn't turn down: George Clooney, who calls Chandler "one of my favorite actors," per "Men's Journal," cast him as an Air Force bombardier in "Catch 22," the 2019 adaptation of Joseph Heller's novel. "I was scared to death," Chandler admitted. "But my career has been full of these situations where I get opportunities you can't say no to."

Connie Britton moved from Texas to Tennessee

After her career-defining turn as Tami Taylor, Connie Britton moved on to another hit series. From "Friday Night Lights" to the bright lights of country music, she starred as Rayna Jaymes, "queen of country" on "Nashville" for five seasons. In 2012, Britton told NPR that the role in her first musical series was "hugely challenging." "There are many days that I think to myself: What was I thinking? I must have lost my mind."

Britton also nabbed the recurring role of Vivien Harmon, a cellist looking to rebuild her life, on "American Horror Story." Although she relished her time with Dylan McDermott on "AHS," Britton admitted to The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 that it's too scary for her to watch. In Bravo's true crime series, "Dirty John," she played Debra Newell, a successful woman looking for love. "She was conned by this guy who was just preying on her own ideas of herself as a woman, and who she should be as a woman," the actor told Us Weekly.

In 2022, Britton's role in Season 1 of HBO's Emmy-winning series "The White Lotus" earned her a fifth Emmy nomination. As successful CEO Nicole Mossbacher, Britton, along with her husband (Steve Zahn) and daughter ("Euphoria's" Sydney Sweeney), take a Hawaiian vacation that goes off the rails. "This woman is on paper so powerful and yet in her personal life actually so powerless," the Boston native told Vanity Fair. "That was fun to explore."

Taylor Kitsch landed in some big-budget films

Taylor Kitsch played troubled fullback Tim Riggins on "Friday Night Lights." The actor already had some impressive big screen credits before "FNL" ended, most notably as Gambit in 2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and the 2012 sci-fi action film "Battleship" with Alexander Skarsgard and Rihanna. Unfortunately, his first big blockbuster lead, as the titular role in "John Carter," was a $300 million disaster, per The Wrap.

But the actor soldiered on with more action flicks like "Savages" and "Lone Survivor." In 2014, he took a sharp left turn, playing a gay activist in Ryan Murphy's TV movie "The Normal Heart," based on the Larry Kramer play about the early days of the AIDS epidemic. "It was an opportunity to tell something that's bigger than all of us and still needs to be told," Kitsch told Time. He also starred in Season 2 of "True Detective."

In 2018, Kitsch played cult leader David Koresh in the miniseries "Waco," which he also executive produced. In the 2017 film "Only The Brave," Kitsch stepped into the boots of Chris MacKenzie, a wildfire specialist, also referred to as a "hotshot." MacKenzie died in the line of duty, along with 18 fellow firefighters, in the Yarnell Hill blaze back in 2013. "I didn't even know what a hotshot was," "The Terminal List" star shared with Vanity Fair in 2017. "The beauty of this job is you get to really envelop yourself in these kinds of beats."

Aimee Teegarden has played a variety of characters

Aimee Teegarden played Julie Taylor for six seasons on "Friday Night Lights." Teegarden was only 16 when she was cast, and it was the first pilot she had booked. "I had no idea what I was really stepping into," she told Nylon in 2016. "It's everything happening when it needs to happen and the right pieces sort of fall together." In 2011, she played Jenny Randall in "Scream 4.” She also co-starred with Dennis Quaid in the teen thriller "Beneath the Darkness."

On the CW's short-lived sci-fi series "Star-Crossed," Teegarden, as Emery, finds herself falling for an alien played by Matt Lanter. "Emery ... spends a lot of her life in and out of the hospital with an autoimmune disease, so she's a natural-born fighter." On ABC's "Notorious," Teegarden played an attorney trying to change the way media can impact high-profile trials. "The show overall is about how we live in a world where the justice system doesn't always yield a just result," she told Pop Culture

In 2022, Teegarden teamed up with "NYPD Blue" alum Gail O'Grady in Hallmark's "Heart of the Matter." She plays a woman who is just getting her career off the ground when she makes a life-altering mistake. Speaking to TV Fanatic about the role, she said, "I love to find material that I connect with, having really full characters and themes that touch on bigger matters."

Scott Porter played a bad guy on The Good Wife

On "Friday Night Lights," Scott Porter played Jason Street, the star quarterback who suffers a devastating injury in the first episode. The actor, who cut his teeth in "Altar Boyz," an off-Broadway musical, showed off his vocal prowess in the 2009 film "Bandslam" alongside Vanessa Hudgens. The opportunity to work with Rachel Bilson and Jamie King in the CW series "Hart of Dixie" checked all the boxes for Porter.

"It was nice to leave the drama behind and find a smart, intelligently written, lighter-toned comedy that was set in a place that could feel like a theater production," he told HuffPost. In 2011, Porter played Blake Calamar, an investigator who threatens Kalinda's (Archie Panjabi) job at Lockhart/Gardner on "The Good Wife," and Kalinda fans weren't having it. "I don't get more hate for any other role than Blake Calamar ... and it's because Archie [Panjabi] was so good as Kalinda, and I was messing with their Kalinda," Porter revealed to Entertainment Weekly.

Porter also played Detective Carol Corbett, Ella's love interest on Season 6 of "Lucifer." In a 2021 interview with Us Weekly, the married father of two said he always considers how his choice of projects will affect his family. The "Ginny & Georgia" actor, whose career took off after "Friday Night Lights," says he is now open to new ideas and fresh perspectives.

Adrianne Palicki is a butt-kicking action star

Adrianne Palicki played Tyra Collette, an over-sexualized teenager, on "Friday Night Lights" for three seasons. The Ohio native has earned her place as an action hero, and she has the battle scars to prove it. While shooting a scene for the 2012 reimagining of "Red Dawn” with Josh Peck, a grenade blew up in her face, Palicki told MTV News. "I burned [the side] of my face and my eyebrow was burned off, and my hair in that area ... I remember the A.D. at the time said, 'Can I do anything for you?' And I was like, "I just want tequilaaaaa."

Palicki, who likes doing her own stunts, trained hard for her role as Ms. Perkins in "John Wick" alongside Keanu Reeves. "So I've never been more sore in my life. But the coolest thing is that now, I know how to throw a grown man over my shoulder, which is pretty awesome," she shared with CBR. Palicki also joined the MCU, playing Bobbi Morse in the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" series and the "Marvel's Most Wanted" TV movie.

In 2017, Palicki took on a less injury-inducing role in "The Orville," starring alongside "Family Guy" creator Seth McFarlane as his ex-wife. The actor told Collider that nostalgia drew her to the sci-fi space dramedy. "I felt like I was watching a show from my childhood, in the late '80s, sitting there with my parents and having that hopeful, good feeling."

Minka Kelly is playing to her strengths

On "Friday Night Lights," Minka Kelly played Lyla Garrity, a cheerleader who dated two football stars. After "FNL," the actor's career hasn't exactly set the world on fire. Jason Katims cast her as Gaby, Max's behavioral aid on "Parenthood." "On the one hand, she's charming and easygoing, but she's also quietly forceful, which is something this role requires," Katims told Entertainment Weekly in 2010.

One of Kelly's standout roles was as Eve French in the 2011 "Charlie's Angels" TV reboot. Kelly, whose mom was a stripper, sometimes had to fend for herself, like Eve, who is an orphan. "I am an only child and I was raised by a single mother, and we moved around a lot. I understand what that's about," she explained to Collider. The actor also played Dawn Granger, a recurring character on the superhero series "Titans." "She's very strong and bad a*** and can take out a few people if need be," Kelly told WGNO in 2018.

In 2022, Esquire's 2010 "Sexiest Woman Alive" joined the cast of HBO's "Euphoria" in a role that was written specifically for her. Kelly plays Samantha, a mentor for Maddy, and the actor admits that she sees a lot of herself in the younger character. "I used to have a little bit of an attitude," Kelly told Vanity Fair. "I did my makeup like that in high school. I've also been in my share of toxic relationships."

Zach Gilford wanted bad boy roles after FNL

Zach Gilford played nice guy quarterback Matt Saracen on "Friday Night Lights." To follow that up, he took on a different type of role in ABC's "Off the Map," playing a doctor working in the South American jungle. "I was excited about this show because while he's not exactly the bad boy, I get to be a little less of the good guy at times," Gilford explained to TV Line in 2011. In the 2016 high school drama "Dare," the actor played another sensitive jock, starring alongside Emmy Rossum.

Gilford seems to have found a niche in the horror realm. In 2014, he starred in "The Purge: Anarchy" with his real-life wife Kiele Sanchez, followed by an acclaimed performance as Riley Flynn in Netflix's 2021 series "Midnight Mass." Gilford credits series creator Mike Flanagan, who "does the horror genre in a different way." Gilford added, "The word 'horror' is such a large umbrella and when we say it people are like, 'I don't like that,' but it's not gory. It's not even scary, it's just a little creepy, maybe."

In 2009, Gilford told New York Magazine he almost lost out on his breakout role on "Friday Night Lights." It was down to him and another guy, whose manager had double-booked him. "Legend has it [executive producer] Peter Berg said, 'Good, I don't want that kid anymore, I want that Zach kid.' Peter's crazy," Gilford added. "In a good way."

Jesse Plemons is at the top of his game

Jesse Plemons played Landry Clarke, Matt's nerdy best friend on "Friday Night Lights." He wasn't a star on the football field, but Plemons' acting career kicked into high gear after the show. He played psychopathic meth cook Todd Alquist on AMC's "Breaking Bad" and the sequel film. He earned the nickname of "Meth Damon" for the role because of his resemblance to Matt Damon, per Your Next Shoes. In 2016, Plemons earned his first Emmy nomination, playing Ed Blumquist in the second season of "Fargo," alongside his now-wife Kirsten Dunst as a killer couple.

In 2018's "Game Night" as Gary, a lonely cop, the actor proved he is every bit as good at comedy. BuzzFeed raved, "Plemons delivers one of the funniest movie performances of the last five years." In 2021, the actor spoke to The Guardian about his critically acclaimed role in the psychological thriller, "I'm Thinking of Ending Things." "I enjoy being pulled in different directions and going down all these rabbit holes," the Texas native said.

After playing an FBI agent in "Judas and the Black Messiah," Plemons found the role of a lifetime in Jane Campion's 2021 best picture winner "The Power of the Dog." His performance as George Burbank, a wealthy Montana rancher and brother of Benedict Cumberbatch, earned him an Academy Award nomination.

Gaius Charles has played a few football jocks

Gaius Charles, who played runningback "Smash" Williams on "Friday Night Lights," kept his cleats on for his follow-up gig, as another football player on USA's sports series "Necessary Roughness." Unlike the bold, confident Smash, Damon Razor is a talented athlete who questions his own self-worth. Speaking to Yahoo! in 2012 about the role, Charles explained, "My character is at the doorway to NFL success and somehow he feels like he doesn't deserve it."

For two seasons, Charles played Dr. Shane Ross on "Grey's Anatomy." The relentless surgical resident told his mentor Dr. Chang, (played by Sandra Oh), "I want to be in charge of my education, and I choose you. You can say no, but I will badger you until you say yes." In the 2017 TV series "Taken," Charles portrayed the leader of a Black Ops team. "He's part interrogator, part assassin, part detective," the actor said in an interview (via Cleveland.com).

Charles also appeared in "God Friended Me," "Roswell, New Mexico" and ABC's short-lived musical series "Queens." The actor, who is set to star in "Isle of the Dead," a spinoff of "The Walking Dead," looks back fondly at the "Friday Night Lights" character that launched his career. "I started out playing this stocky, standard jock football player, and then the story opened up into this amazing, nuanced, complicated, conflicted young man," he shared with TV Guide in 2008. 

Brad Leland is a diehard Texan

Brad Leland was born in Texas and played high school football there. Some of his early acting credits included a few guest spots on "Dallas," and he played Big Rig Bob in the 2003 horror film "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." When he showed up at his audition for "Friday Night Lights," filmmaker Peter Berg ended up casting Leland as a football booster in both the movie and the TV series.

"He came in with a big old cowboy hat and a pair of sneakers," Berg told Chron in 2009. "I liked his look. It was sort of Texas, but there was something unique." After "FNL," Leland appeared on the big screen in 2016's "Deepwater Horizon" and co-starred with Treat Williams in the 2019 adventure drama "The Great Alaskan Race." On "Veep," he played a U.S. senator who ran against Selina Meyer.

In 2017, the veteran theater actor returned to his roots, taking the stage for a Dallas Theater Center production of "A Christmas Carol." As he shared with The Dallas Observer, "I thought this is exactly what I'm supposed to do: Go back to the magic and the thing that brought me here." As for the TV show that made him famous, Leland told USA Football that the legacy lives on. "Not a day goes by where somebody doesn't come up to me and doesn't say 'clear eyes, full hearts.'... I think it will last for years after we're all gone."

Matt Lauria beefed up and geeked out for roles

Matt Lauria, who joined "Friday Night Lights" in Season 4 as Luke Cafferty, scored some meaty roles after his stint. On "Parenthood," he played Ryan, a soldier who has a relationship with Amber, played by Mae Whitman. Speaking to TV Guide in 2013, Lauria said he and Whitman clicked right off the bat. "Mae and I both, within the first couple of episodes, thought that we had really landed on something special. So we both put our whole hearts into it."

On the DirecTV series "Kingdom," Lauria portrayed an MMA champ who just got out of jail. On top of that, his ex-girlfriend is married to his close friend. "I just thought it was an interesting story of a guy who's a shell of himself," Lauria told Backstage in 2015. The actor went through boot camp training with UFC pros and gained 18 pounds of muscle for the role, per Men's Journal. In 2021, Lauria appeared on "CSI: Vegas" as lead investigator Josh Folsom.

"One of the most dynamic aspects of Josh is he knows how criminals think and behave: It's life or death; you can't afford to get caught or make mistakes and get busted," Lauria explained to Geek Girl Authority. The series holds a special place in Lauria's heart. "It just has this implicit meaning," he told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. "For me, it was such an honor to work on."

Stacey Oristano has a reason to love Gilmore Girls

Stacey Oristano played stripper Mindy Riggins on "Friday Night Lights." She has landed mostly small parts and guest-starring roles since then. But one well-known producer, Amy Sherman-Palladino, gave the actor two coveted roles. Sherman-Palladino, who created "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" and "Gilmore Girls," cast Oristano as a quirky fashion designer named Truly Stone on "Bunheads," a short-lived dramedy that premiered in 2012 on ABC Family.

Oristano said she picked up one very important skill for any Sherman-Palladino project. "I learned quickly that I could talk really fast and do really well with all the dialogue that they threw at me," she told The TV Junkies in 2015. The two women teamed up again in 2016 for the reboot, "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life." As she explained to TV Insider, when Sherman-Palladino emailed her, "Obviously you're going to be in it; I'm going to write you something," Oristano was overjoyed.

Other roles have included Trina on "Shameless," Nurse Frankie on "Grey's Anatomy," and Rebecca in the 2021 horror film "The Stairs." Oristano, who also performs on stage, said "Friday Night Lights" has "been the biggest thing that's ever happened to me," per Backstage

"I was only supposed to be in one episode in Season 1," she recalled to The TV Junkies. But "they asked me if I would do two more and it sort of took off from there."

Jurnee Smollett doesn't shy away from controversial roles

Jurnee Smollett was starring on TV and in films long before joining "Friday Night Lights" as Jess Merriweather. She played Denise Frazer on ABC's "Full House" when she was 4. Her breakout film role, at age 11, was in "Eve's Bayou." On "FNL," Smollett appreciated Jason Katims welcoming her input on her character's development. As she told W Magazine in 2021, there was one scene with Michael B. Jordan that wasn't working. "He [Katims] said, 'What would you do?' So I told him, and he said, 'Go do that. You know a 16-year-old Black girl better than I do.'"

After appearing in recurring roles on "Parenthood" and "True Blood," Smollett teamed up with screenwriter Misha Green in 2016, starring in "Underground," a historical series about the Underground Railroad. Many people urged the actor not to take the role in a "slave drama." Per Bustle, Green assured her it wasn't. "She said to me, 'This is actually a prison bust. This is the story of the revolution. This is the story of the uprising.'"

Green also co-created "Lovecraft Country," HBO's 2020 horror drama. Smollett received an Emmy nomination for her performance as Leti, a civil rights advocate who ends up being chased by racist terrorists and monsters. Vanity Fair called the series "a thrilling, chilling romp through America's racist past." Speaking to W Magazine, the actor confirmed, "Hell yeah, Leti's a superhero. You ain't gotta wear a cape to do extraordinary things."