Chandler also graced the big screen in King Kong and The Day the Earth Stood Still. When director Peter Berg originally met him, he offered him a role in a television series based on his hit film, Friday Night Lights. The two forged quite the working friendship as Chandler then landed a part in The Kingdom, also directed by Berg.
The television series Friday Night Lights centers around a small town with big values, both in football and in life. After he garnered critical success for his Emmy-nominated role on Grey’s Anatomy, the character of Coach Taylor seemed tailor-made for Chandler: deep, thoughtful, and trustworthy. When he got the part, it became clear right away that he was the best man for the job. “Working with Kyle on FNL is wonderful in many ways,” co-star Janine Turner asserts. “A) He is simply yummy to look at—I joke that he looks like the boy who was my high school crush! B) He is a first rate and committed actor. His Texas accent is perfect. And C) He is a good person with a great heart."
Playing a role model in a time when positive images are becoming more difficult to find on television isn’t easy. “The character is a lot more stable and fearless than myself,” Chandler confides. “That’s one of the reasons I love acting, because I get to be who I’m not. There’s a lot of my life in that role, even though this is the first time I’ve ever played a married character and father in detail. So it’s sort of like a chest of tools; it’s building up.” He indeed brings a lot of himself to this role. “I’ve been in a marriage for 13 years and I’ve never expressed on film how to deal with children and all the struggle. It’s a great relief and it’s exciting.” Aimee Teegarden, who plays Chandler’s daughter Julie on the show, recognized his authenticity right away. “The family dynamic on the set is not staged,” she explains. “Kyle is really someone you can believe in.”
The marriage he portrays with TV show wife Connie Britton is one of the most genuine on television. “A lot of that comes from the writing,” Chandler accounts for the chemistry. “It comes from the process and it comes from the trust with the actors. Sometimes, I can’t express to you how things are born out of the scenes that we do, but you know when it’s right.” Another unique aspect of FNL is the nature of the structure and drama. Watching the show almost feels like having a front row seat to a play, where the audience seems to be engaged in that fourth wall of acting. “When you get to run with that as an actor as opposed to having to guide yourself back down the path of how it’s designed to go, you’ve created something brand new and it goes moment to moment on the film,” he explains. “It’s true theater.”
The show also exposes the intricacies of playing a coach, a formidable role in an athlete’s life, which Chandler values immensely. “One of the coaches in town gave me the key, I think, to my character when he said, ‘A good coach has to love the players.’ As soon as I heard that, I really didn’t need anymore because that was the first part. Then [I] just had to determine what kind of teacher the coach would be. That occurred organically as the show progressed.”
In fact, much of the affection that comes through the show and its actors is genuine. “There are a few different reasons for me having a passion for the show,” Chandler says. “One of them is the process: it starts with the people, all the way down to the producers, the writers, and the actors. And say nothing of my love and admiration for the creator Peter Berg—that’s a whole other story. The other thing is this town; it’s one of the main characters as are the people in this town.” He is referring to working in Austin. “Having done the show here, one of the first things people did say after it aired was, ‘Thanks for representing people in the South with respect.’ That was the first idea that we were doing something really right,” Chandler explains.
Chandler and his wife Kathryn, whom he met at a dog park in Los Angeles, have both enjoyed working in Austin. “Every time we come to Austin, we fall a little more in love,” Kathyrn shares. “This city can do that to you.” They’ve grown so fond of the area that they have bought land west of the city to build a dream home and immerse themselves in the Hill Country. The Chandlers have two daughters, Sydney and Sawyer, who will be transitioning from Los Angeles to the Texas lifestyle when the show enters its fourth season.
“Hey, you don’t often get second chances in life and I enjoy playing [Eric] because he’s such a strong character and he’s got his idea of right and wrong—his moral compass,” he offers. “I like when he screws up and when he makes mistakes. I enjoy his humanity.” Beyond his good intentions, charitable ways, and family man persona, Chandler’s acceptance of flaws and the gritty part of life makes him real, good people and a real good actor.