Billy Bob Thornton / Derek Luke & Jay Hernandez
I never played high school football; in fact, I had absolutely no interest in football when I was in high school. Thats why Im grateful that I didnt grow up in Texas. Football is a religion there, and its disciples follow it with monk-like fervor at schools throughout the Lone Star State. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS tells the true story of one such school, the Permian Panthers of Odessa, and their quest for the Holy Grail of Texas high school football: the state championship.
Co-starring in the film are two rising young stars, Jay Hernandez and Derek Luke. Hernandezs first break came when he got busy with Kirsten Dunst in CRAZY/BEAUTIFUL; Lukes when he got busy with Denzel Washington in ANTWONE FISHER. Check out what they had to say about making FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, opening this Friday.
If you are not obsessed with football, how challenging is it to get into a movie like this?
Hernandez: I wasn't obsessed with football before this. I was into the game. I grew up in LA. I sort of watched the Raiders play and that sort of thing. But in film you always watch situations or stories that you really have no relation to. A lot of times just because there's no personal connection doesn't mean you can't connect with the film or the characters in the film.
What attracted you to this project?
Hernandez: I read the book initially. I just connected with it. I though it was a unique story. It was based in reality, so it wasn't like it had to be worked on. It was truth already. And then after meeting Peter and understanding what he wanted to do with it and how he wanted to make it as real as possible and just how it all came together. It seemed like a good role for me. Brian Chavez was the kind of unique character, I think, because everybody seemed to be caught in some way by the football phenomenon out there, all the players on the team, and he was the one guy who was able to see beyond football and able to achieve a higher level of education and really do something with his life, not that the other guys didn't. But for him there was more to life than just football and I thought that was cool.
Luke: I was not as interested in playing Boobie because I thought like it was a tragedy. And I talked to my wife about it and asked for her perspective and she was like the reason why as I read and as I started listening to Tina, it's not like they had to pull my teeth to play it. It was just I wanted to understand more about this character so I can sink my teeth into it the way I'm supposed to. The number one reason why I wanted to play Boobie Miles is that I just felt like one- you may come from the worst situation in life but life still holds your responsibility for your character, still holds your responsibility for your talent and you may not have an adult, you may not have a race or color of whatever to guide you but you still held responsible. When you go to court you get in trouble you still responsible for your own life and I felt like that part of the story I wanted to be involved in and I wanted to show that it's okay to be talented but look and make a choice of your own as far as some of the things you should and shouldn't do.
Jay, with this and Ladder 49, you worked with two big ensembles. Can you compare the experiences?
Hernandez: Two very different experiences. For Ladder 49 we went to the fire academy and stayed there for, I don't even know how long, but it was a good amount of time we spent training and doing everything that the firefighters do. And then after that we rode with the fire trucks and stayed overnight, went out on calls, and experienced how it is to be a firefighter and that was a very interesting experience. I gained an appreciation for firefighters especially that they had a lot of the lime light after 9/11 and what happened to them. I gained a new appreciation and this was a totally different thing. It was Texas football, something that I didn't really know how intense it was. I'd heard about Texas football and how much of a religion it is, but to go to Odessa and experience it first hand is something different than just hearing about it.
Did you learn more about conditioning, keeping in shape?
Hernandez: Well a lot of times with acting you do things you've never done before. Whether it's sword fighting or throwing a ball or martial arts or something, the range is really endless. All the people in those fields have something to teach us. It's like we're the students at that point. Although they may feel awkward in front of the camera, we sometimes feel awkward doing the physical things that they do very professionally. So it's just kind of a learning processes. We teach them a little bit. They teach us.
Derek, whats your athletic background?
Luke: I was mentally athletic. I had to work. No that's not true. I always wanted to act, to tell you the truth. The only time I act athletic was when I was around guys who were athletic, you know what I'm saying, because people go, "Black man you don't play no ball?" and I'm like, "Man, whatever." I always knew what I wanted to do because in the world of what I wanted to do I can do what you do great for like four months. But I didn't say that to them.
Did you interact at all with the actual people you portrayed? How are they doing now?
Hernandez: I think Brian, my character, I think he's done pretty good with his life. He went to Harvard and studied and became a lawyer, actually came back to Odessa. He left a small city and something about that city drew him back to his home town and he now has a law firm out there and he's doing pretty good for himself.
Luke: My character, Boobie that I portray, sometimes I get angry, sometimes playing him because I felt like it wasn't fair because he had this God-given gift. But at the same time he had this gift, he was pushed out there to perform like a man, but he really didn't have the ingredients to nurture his talent. You can't just nurture your talent on finding out with like weights and theatre class. You've got to nurture it with character.
I noticed in one scene you were standing next to the real Boobie Miles. What was that like?
Luke: Awkward. Hard. Mostly every scene that I had that was like a major scene, mostly done in Odessa. What happened that the real Boobie Miles lived (there) and was also on set almost every day. I looked up and go "Man, where is Denzel at?" The only reason why I said that is that Denzel played so many real-life characters and on Antwone, a lot of things he told me just kind of ran off my back. I didn't know why he was saying, "I'm going to give it to you the first couple of weeks without Antwone Fisher present." But when Boobie was there it was awkward. At the same time Coach Gaines played by Billy Bob he was giving those speeches. I was reacting to Boobie's reaction because the camera was panning back and forth. I saw him getting emotional and sometimes he would leave the room. So it made me look at the character in a new perspective. He's a big boy.
What was it like shooting in Odessa? I imagine it was pretty hot.
Hernandez: Yeah it was hot at times, and it was cold at times - very cold. I remember when we were practicing, we trained for about six weeks, you know football camp, and getting there in the morning it was freezing cold and we had to throw the pads on. It was pretty uncomfortable at times but it was good shooting in Texas. A lot of the people were very excited about the film. We had a great crew and I think going to Odessa was pretty important because you can read about it, you know I read the book, and you can hear about it but to actually go there and to see how small the town is and then see how committed they are to the game of football. I think it helped all of us. Just to see the stadium itself. To go there and to see this multi-million dollar stadium in this tiny little town is pretty impressive.
Can you guys relate to how these kids were seen as celebrities in their town?
Luke: I felt like at a point there was nothing wrong with being pushed to excellence. But being pushed to excellence without enjoying a childhood is a little something different. That's the only thing that helps remind me. When Im looking at mentors asking questions, to continually be me no matter what the movie has done - will do - at the box office. Again, how they perform on the filed. That's the only way I can compare it, because everywhere we went in a town in Odessa everybody knew this character of mine and they talked. They talked about the game with intensity. I was like "Wow that's amazing." This is cool and the kids dream of being pushed at sports not academics as much. I felt like that was pretty interesting.
Hernandez: I think there is a lot of pressure on these kids. We are a little older. We're not in high school anymore and we've had a little more life experiences to help us better understand what were going through in terms of stardom and recognition. And these kids were 17, 18, somewhere around there and they had a lot of pressure. They had this whole town pushing them to succeed and to win and if they didn't win they were failures and were just forgotten as quick as that and that a lot to have on your shoulders. How are you going to concentrate on academics when you have all this pressure? I mean it's pretty impossible. But it's part of their culture and the small town of Odessa. They didn't have much more to sort of uplift them so when you go there you kind of understand why there was so much pressure to succeed on the field.
Can you talk about working with the director, Peter Berg?
Luke: Peter was intense man. There was never a loose moment, a loose ball that he didn't count on camera I mean. Every time that I would come in and I would have my objective about Boobie Miles, for just that day, he would always intensify it. Even if I was just standing on the sidelines he was like, "No, it was more than that it's Football. It's war, it's war!" I'm like, "No we're not, man. We're playing football." No, I didn't say that, but he was so intense and he would have one end of the field -- he would have me and Garret, our characters, he would have us fighting and then as were fighting we were getting into it, he was like "Shut up, shut up, shut up," then he would pan down to the rest of the field. I was like, "Yo man, hey man, Im method. I'm getting into the fight." He was like, "Look man, I got the shot. I'm moving on." So it was intense.
Hernandez: Yeah, he answered it man. Peter is pretty intense. And the thing is, he's an actor so he has a different perspective than somebody who is behind the camera their whole career. He'll kind of just throw things at you and keep the camera rolling and say "Now do this," and you kind of do it on the fly and I think it keeps it sort of raw and real and that's I think what he was shooting for on this film. That's the story. It's raw.
What were the training sessions like?
Luke: Mine was that we would do two a day. In the morning you had to put heat pads on your knees and your body to get warmed up because it's cold outside. And then after three or four hours we would have to go and have lunch and come back for another. So we would have to in the beginning of the day we would have to put heat pads on. At the end of the practice you would put ice on your knee. When you come back from lunch you put heat pads on your knee, and the thing about it was it was so cold outside your walking around with tapes of ice around your knee. So I was acting like a baby and I was looking at the other football players to see whether I should say something. Everybody just seemed cool.
Did either of you get injured?
Luke (to Hernandez): You got hurt.
Hernandez: Yeah, I got hurt. I was I think the only one. One of the biggest guys out there, this guy O.J, he just I don't know what happened. It was kind of a scuffle that took place after a play and he fell on my leg and I heard a big pop. I thought it was broken because this guy was just massive. And I ended up getting x-rays and it was all right, just had a pretty bad sprain. But I did take hits too and gave a couple of hits. It was hard when it was 5 am you've been waiting for so long that I fell asleep. So they woke me up and I ran to the set we were trying to get this shot off before the sun came up and it was kind of painful.
Did anybody see stars?
Luke: I did. But it was only when I fell by myself.
Hernandez: You know what that turf was so hard. The turf is horrible to run on.
Luke: It's like asphalt. I was running and I thought I was making this great play and there was nobody bothering me and I felt there was like a ditch in front of me. The ground and we met, face-to-face. And that was the hardest hit I ever had since we were on the field.
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