ATX TV Festival has made a name for its self by bringing show creators, writers, and actors together in Austin, TX to talk about their shows and premiere new episodes. This past weekend, the festival brought in for the first time Audience Network’s Kingdom and screened last night’s episode in advance for the fans to enjoy. As well, the festival hosted the 10th year reunion for Friday Night Lights at Panthers’ Stadium with a pep rally, a short panel, and screened “The Son” episode underneath the Texas stars.
What do Kingdom and Friday Night Lights have in common? Matt Lauria. Lauria played the loveable country farmer and football star, Luke Cafferty on Friday Night Lights for the last two seasons. A few years later, Lauria got the role of Ryan Wheeler, a MMA Champion who’s getting ready to defend his title against Jay Kulina (Jonathan Tucker) on Kingdom.
During ATX TV Festival weekend, I had the opportunity to interview Lauria about Kingdom (WARNING: which includes spoilers of last night’s episode) and Friday Night Lights, and if those two shows would collide. (Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.)
Amy Martinez: What can we expect this season on Kingdom?
Matt Lauria: Going into Season 2B, if any characters had short footing, I would say this sort of foundation beneath all of them is really crumbling in a pretty rapid way. All of them are thrown really sharp, fast curve balls that just sends them spiraling. So that’s exciting. I think what we’ll see towards the end of season two (A) is some characters beginning to seem like they are getting some footing, and in Season 2B, that drops away.
Amy: What is your favorite thing about playing Ryan Wheeler?
Matt: My favorite thing about playing Ryan Wheeler is how difficult he is to read, how you never quiet know what Ryan is thinking, or what he’s going to do next. He’s just a very unusual man.
Amy: He has quite a temper and lost so much, do you think there’s going to be some light for him at some point?
Matt: I think Ryan is always walking a very precarious tight rope. I think he’s strives and he earnestly is a good boy at heart and strives to do well and do right. But outside his comforts, push him into a place of pretty hot, emotional extremes. I think he emerged from prison thinking he had all these expectations of rebuilding this life and doing it all over again and doing it all right and making good on his errors and making amends. But I think he’s been very dismayed by the fact that he hasn’t been able to click into a group really. It hasn’t been easy and nothing has felt safe yet. He’s never felt like nothing has clicked into gear yet. He just keeps walking this very treacherous path. It’s just been never easy whether it’s the Keith stuff, the murder, or whether it’s the Lisa stuff and ultimately Lisa losing her child, or whether it’s struggling just to get a good decent paycheck for fighting. Nothing has worked out so easily. So I think it drives Ryan into a very uncomfortable place, especially as a superstar. You have to maintain a superstar mentality, like he has to believe he’s the greatest fighter in the world or he cannot do what he does and those things really brought up against his ability of to have that confidence.
Amy: Speaking of Ryan needing to win, after seeing the episode, was the fight planned all long? And what was your reaction to Ryan losing?
Matt: I didn’t know Ryan lost the fight until I read the script. I don’t think our boss would tell us (before hand). The fight was planned. I mean they’re meticulously choreographed by Joe “Daddy” Stevenson and then Keith Campbell is our stunt coordinator, who makes sure that it looks good on camera, and that we remain safe. But I’m very invested in Ryan, so of course I didn’t like that he lost. And then if it wasn’t for Jay kicking his bum knee, he wouldn’t have lost.
Amy: Did Jonathan tease you or joke around with you about that?
Matt: No, we love each other and we’re such big fans of one another… Look, anything that elicits some emotional response for me personally as an actor, if losing the fight in the storyline elicits a sad or angry or disappointed emotion for me, Matt, that’s a good thing. That means I’m invested in the character and that means if I can’t bare, if I hated, which I do, I hate it when Ryan loses, then I know that’s good storytelling cause that means I’m locked in with it. If it bothers me, it’s hopefully something that resonates and it’s not something that’s just kind of tied up in a bow and fit for home consumption, ya know?
Amy: Are you allowed any improv on this show like you were in Friday Night Lights?
Matt: Not nearly as much as Friday Night Lights or Parenthood, but there’s an aspect to improv, I mean mostly what you see on the screen is what’s Byron (Balasco) has written and crafted so meticulously, but given the nature of the show there are elements of improvisation especially in the cage. If you’re, let’s say sitting outside of the cage, like I was cornering her (Alicia Mendez) in one of the fights and they just can’t write what the guys would say out of the cage cause on the day, let’s say you have four lines of ‘That’s right, Alicia! Push forward!’ Then you say your one line and you’re sitting there watching the fight happening and it just falls flats. So you have to have the license to be able to keep screaming, yelling, and coaching her. It’s similar in some party scenes. Then, Jonathan Tucker, with Jay comes with a lot of improv, and when I’m with Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Keith, he improvises a lot and throws a lot of curve balls.
Amy: Alicia Witt (from Friday Night Lights) was on your show, what was it like to see a familiar face?
Matt: Well, I didn’t really see much of her face. (Laughs) It was really sweet. I love Alicia and she’s great. She’s a ton of fun to work with and we were lucky to have her on the show. It was a little awkward. I mean you’re friends with somebody, it’s a little awkward at first making out with them and having sex with them on screen, because you’re buddies.
Amy: Is there anybody from the show (Friday Night Lights) you want to see on Kingdom?
Matt: You know who I’m dying to see on the show? Derek Phillips. I think Derek would be the most immaculate, kind of a sleazy promoter. He’s just so good at that kind of reel-y deal-y kind of character. So I think he would be great as that or as some horrible drug dealer or something. I think that would be amazing.
Amy: Maybe you guys can fender bench together again.
Matt: We would have to. (Laughs)
Amy: Moving on to Friday Night Lights. It’s been 10 years, why do you think the show continues to gain more fans since then and how does that make you feel?
Matt: There has been a lot of fans that come to the show after it’s been long off the air.
Amy: Yeah, with Netflix.
Matt: Yeah, that certainly helped. I think word of mouth has done a ton for the show. I think word of mouth spreading from the existing fans has really been the thing that brought in so many new fans because I think those are the people who convince fans who, or who would be fans and say ‘Oh no, I’m not into football, blah, blah, blah.’ I think the original fans and the fans who have seen it are the ones who draw those people in. I think what hooks people is Jason Katims’, the creators and show runners’, unparalleled gift for infusing heart, such beautiful hearts into the storylines and all the characters. He makes all the characters so real and people I think, myself included, get so hooked into the hearts in the characters and wanting to see them succeed and wanting to stand with them through all their trails and disappointments.
Amy: Where do you think Luke is now? Is he still in the army? Is he married with Becky?
Matt: I think Luke served his four years and then re-up for another four. Hopefully after his last four years of the military, he got married, had a couple of kids, and works at a local high school as a coach.
Amy: Taking over the Panthers?
Matt: I don’t know about that. (Laughs) Or a gym teacher or something like that. And hopefully that girl is Becky.
Amy: You were kind of introduced late into the series, was there anyone in the earlier seasons you would have liked to worked and have a scene with?
Matt: I always loved my scenes with (Tim) Riggins. We had a couple of them, but not many and I would have liked some more with him. I loved working with Derek Phillips. I would have loved to do scenes with Louanne (Stephens) and I would have loved to have gotten into a fight with VooDoo Tatum. Aldis Hodge is a great dude, great actor. I would have loved to work with him. You know what? I never had any scenes with Jason Street. That would have been awesome. Some many, look all of them. Like Tyra? I never had any scenes with Tyra. That would have been special.
Amy: I wonder how that would have worked with all the ones you listed.
Matt: I probably would have been really arrogantly hitting on Tyra, maybe a little drunk, you know when Luke is not (at) his best moments and would have been hitting on Tyra at a party and cause some havoc. I think Street would have come to her rescue and thrown me out of the party. Then I think Riggins would have been like ‘Hey, be cool, Street.’ and then they would have had a couple of beers.
Amy: Going back to improv, did you have any improv on the show?
Matt: There was tons of improv. It was it was explained to us from the very beginning that that was how we were supposed to work and that’s the way the show went. Make no mistake, the storylines were there and the scripts were beautiful, and detailed and they were there. Then there was always a certain aspect that was the unexpected and it really was a beautiful collaboration. There is a ton of improv. There were some fun stuff in the scene when we all got wasted, and we all burned ourselves with those brandings. There was some improv with me and Derek in the backyard when we were fender bending. There’s some good stuff.
Amy: I have to ask, was (the) ‘I traded my pig for you’ scripted?
Matt: That was scripted. That was a gem. All that, all those gems, those were finely crafted by the hands and minds of our extraordinary, gifted writers and Jason Katims .
Amy: Alright, my last question, this is the last (Friday Night Lights) reunion here (at ATX TV Festival), how does that make you feel and do you see the show reuniting somewhere else years later?
Matt: Perhaps. I can see that happening. I mean there’s gotta be something for the 20 year reunion or something, when we’re all way past high school and looking like it. (Laughs) That (reuniting years later) would be sweet.