Connie Britton Is A Cool, Pushy Woman

We talked to the former matriarch of 'Friday Night Lights' about the notorious Faye Resnick, Hollywood Diversity, and being a cool mom.

Feb 6 2016, 6:55pm

Illustration Joan LeMay

The first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Connie Britton is probably the sun setting in a Texas sky high above a freshly manicured football field, the sound of players chanting "Clear eyes. Full Hearts. Can't lose," reverberating in the air.

She first stole our hearts as Tami Taylor, the quintessential matriarch of one of TV's all-time greatest couples on the critically-acclaimed NBC series Friday Night Lights, but now (in addition to singing her heart out weekly on ABC's Nashville), she's teaming back up with television genius Ryan Murphy (who cast her in the first season of his American Horror Story anthology series) to revisit one of the most talked-about criminal cases in American history.

Fresh off the premiere of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story last week, we sat down with Britton to discuss playing the infamous Faye Resnick, the surreal nature of playing real, living people, Hollywood's diversity problem, and being a mother on screen and off.

BROADLY: How has it been reuniting with Ryan Murphy on this show?
Connie Britton: Amazing. I really just love working with him. It's funny because I had heard that he was doing this and so I reached out to him. [Laughs] I'm just that kind of girl. I can be pushy when I want to be. I said, "Is there something on it that I could do?" and he was really excited about the idea too.

There aren't a huge number of female roles on the series, but he got really excited about the idea of me playing Faye [Resnick], and that's how it went down. It was so perfect for me to be able to dive into that.

I'll tell you, if you were a friend who stood by and watched another friend be abused and not really understand the degree to which it was happening until something like what happened to Nicole happened, that would be a pretty horrific sense of guilt and loss.

So you're playing this person who, obviously, really exists. She's got this notorious reputation. Did you do research on Faye? Did you read her books, watch interviews, or mostly just watch reruns of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills? Did you get to meet her?
I did all of that, except that I didn't get to meet her, which is too bad. I still would like to meet her, but it just didn't really work out.

It was interesting for me. It was really a different process for me than a lot of the other things that I've done. When I did the movie version of Friday Night Lights, I was playing Sharon Gaines who is also a real, living person. There's an extra pressure when you're playing someone who is alive and is a person that people can know and have an experience of. I always want to be truthful with my characters and, in those instances, that's ratcheted up ten thousand times.

With this, I just got my hands on everything I could. I read the book that she wrote about Nicole [Brown Simpson] and watched everything I could (and particularly the Larry King interviews).

It's interesting because Real Housewives... is a lot of years later. That's why I was also a little bit on the fence about meeting her now because who we are now is different than who she might have been then. I didn't want to get confused. I get really specific like that, so I tried to really dig in and find stuff that was more authentic to that time.

You've played a lot of wholesome, family-oriented characters in your career. Was this a nice departure for you to play somebody salacious?
So nice. So nice. I love playing those characters, but my intention when I'm playing them is never to play them completely wholesome. A lot of times people will say to me, "Oh, you just play this character who has it all together," and that's never my intention. I actually always want to play characters that are flawed and struggling with things that we all struggle with as human beings.

To me, in a way, the process for playing somebody like Tami Taylor and playing somebody like Faye Resnick is the same because I go at it from the same place, which is, "I'm a human being doing the best I can with what I have to work with." And then the parameters of that are just different depending on the character.

Most important to me is that I never judge my characters. When I look at Tami, I don't look at her and say, "She's so wonderful. She's so perfect." I don't judge her in the same way that when I played Faye, I didn't look at her and say, "Faye's got a lot of issues." I just don't judge because if you judge, then you can't inhabit.

Connie Britton as Faye Resnick

They're all strong women, in their own way. Even Faye.
Yeah. And the other thing about Faye is this: The world can see the character and have a perception of the character however they want but, for me, I needed to come completely from her point of view, and I grew to really understand what her point of view was.

People may have their opinions about how she went about the things that she did, but from where I stood (which was trying to stand in Faye's shoes), I hope (and I believe) that I was pretty clear about where she was coming from and where she believed she was coming from. Even if there was other stuff at work for her there, I think that there was a real earnestness in terms of what she was trying to do.

Do you remember where you were when the white Bronco was flying down the highway on TV?
I do! This is so weird because, in a lot of ways, it doesn't make sense, but I really remember sitting backstage in some off-off-Broadway New York theater. I feel like I have a visual of it, but I don't know if it was one of those small TVs that people had way back then. It was backstage and I think I was rehearsing for something. It's so crazy.

This show is coming at such a significant time in our culture as well. The case happened twenty years ago, but we're dealing with many of the same issues today in regards to race, equality, and policing.
Not only is it relevant, but I think it's actually the time for us to really examine it because now it's history and we learn so much from looking at our history.

It's just another testament to Ryan because he has such a great insight into the culture and I really believe that he was very attuned to how important it would be for the culture to revisit this story right now. I think he knew that.

Do you think Hollywood still has a long way to go in terms of diversity in film and TV?
I do. I think that Hollywood does in the same way that I think we have more work to do in our culture. The reality that we're still dealing with the issues that we're dealing with culturally around race is really frustrating to me. And gender as well. I think that Hollywood is reflective of that, so I think we absolutely have a lot of work to do.

To me, it was very stunning to watch these episodes and see that, really, the best characters to play in the show are people of color. And Marcia Clark! That's an amazing character. And I got to play an amazing character too. It's a small role, but a great character.

It's great, and that's how it should be. We do need to be really conscious of it as a society.

In the premiere episode, Faye says to Kris Jenner, "I just wish we'd done something." Was there ever a time in your life or career when you felt that way about something?
That's interesting. I don't have anything that would ever compare to that level of doing something, but I always feel like it's important to do something. I always feel like I want to do anything that I can in whatever circumstance I'm in, and I try to live that way.

I'll tell you, if you were a friend who stood by and watched another friend be abused and not really understand the degree to which it was happening until something like what happened to Nicole happened, that would be a pretty horrific sense of guilt and loss.

You've played a lot of moms on screen, and you're a mother in real life as well. What was your mother like when you were growing up and how did that influence the way you portrayed those types of roles in your career?
That's an interesting question. I was just thinking about my mom this morning. My mom passed away of breast cancer, so I wish that I still got to... I haven't been able to share my experience of motherhood with her, which has been sort of a sadness in my life.

My mom was a very hands-on mother and she really was a Mama Bear. I think that I have incorporated a lot of that into the moms that I've played. Of course, in my recollection, my mother would rabidly come to my defense, almost to my embarrassment. [Laughs] I would be upset about something at school and she would march herself up there and shake her finger at the teacher and I was like, "No, no, please no!" [Laughs]

I look back at that now and, of course, I am exactly that kind of mother. I understand it so well, that idea of, "I will rip through anything if I need to in defense of my son."

What's the best advice you've ever gotten?
I feel like the best advice I've ever gotten is kind of an amalgam of things and, since we were just talking about my mom, I think about things that she and my dad said to me. It kind of all ends up rolling into this idea for me that the most important thing is to live my life and to know that it's my life that I'm living. I think that advice came to me in different ways. A lot of it from my parents. And probably not as concise as that, but that's really what it boils down to and what I've tried to hold onto.

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story airs on Tuesdays at 10 PM EST on FX.