Interview: Friday Night Lights’ Brad Leland Reflects on the Series Finale

For those who aren’t familiar with Buddy Garrity, allow me to provide you with a crash course on the man: he’s an often-overzealous high school football booster from Dillon, Texas, he’s a hell of a car salesman, he’s got extremely good genes, and he’s fictional.

Brad Leland

Buddy Garrity is a character on the DirecTV/NBC drama Friday Night Lights, which has become one of the more celebrated shows of the last five years and this week earned an Emmy nod for Outstanding Drama Series. The man behind Buddy is Brad Leland, a Texas native who played football at Plano High School and now lives in Allen. So with the last-ever episode of the series set to air on NBC tonight at 8 pm CST, we asked Brad if we could pick his brain on all things FNL (as well as his favorite places in Dallas, too). He was extremely obliging.

A snippet of our conversation:

As a former Plano High football player, did you know any meddling boosters like Buddy Garrity?

BL: My head coach was John Clark, who the stadium in Plano is named after. And my secondary coach was Tommy Kimbrough, who the other stadium in Plano is named after. And they were truly such wonderful coaches that there wasn’t parental influence… But that kind of thing happens in every sport in every state. One thing that we’ve learned about our show is that Canadians will come up to me and say, “Oh, I knew a Buddy Garrity in Canada,” except it was hockey. And in the Midwest it was basketball, and in England it was soccer, and we’ve had people from Australia who watch our show and talk about rugby. And they know all those coaches, they know the people of Dillon, and yet they grew up in Australia. People don’t realize the show is that far-reaching because it’s really not a show about football, but more just about coaches and teachers and kids. There’s only one minute of football per episode, so it’s not really about football.

You played another high school football booster named John Aubrey in the 2004 Friday Night Lights movie. So when you landed the role of Buddy in the TV series, did you go in knowing you wanted to make them different characters?

BL: Oh, absolutely. You really only saw one side of John Aubrey in the film. And it was funny because that was the only character in the whole film that didn’t have a real name. Everyone else had their real name, but there was not a booster that would agree to have his name used in the movie. So he was really a combination of a lot of guys. But when we started the TV show, [Buddy] certainly became his own guy. From the very beginning, I knew that he had been the quarterback at Dillon, and they won a state championship, and he grew up his whole life there, and he had established a good business, and he had a nice family and kids, so I knew that this guy isn’t some evil booster. This was a guy that really cared about the community and really cared about his family and just has weaknesses just like all of us do.

So was Buddy’s slow transformation planned from the beginning?

BL: The part expanded as it went along. It was a nice role. I knew it would be a recurring character throughout the series, but they let it grow and let me help guide it… I definitely fought tooth and nail from the beginning to not have Buddy just be some bad guy, the booster bad guy. How could he be? It would make no sense if he had a car dealership and tons of friends and a nice family for him to just be a total ass. So it was really cool the way it developed and the way they let us collaborate, the actors with the writers and with Peter [Berg, the show’s creator], and how we all had input.

It seems like Peter was pretty adamant about filming in Texas to lend some authenticity to the show.

BL: Everything was always on location, there was never a set. It was always a real place: a real restaurant, a real home, a real apartment, a real parking lot, a real stadium. So it gave it that authenticity. And another thing very important to remember is that those people who were the background artists, they were the same people for years. They toiled through long days and didn’t get much money, but they became the people of Dillon. No matter where we went, we saw them.

What was is like to wrap up a show that was such a critical success?

BL: It’s hard to say goodbye to something like that because you’re saying goodbye to about 150 people. But the thing about it is you don’t really bury them for good because every day, somebody comes up and reminds you of it. Which is good. You can’t let go of it because so many people love it, and so many people are just now catching on to it. It’s weird, after all these years, I’ve got people every day that come up to me and go, “Man, I just started on season one, you sure are an ass!” And I go, “Well, you’ve got five years to go, dude.”

Do you think you’ll watch the finale again on Friday?

BL: I don’t know if I want to go through that funeral again. It’s a great show and I’ll probably watch it again sometime, but I’m not going to make a special point to watch it [Friday] because it’s horrible to have a grown man sitting around crying.