In ‘Dear Edward,’ Connie Britton Embraces Her Inner ‘Real Housewife’

Back in 2010, after she shot the final episode of “Friday Night Lights,” Connie Britton rather famously had an identity crisis.

“Who am I, if I’m not Tami Taylor?” she wondered on her friend Chelsea Handler’s talk show.

Quite a few people, as it turns out. In the time since “Friday Night Lights” ended, Britton has been one of TV’s most reliable and flexible performers, grounding pulpy genre fare (“American Horror Story”), elevating soapy melodrama (“Nashville”) and embracing privileged obliviousness in the name of spiky satire (“The White Lotus”).

Her new show, “Dear Edward,” premiering Friday on Apple TV+, reunites her with the man who helped her turn Tami Taylor — a guidance counselor and the wife of a West Texas football coach, who keeps her husband steady and her marriage real — into a source of enduring affection. Jason Katims, the showrunner for “Friday Night Lights,” adapted “Dear Edward,” from the 2020 novel by Ann Napolitano, about a 12-year-old boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash and the community of mourners born in its aftermath.

The character he had in mind for Britton, a cosseted housewife named Dee Dee, was not in the book and, at first glance, could hardly be more different than the warm, pragmatic Tami. She is the kind of woman whose husband treats her and their daughter to a shopping spree at Valentino for their shared birthday. The kind who glides through life, in her expensive clothes and enviable hair — a signature Britton trait — radiant with the knowledge that she will never want for anything.

Katims, however, thought Britton would be perfect for Dee Dee because of her talent for charming viewers and then switching emotions on a dime, exposing something more vulnerable and naked.

“As soon as I thought of Connie for that role, I couldn’t think of anybody else,” he said in a video interview last week.

Britton was excited to read the script, she said, but once she had, she found it funny that Katims saw her as Dee Dee, given their history on “Friday Night Lights.”

“It’s actually not something that I would have necessarily thought, OK, that’s my next role,” she said in a video call from her home in Los Angeles. “But I actually appreciated it even more because it’s so not Tami Taylor.”

The series “Friday Night Lights” dramatically expanded a role that Britton (with Kyle Chandler) found too shallow in the earlier movie version.Credit…Bill Records/NBC
In “Dear Edward,” Britton plays a woman whose privileged life is upended by tragedy.Credit…Apple TV+

And yet she found Dee Dee to be “so hilarious and heartful,” she said. “And there’s something very freeing about the experience of working with Jason. We come from this improvisational background, and it’s like, ‘See what you find, see what you discover — the sky’s the limit.’”

To prep for the wealthy, intentionally oblivious suburbanite whose life unravels at a startling pace after her husband dies, Britton watched “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

“It was really fun for me to be like, OK, I want to get in underneath that,” she said. “Where did this worldview come from, this perspective, this sense of entitlement almost? And what happens when you start to dismantle that? What do you have left?”

A lesser actor might have turned Dee Dee into a caricature. But Katims said Britton “dug in and got inside, and it results in all these remarkable moments where she’s both over-the-top funny and incredibly wounded at the same time.”

Britton, 55, has long reveled in getting under the skin of characters we think we know — the small-town wife, the hard-charging executive, the fading country-music star — and unveiling what we don’t.

“I always want there to be some experience that feels incredibly relatable to a woman’s journey,” she said. “I’m always trying to find that universal connecting piece.”

But she almost turned down the role that placed her at the top of casting directors’ wish lists. Britton had played the coach’s wife in the movie version of “Friday Night Lights” and was disappointed by the character’s limitations. Reluctant to repeat that experience, she agreed to join the series only after Peter Berg, the show’s creator and the movie’s director, vowed to give Tami a voice.

Still, she cried when she signed on. “I was like, Why can’t I expect more for myself than playing this supporting mom-wife role in a show about football, in a show about men?” she said. “Why can’t I ask for more for myself?”

But Berg kept his word, and with the support of Katims and Kyle Chandler, as her coach husband, Tami became a role model, a 40-ish sex symbol, an exemplar of full-blown womanhood.

“It was a perfect melding of people who had a bigger vision and were willing to commit to that,” she said.

Chandler described Britton as open to new ideas and creative with her own, fully supportive of her co-stars.

“I always knew I could fall as far as I wanted in a scene because Connie would never let me hit the ground,” he wrote in an email. “As a friend, she has proved no different.”

“I always want there to be some experience that feels incredibly relatable to a woman’s journey,” Britton said of her performances.Credit…Amanda Hakan for The New York Times

Britton said that she had probably been a pain to work with, then backpedaled. “Actually, I really don’t think that I was,” she said. “I just fought hard for that character because I think they wanted me to. I think they appreciated that.”

The year after “Friday Night” ended its run, Britton took the stage in “Nashville.” She was loath to have her character, Rayna Jaymes, be hyped as the aging Queen of Country.

“I refuse to just fall into the trope of, ‘She’s over 40 so she’s over the hill, and the young one has everything,’” said Britton. “I’m like, no, no, no, no, no. Let’s talk about the incredible experience and wisdom that somebody who’s been in the business for a really long time has and juxtapose that with the hubris of the young person who has no experience and stars in their eyes. And let’s really tell those stories in a very fully fleshed out, realized way.”

Mike White first met Britton while working on the film “Beatriz at Dinner” (2017), which he wrote, about an evening run amok when the affluent hostess, played by Britton, invites her massage therapist to stay for a dinner party with her wealthy friends.

“I think she really, in a way, anchored that movie,” White said, explaining that Britton’s performance invited viewers to “feel like they might relate to this woman in a way that maybe they don’t want to.”

A few years later, he cast her in his dark comedy “The White Lotus” as a woman who has broken glass ceilings to become a powerhouse executive but remains blind to her own privilege.

Britton was gutsy, the first of the main cast to sign on, White said, for what was then viewed as a risk — an experimental show with a limited budget, shot during the pandemic. With her name attached, other actors fell in.

“It was not a simple ask,” he said.

Britton received an Emmy nomination for her performance in “The White Lotus,” her fifth.Credit…Mario Perez/HBO

But as Britton tells it, working with White was a no-brainer. “I just think there are few writers that can be that astute in cultural commentary,” she said.

“The White Lotus” ended up a resounding hit, snaring 10 Emmy wins and 20 nominations in its first season, including one nomination for Britton to add to her four others, for “Friday Night Lights,” “American Horror Story” and “Nashville.”

And her return to the series isn’t out of the question.

“We’ve definitely talked about it,” White said. “Whenever it will work with her schedule and her life, it’s kind of an open invitation to come back.”

In the meantime, Britton has her own stories to tell; she is currently developing a sort of “Queer Eye” for single mothers — she adopted her son, Yoby, from Ethiopia on her own in 2011.

“I had my son later in life, so I’m chasing around after a 12-year-old,” she said. “I have met my partner in life later in life, so I have this romance that feels equivalent to being a 25-year-old. I have this amazing group of girlfriends, all of whom are vibrant and sexy and funny and intelligent and setting the world on fire in their own ways. So I still feel really fortunate.”

“I mean, listen, the last two things I did were ‘White Lotus’ and ‘Dear Edward,’ and both of those roles were fantastic,” she added. “These are women of my age, and I want to represent that — and not just have it be like, ‘Oh, she’s the old broad.’”

Related Articles

Back to top button