Six years after Friday Night Lights went off the air, Zach Gilford still fields questions about the beloved small-town football drama -- and he’s totally cool with it.
For five seasons, the 35-year-old actor broke America’s collective heart as Matt Saracen, the shy, awkward high schooler-turned-star quarterback of the Dillon Panthers. Gilford admits he doesn’t “think about the character” much, but left the door open to revisit the world once more.
“I’d always be open to it,” Gilford, who stars on YouTube Red’s new original series, Lifeline, tells ET. “If it was a cool, interesting story and it’s not a Christmas special where everyone’s home for Christmas, I’d be interested. I love all those people. I’d love to work with them again. You don’t want to do something cheesy when the original product was so opposite that.”
He jokingly offered up a spinoff idea that never came to fruition featuring several fan favorite characters. “I’d always wanted to do a spinoff that was called Grandma and Landry, where for some reason, they have to be roommates,” Gilford says with a laugh. “And I’m there because it’s my grandma and best friend.”
In the 2011 series finale of FNL, Matt and Julie got engaged and were happily beginning their new lives in Chicago. Gilford shared his thoughts on where he thinks the couple is today.
“I’d imagine he’s still married to Julie. Maybe they’ve moved to Philadelphia with Coach and his wife [Tami],” Gilford says, before digging into why he believes Matt and Julie work. “Their connection on the show was they knew there was a bigger world out there besides small-town football. When you grow up in that world, it’s a pretty deep connection.”
“I think they’re doing fine. Maybe they have kids by now,” he adds. “What was that -- six years ago, seven years ago? Yeah, they got kids. Let’s say that.”
Gilford flexes his action muscle in Lifeline, an eight-episode half-hour sci-fi thriller executive produced by Dwayne Johnson (he makes a cameo in the first installment), as Conner Hooks, a hotshot agent whose job is to travel 33 days into the future to prevent the accidental deaths of its clients. Things turn personal when a 16-year-old girl, Norah (Sydney Park), is orphaned on Conner’s watch as he also attempts to avenge the death of his wife.
“I thought the character was interesting and I thought I could bring a little more than just the guy who’s the hotshot action star. There’s actually an inner soul going on,” Gilford says, adding that his childhood dream was to be like Bruce Willis in Die Hard. “A cool twist that I don’t think you really realize until you watch a couple [episodes] is every time I or anyone jumps forward 33 days in the future, I’m an hour older but everyone else is 33 days older. So if I jump 12 times in a year, which would take me 12 days, everyone else is a year older. Over time, you’re staying that same person. It’s an interesting undertone for this character, which puts him literally in a different world.”
Gilford says Conner’s relationship with Norah gets off to a contentious start. Because of Conner’s guilt over orphaning her, he feels a duty to ensure Norah’s life is protected, which she wants no part of. “It brings up the whole God complex, like, are we playing God? Are we doing the right thing? Are we screwing up the system and the universe?” he says. “It’s all, in a way, opinion, which I kind of like. We don’t push one point of view and it’s something that makes you think.”
For Gilford, there’s a thrill to playing a character like Conner, who “theoretically always knows, ‘I’m not going to die. If I die, someone will come and save me,' and feels “invincible.” If Gilford were to face the life Conner leads in Lifeline, he’d like to think he’d embrace living on the edge.
“We’re always faced with mortality, so I’ve always claimed I’m a person who’s not afraid to die. I have no desire to in the near future, but when it happens, it happens,” Gilford says candidly. “I like to think that I would throw myself into this lifestyle: Let’s live on the edge, let’s go for it.”
Gilford already has his next gig lined up. He returns to Atlanta next week to resume filming on the NBC midseason comedy, Good Girls, in which he plays Mae Whitman’s husband. (He and Whitman have been friends “for several years.”)
“We bicker all the time on the show as husband and wife,” he says. “It’s pretty fun to give each other s**t and Jenna Bans, the creator, gives us a lot of flexibility to not do exactly what’s on the page and to play with it. When you know someone and have that kind of relationship, it’s fun to throw them a curveball on set and f**k with them.”
The first four episodes of Lifeline are available now on YouTube Red, with subsequent episodes rolling out every Wednesday.