urx unit loader A chat with 'FNL's' Jesse Plemons

There may have been no funnier character on a TV drama last season than Landry Clarke, the Members Only jacket-obsessed, Christian speed metal-playing outsider on Friday Night Lights. Played by Jesse Plemons, Landry was the perfect foil for Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) and anyone else who needed to be reminded not to take things too seriously.

(Spoilers ahead for those who’ve yet to watch the season premiere.)

Last week’s second-season opener, however, presented Landry and Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) with a deadly serious situation. The dramatic decision to have Landry kill Tyra’s would-be rapist has divided the show’s fans, and Plemons himself confesses to being worried about the storyline at first. But he also hopes fans will stick with the storyline, which he says reveals previously unseen facets to his character.

Plemons chatted by phone with Zap2it during a break in filming the eighth episode of FNL’s season, talking about the on-screen incident, suiting up for football this season and the eerie resemblance between him and his TV dad.

Zap2it: Is what happened in the premiere still reverberating into the middle of the season?
Jesse Plemons: [Laughs] Man. That’s what’s been so nuts about this season, to have something that happens in the first episode, which is almost like — not to compare it to what Jason Street [Scott Porter] went through, but it’s something that will affect the rest of the run of the show. That never goes away, really. Something that drastic, I think it’s always going to be in the back of his mind. But we’re still definitely in the thick of all that in episode eight.

Z: What was your reaction when you first saw that in the script?
JP: I don’t know if you guys know, but there was talk actually of the death happening another way. It was possibly going to happen in the state game last year. That didn’t end up happening, but I heard rumors about it and then read the script. It was definitely an honor for the writers to give me something like that. Obviously it’s a huge thing, and it’s something I’ve never done as an actor. … I love stretching myself and finding new things, and this is definitely that.

Z: People are sort of concerned that the killing is really out of character for Landry, for him to lose his head like that.
JP: I was actually really worried about that too, to be honest with you. There was part of me that didn’t quite believe it either, with the aftermath and everything that ends up happening. I didn’t quite get it, didn’t quite understand what was going to initially bring [these] two people together … There’s a scene at the end of episode two that I was really worried about. I wasn’t quite sure how it was gonna go; I tried not to think about it as much as I could.

[Palicki] and I ended up doing it, and it went somewhere that neither of us expected it to go. During that scene, it all kind of seemed to make sense, and I understood it. I got it. I really think the audience is going to do the same thing. … It’s a life-changing experience for these two people, and they’re really all they have. They’re the only ones they can talk to about it. I was worried, but I think it’s gonna be OK.

Z: Does it affect him to the point where he’s not as Landry-like as he used to be?
JP: That’s the funny thing — definitely, a cloud is going to be over his head for a while. How does something like that happen and you stay the same? It’s going to change anyone. … There are moments where you kind of see him not forget, but not think about it as much and maybe be himself for a few minutes, then catch himself being light or whatever and remember what happened.

Z: How is it getting to play football this year?
JP: It’s great. I love it.

Z: You played in high school, right?
JP: I did, and I got a little cocky when I was first suiting up [for the show]. I told [executive producer/director Jeff Reiner], "I want to do all my own stuff." The first episode, I just get the crap beat out of me over and over and over again. But I was like, "Dude, I can do it. I’ve taken a few hits." There’s this play where Taylor [Kitsch] is supposed to knock the crap out of me. So he does, and I get up and I’m jumping around — and everyone’s like, "Holy crap!" My chin had split open [laughs], I had to get like 11 stitches. So I think that’s probably the end of me doing my own stunts. But hopefully not.

Z: What’s his motivation for wanting to be on the team? Last year it seemed like he did everything he could to distance himself from football.
JP: That was another question I had to answer for myself. It’s a combination of a few things: He’s young, a junior in high school, 16 years old. Last season we were able to see how much of an individual he is and able to have his own identity. But like with any high-school kid, you kind of have to remember that underneath all that, more than anything they want to fit and want to feel like they’re part of something. …

Also, we’re introduced to his dad, and his dad is an ex-Panther, ex-football player and is just as nuts about football as everyone else is. It’s something me and [executive producer Jason Katims] talked about, actually. Last season I thought it’d be pretty cool to see that dynamic of a father who’s probably wanting his son to carry on the legacy, and here comes Landry.

Z: How is it working with Glenn Morshower, who plays your dad?
JP: It’s great. And it’s kind of weird how much we actually look alike.

Z: What would you say to people who are concerned about the direction Landry is headed?
JP: What’s so great about this show is the writers, the actors, the producers — no one wants to settle. … We want to take what we learned last season and make this season that much better. I can tell you the scripts keep getting better, and the storylines — they’re taking some chances, but I really feel like everyone stepped up to the plate with it. …

I really think the audience is going to enjoy the growth of these characters and how they deal with it, not to mention all the other storylines with coach and the new baby. There are just a lot of interesting things coming up. I think at first it may be a little shocking … but once everything’s kind of settled, then people will really enjoy it.