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More likely than not, you know Zach Gilford best as Matt Saracen from "Friday Night Lights."
But, when he's not wearing a football uniform – or hospital scrubs, as the case has been on his subsequent television shows, "Off the Map" and this season's "Mob Doctor" – you might just find him in the woods. The 30-year-old actor considers himself an outdoorsman, spending his free time hiking, camping and the like, which worked out perfectly for his latest foray onto the big screen, "In Our Nature."
The movie follows Gilford's Seth and his girlfriend Andie (Jena Malone) as they head to Seth's "cabin" in upstate New York. Little do they know that Seth's somewhat estranged father ("Mad Men"'s John Slattery) and his city mouse girlfriend (Gabrielle Union) have similar plans. Needless to say, significant awkwardness ensues.
Thankfully, Gilford was able to flex some of those outdoor muscles in the film and shared with us some of the real-life family dramas (or comedies, rather) that shaped his performance. And, yeah, we may have talked about "Friday Night Lights" a bit.
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You're something of an outdoorsman – were you showing everyone the ropes?
I just kind of tried to lay back on it. I don't want to be the dick who is like, "Yo, this is how you do it." So I just tried not to say anything because they hired someone to come in and show them. I don't want to be like, "I know we hired you but I know better."
The first film I ever did was in Iceland and there was this football scene – this was before "Friday Night Lights" – but I am a huge football fan and in Iceland, they don't play football. The director wasn't really a football fan and none of the cast really knew football. So they were trying to shoot this scene and I was like, "No, that would never happen." I think I got to direct the football scene because I know how football works. I put myself out there sometimes and I just realized that I was just being a dick. Let someone else do their job and if they want your opinion, they'll ask for it.
Do you kayak like your character and his father?
I spend a lot of time kayaking. Up in Alaska and cool places. Actually my dad and I kayaked. When I was in high school or something I convinced him to buy kayaks because we grew up in Chicago so we would go to Lake Michigan. There was one Thanksgiving where we went out kayaking because it was not too cold out yet, and it got pretty wavy. I was like, "We should really go in. It's getting a little iffy out here." He was like, "Okay, well, do you want to play around in the waves for a bit? I was just going to the beach for a little bit." I said, "Yeah, sure." So I'm going around and I got totally blind sided and flipped over. The water was so cold, I can't see shore, I'm grabbing the kayak and yada yada trying to get it. I'm thinking my dad is going to be really worried, he just saw me flip over and I can't see him which means he can't see me. Finally, I get into shore and I'm standing and he is just on the beach rolling around laughing. I'm like, "I could have been dead!" And he was like, "Oh, that was hilarious! I would like to see that 10 more times."
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Were there any real life moments with your father that inspired your performance?
There is actually other members of my family that I won't say the specific situation but there's just kind of a distance that has grown and there are just all these elephants in the room and blame. It's gotten to the point where it's like, "Why the f**k are we mad at each other? I don't even know, but I know that I hate you." So I could draw on some of that to make it feel real.
The one thing with my dad is … I remember a transition with me and my dad of just becoming more of peers. He is always going to be my father and is a father figure to me but, you know. We will have conversations more where we are talking together where it is not so much the father – son sort of thing.
In the movie, "derby" has the family definition of that special kayak trick Seth and his father do. My family has "boonie-wicious" which is the name for a brownie with caramel. Does your family have any special words or phrases?
We definitely have little things that we say. One is, "Fine! 'Cause I don't like your ugly face!" And it's just because one time we were in a candy store or something, and there was a little kid with him mom and he was like, "Can I have this?" And she said no, and he said kept saying, "Oh mom, how about this?" And she just kept saying no. Finally he was like, "Well, fine! 'Cause I don't like your ugly face!" That's since become one of our household slogans.
Seth uses the word "persnickety" unironically in conversation. Are you the kind of guy who would say a word like that in normal, casual conversation?
No. But maybe … I kind of imagined it as making fun of the fact that I am using that word and not using it for real. I used to be much more that guy actually. I used to say "abscond" all the time. Love that word.
(Editor's note: Abscond – "To depart in a sudden and secret manner, especially to avoid capture and legal prosecution," per Dictionary.com).
I used to like the word of the day and when I read, highlight words that I didn't know and look them up. And I've just started watching more TV lately. iPads have made me so much dumber … It's so bad. I used to read so much and, like I said, look up the words and yada yada, be so interested in keeping my brain working. And then iPads came out and now I can just watch a movie on here and play "Angry Birds." It's such a waste of time.
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You've done so much serious fare – are we ever going to see you do a comedy?
I would love to do a comedy. I have a lot of people on sets that I work on where they're like, "Do you do comedy? You're so funny. I can't believe it. You should do comedy." I'm like, "Yeah." But, for some reason, when I go on auditions for comedies, they don't think I am as funny as in real life … Being funny with lines someone wrote or on camera, it's all a different skill set so, I need to hone my comedic craft.
Did you put any pressure on John to get you a guest gig on "Mad Men"?
I haven't lobbied for it. I'm sure everybody does. If it ever comes up where I get an audition, I will probably call him and be like, "You need to tell them to give me this part."
My fiancé [Kiele Sanchez] worked on "Lost" for a year , and she watched "Lost" until she was on it, and she said that she stopped watching then because then it ruins the mystique of it. These people become real people and they are not just characters that you see in this other world … Obviously I would jump on it in a heartbeat but it would be so different. I mean even now, I still watch the show and love it, everything John does. I think I actually like it more now because I know him so well, but it's different. You know that it's fake now because you know one of the people.
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So, kind of like you're ruining "Friday Night Lights" for me right now. I'm kidding, but speaking of, I have to ask the requisite "would you come back for the movie" question.
I would do that in a heartbeat. If it was Peter Berg, Kyle [Chandler] and whoever else, it would be good people and good quality. I don't think what it could be though. Coach moved away, everybody would now be like 24 years old. What would bring all of these people together?
Matt and Julie's wedding!
Well yeah, but then like a reunion show where we all come home for Christmas or we all go to the wedding and it's like, so is this a wedding movie? Ya know what I mean? I think they could probably come up with an amazing movie based on the coach in Philadelphia or wherever he happens to be now and maybe I pop up because I am his son-in-law. I would love to, but I haven’t heard like any word from any one of us, that they've actually heard that it's an actual thing.
When I interviewed Peter Berg earlier this year, he claimed the script was nearly finished.
With Pete, you never know. The thing is that we would improve everything. "The written script is almost done" really just means he has something on paper.
The first big purchase I made was a TV, 50 inches. I was in Texas and I wasn't going to buy one and I went with Connie Britton to help her pick out a TV. She got a 42-inch and I was like, "I need to get one. And it has to be bigger than Connie's." So I got the 50-inch. But I'm still driving my dad's car.