By Arune Singh
Every September, the fall season brings with it a deluge of new television shows hoping to stand out from the pack and survive that treacherous first year. In 2006, one show, NBC's "Friday Night Lights," stood out from the rest and earned rave reviews from all corners, with the New York Times
deeming it, "not just television great, but great in the way of a poem or painting." At the forefront is actor Scott Porter, whose nuanced portrayal of quarterback Jason Street earned overwhelming praise and adoration.
Women love him and men want to be him. The man can sing, beat box and dance professionally. And, oh yeah, he's also a huge comic fan who's happy to tell you just why Havok is the best Summers brother and why you need to respect the awesomeness of Iceman. We spoke to Porter on the eve of the "Friday Night Lights"' second season premiere (Fridays at 9pm EST on NBC, beginning October 5) about the show, comics and if Jason Street will ever crack open a graphic novel.
With the new season about to begin and all eyes on "Friday Night Lights" in its new time slot, Porter's schedule keeps him busy...but never too busy for comics! "Our shoot schedule on 'Friday Night Lights' is a lot more hectic then your regular program," Porter explains to Marvel.Com. "We move at a pace that few other series can, simply because we have three handheld cameras, at least, for every shot. There are no rehearsals, no marks and a ton of improv. Most shows are allowed eight to 10 days to shoot an episode, whereas we are given six, then we move on. That being said, I try to get to my shop, Bee Cave Comics and Games here in Austin, every Wednesday. I pick up my books and head to Rudy's BBQ and eat and read. It's a great time to decompress. If I'm way too busy on a Wednesday, we always have weekends off, so I'll pick them up then."
You might be surprised to learn that on the set of "Friday Night Lights," Porter's not the only comic book fan. "Adrienne Palicki is a huge comic fan, her brother Eric writes a few pretty cool online books. She played 'Kara' on Smallville for one episode and is a huge Supergirl fan. I play a game called Heroclix and Zach Gilford (my roomate) and Minka Kelly both were pretty interested in it and they followed me to my local shop to see what it was all about. No one has jumped into reading, but I have gotten Adrienne to read more than just Supergirl. She's been digging Invincible...in fact I think she still has my 1st Hardcover Collection of it. I gotta get that back."
As mentioned earlier, Porter's character of Jason Street is central to the stories of "Friday Night Lights," but if you're new to the show-or still think it's "that football show"-the Altar Boyz alumni is happy to explain the basics. "The show is about a town called Dillon, Texas, and the incredible people that inhabit it. It revolves around football, but it is not a football show. It's about football as much as 'Grey's Anatomy' is about the hospital. Football is a backdrop, if you will. It is possibly the most genuine reflection of real life out there on television today and is incredibly honest with all of its characters.
"We treat them all as if they exist in a very real world," adds Porter. "It is not your typical 'escapism' where everyone is rich and everyone's life is perfect. My character, 'Jason Street,' was the star quarterback, All-American kid, on his way to Notre Dame and eventually the NFL. That's what he was, until he suffered a paralyzing injury in the Pilot episode of season one that left him in a wheelchair, a quadriplegic for life. Now his story is really about finding himself post-injury, and becoming a man throughout all the hardship. He is still trying to find his place in life and is the first of the kids to really step into adulthood."
On the surface, a show about football players and their lives may not seem so interesting to comic fans, but to Porter, the connection is simple: "This show is about ordinary people who are shoved into extraordinary situations," explains the actor. "Small town Texas and football are really part of American mythology to me. You cannot begin to understand the pressure placed onto this kids unless you actually visit a town like Dillon...or watch our show. The towns down here literally live or die through their high school teams. It seems when a team is doing well, the town does well, when the team is way off course, there is usually something wrong in the town. Again, I can't stress enough how genuine our show is. The writing is some of the best you will find on television. And the girls are incredibly hot, if nothing I said above matters to you."
The idea of ordinary people forced into extraordinary circumstances is certainly familiar to comic fans, but as Porter explained, it's something universal to the existence of all people. "We don't have superpowers on our show, unless you count willpower. It's perfect for everyone though, it really is. You can't be satisfied with just reading and watching all the 'escapist' style stories, sometimes you just need to watch something extremely grounded. That's us."
In the tradition of the greatest super heroes, Jason Street's transformation was brought on by tragedy in his life and Porter's enjoying exploring the layers of his character's journey. "I have been blessed with the ability to spend a serious amount of time with a lot of amazing people in Austin, TX. I went to a football game in my wheelchair to get the experience of the prejudice society has towards anyone who is not on two feet with all their functions. It was a somewhat horrific, yet completely amazing day. It really opened my eyes to how much of an effect we can have on anyone if we do not treat them all equally. I saw a lot of whispering, sidelong glances, laughter and pointing...I was talked to like a child most of the evening, it is truly unfortunate that, in this day and age, we still are not past that. I have incredible TA's (Technical Advisors) on the show that help me stay in character and get the physical nature of the role down. I have had many long talks and days of research with everyone from the creator of Quad Rugby 'Murderball' to an 18-year-old rodeo rider who was bucked in the holding pen at his first pro bull riding event. I've seen a lot, not all of it pretty, but all of it completely inspirational."
Uncanny X-Men #209
Speaking of inspiration, Porter's been a fan of comic books since a young age, starting with the same heroes who've brought many into the medium-the X-Men. "When I was 7 I read an issue of UNCANNY X-MEN (I think it was #180-something [Editor's note: It was UNCANNY X-MEN #208-#209
]) where the X-Men and the Hellfire Club were teaming up to defeat Nimrod. There was a true sense of danger and I was in awe of the entire issue. All the characters were outlined so well in their dialogue and in the old schooled panel boxes that I had a real sense of who was who. Poor Harry Leland died of a heart attack at the end of the issue. To a 7-year-old who had just begun reading the 'Lord of the Rings' (finished the entire trilogy plus 'the Hobbit' by the time I was 9) it was just another fantastic escape. I was a huge X-Fan my whole entire life, and primarily read those books, because honestly, they are a large enough portion of the Marvel Universe to keep a kid with an allowance busy scrubbing floors for months just to keep up with all the books. I read a lot more nowadays, but there is a very special place in my heart for mutants."
Like many fans, Porter took time away from comics during the '90s and admits it was something he just needed to do. "While I was in middle school, the Image boom happened. All of a sudden I was spending all the money I made selling BlowPops to my classmates on new books. X-MEN launched with Jim Lee, then Image and Youngblood happened, then DC started revamping all of their stuff. I was buying everything and got incredibly burnt out. It's a lot for a young reader to stay up on. I didn't have the money to keep up...and I actually think I lifted a couple of issues from my comic shop...it made me feel a certain level of resentment and I bailed until about 2001. When the Ultimate line kicked into gear I came back, and have been back ever since."
Once he returned, Porter had to check out his favorite team-the X-Men-and he explains why the team has always resonated with him more than any other group of superheroes, even after all these years. "They were the most fantastic of all the characters I had seen," Porter says of the X-Men. "Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers (although I read WEST COAST) just didn't have the same feel to me. Us against the world, the true danger of it all. They were unique, they faced trials the rest of the heroes didn't, prejudice and oppression. I learned a lot of life lessons through those books back in the day. It wasn't until they numbered in the millions that I started to lose interest in them. I always tried to pick my five favorites and always had those chats with buddies of mine about what the best line-up ever would be. I think I settled on this: Nightcrawler, Havok, Iceman, Polaris, Psylocke, Colossus and Warpath, with Professor X, Beast and Forge back at the ranch for support."
Ask any fan who their favorite X-Men characters are and they'll answer you almost immediately with passion and conviction. Porter is no different and was quick to reveal his favorite x-characters, "Havok, Nightcrawler and Iceman are my top three. Kurt has become so incredibly popular and Iceman has been on almost every incarnation of the X-teams that I take up Alex as a special cause. X-FACTOR [under writer Peter David] was when Alex was at his best. He's not a cardboard cut-out of a leader like Cyke was for so long, and he's almost a better leader because of his ability to be human in battle instead of the tactician at all times. I know Scott has gone through some changes, but Alex has been put through the ringer and he always comes back stronger. Gotta love that!"
After his return to comics, Porter also discovered the diversity of modern comic offerings, admitting he's enjoyed spreading his comic reading wings. "Well, for one thing, I've started to read a lot of TPB's," he says. "They travel better, and it seems I'm always on a plane. DMZ, Fables, the Losers, Invincible, Queen and Country, CRIMINAL, and the Walking Dead are books that I follow in that format. I read, and really enjoyed, 'Planet Hulk' in the full out hardcover edition. I've been reading the whole Ultimate line since it started and started reading AVENGERS around that same time. I'm really a team guy, but have started to read some solo books. IMMORTAL IRON FIST and CAPTAIN AMERICA lead that list. I read a number of comics over at the Distinguished Competition as well, but I won't list those out [laughs]."
Nextwave vol. 1
Porter will, however, proudly list his favorite comics, characters, writers, artists and comic films of all time-c'mon, he's a comic book fan! You think he doesn't have this stuff memorized? "I'm much more of a Top 5 list type of guy, so I'll try and answer this with as few answers as possible," Porter says, jovially. "Favorite Comic: I loved the Peter David X-FACTOR run, but I'd have to say UNCANNY X-MEN since I've collected it since I was 7. NEXTWAVE would be in the 3rd position.
"Favorite Character: I have to go with Havok, Nightcrawler, Iceman, Beast and Psylocke. My Favorite X-ers.
"Favorite Writer and Artists: This is an impossible rapid fire. Moore, Claremont back in the day. David, Morrison, Ellis, Brubaker, Johns, Loeb, Vaughan, Kirkman are the writers I follow around now.
"Artists...Adams and the Romitas are classics. The Kuberts, Lee, Silvestri led me through my youth. Loved McKone's Titans, been impressed with Coipel on THOR and I really dig Immonen's stuff.
"Favorite Comic Movie: 'X-2.'"
If you ask, Porter will also happily recommend the Marvel book he thinks you should be reading, though he laments the loss of his No. 1 choice. "You already missed it. NEXTWAVE. Beyond that, I'd say NEW X-MEN and X-FACTOR. A lot of comic book fans love to say that they aren't into X-Men cause they are overdone and too popular...others like to say that typical super hero books aren't their thing...still others are just familiar through the movies. Those two books bring the danger back to the X-World. NEW X-MEN brings back that NEW MUTANTS element and the old school danger that was present back in the day. Kyle and Yost have just blown me away by taking a group of newly created, unknown characters and making them loved and important pieces of the X-World of today.
X-Factor vol. 3 TPB
"X-FACTOR is a well-paced, quick-witted book, that really has the staying power and easter eggs that old Claremont had. David drops in pieces early in the series that come back to light 12 issues later, and it's all done incredibly well. It also has one of my favorite characters in the history of comics in Jamie Madrox. Not many writers have as firm a grip on a character as David does Madrox. His hold on Quicksilver is also out of this world. So much goodness in X-FACTOR, it's astounding. Damn, Jamie should've been on my X-Team that I listed above. I'm also loving RUNAWAYS and YOUNG AVENGERS. Great books with some awesome new characters."
If it's not clear by now, Scott Porter is someone who wears his "fanboy" label proudly and, as he notes, so does everyone else in their own way. "Man, everyone is a geek for something, whether it be politics, theater, computers. Mine just happens to be comics. They are just another form of art and storytelling, it's not just kids play, it's a true form of literature. We have had a negative stigma for so long, but we knew how damn cool we were and how awesome our favorite books are.
"I think you are seeing a huge shift in what is cool in the world now that the mainstream has been exposed to comics and the stories that are told in the funny pages. We fanboys are finally getting some positive spin out of it now that TV and movies have embraced the major and independent books out there. Try finding a comic that hasn't been already optioned for a movie now...you can't. Everything is coming out of comics nowadays, not just spandex heroes, and the mainstream is just starting to find that out. It's not just Spidey, it's the Losers, it's Y-The Last Man, it's pretty much every project in queue right now."
With that kind of passion, and playing the role of a character with a lot of time on his hands, some have wondered if Porter's Jason Street will ever pick up a comic book. "I tried man, I tried," smiled Porter. "I said, 'Why wouldn't he start reading something besides Sports Illustrated
? The last thing he wants to read about is all the people doing what he used to. He should be escaping. Maybe he could pick up a comic book?' They just looked at me, and knowing how big a fan I was, set me down gently with, 'Jason Street isn't a comic reader.'"
In addition to "Friday Night Lights," Porter's also been busy filming his role as Rex Racer in the upcoming blockbuster film "Speed Racer." "I watched the cartoons a bit while I was a kid, but I have to tell you, I was more excited that it's a Wachowski Bros. project then anything else," Porter says. "These are the guys that did 'the Matrix'...brought V to the big screen. That's what really got me geeking out on it. That and the cast. Susan Sarandon and John Goodman play my parents, I mean, Come ON! Working with the Bros. was just an incredible experience. Tons of my scenes were shot against Green Screen so that was a new thing for me as well. Mark my words, Speed Racer will be the most visually astounding experience of the next blockbuster season."
If Porter could take a starring role in a Marvel film, playing a character we've not seen on the big screen yet, there's one he'd choose right away: "Clint Barton. Hawkeye. Folks don't know that I'm really just about the biggest smart ass around. Pretty ornery when it comes down to it, and on top of that, Mom tells me I'm a charmer. Johnny Storm and Bobby Drake have already been done, and Alex Summers will probably (unfortunately) never make it into a movie. If they went young with Steve Rogers, I'd love a shot at that too."
The acclaimed actor is also looking forward to cracking open the upcoming "X-Men: Messiah CompleX" crossover, explaining, "I am really excited. When the words, 'X-Men has been always thought of as a family, but in this book they become an army...' were said at San Diego Comic-Con by Mike Carey, I got excited. I've been waiting for the next great crossover since 'Inferno' and 'Fall of the Mutants.' I hope this is it."
In the end, if you're still on the fence about checking out "Friday Night Lights," Porter urges you not only to check out that first season, but also check out the second season premiere this Friday on NBC. "It's the most honest show on television. Hands down one of the greatest pieces of television you will ever have the pleasure of watching. What's next for Jason Street? Is there a cure? Who knows. Just watch and see, you won't be disappointed."
Friday Night Lights airs every Friday at 9pm EST on NBC (check your local listings), with the second season debut October 5th. The first season is now available on DVD at stores everywhere and can be viewed for free online at NBC.Com.