Charles plays "Smash" Williams on the award-winning and critically acclaimed show, which focuses on a high school in a fictional Texas town -- particularly on the football team.
"Smash" is the team's cocky running back, and the size of his talent is matched only by the size of his mouth. But as his co-star Adrianne Palicki told me back in November, Charles and "Smash" could not be more different. (You can also read my Q&A with co-stars Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton HERE.)
Here's our conversation:
DF: With this whole "Friday Night Lights" experience, what's been the most interesting or bizarre thing to happen to you over the past couple years?
Gaius Charles: One of the weirdest things is that sometimes people on the street will recognize me, but they won't remember my character's name. So they'll be like, "Hey, what's up Flash? How you doin', man?" Or, "What's up, Mash?" And I say, "It's Smash." They say, "Oh, yeah! Yeah! Smash!"
It's cool and endearing running into die-hard fans. Makes you feel so honored and privileged to be on this show.
DF: Is it also weird when people come up to and they don't necessarily know your real name, but they know your character's name?
GC: It is, because that's the other thing. People walk up to you and expect you to be Smash. I'm like, "Hey, how you doin', I'm Gaius Charles. I play Smash on TV." You walk them through it a little bit, and they come around. But it is a challenge at times.
I run into a lot of high school kids, and they see me as that jock. I have to tell them, "Hey, I'm just a regular guy."
DF: Sort of along those lines...I talked to Adrianne Palicki a couple months ago, and I asked her who was most like their character on "Friday Night Lights" and who was least like their character. You were her pick for "least like their character." Was that a fair assessment?
GC: Very fair. Very fair and accurate. When we all first got cast, we all went out to lunch with [executive producer] Peter Berg. He's sitting at the head of the table and I'm sitting kind of next to him. We're talking and talking. He's asking me questions, I'm asking him questions. After a while, I keep talking, and he's just staring at me.
I kind of look over at him finally, and ask, "What's up?" He goes, "You're really different from your character. I mean, really different." And I'm like, "Okay, so should I get my burger to go? Am I fired?"
But his faith in me, and the overall production's faith in all of us as actors, to create freely and go into some places that might not be immediate, but are tangible to us as artists, really helps us to bring the heart to the show. Which is what I think everyone responds to.
DF: Some of the subjects that your character has gotten into include steroid use, all of the college recruiting stuff, and now this inter-racial relationship...what's been the most interesting subject for you to sink your teeth into?
GC: The most interesting thing so far has been this whole college recruiting process, which is really sort of the arc of the whole two seasons. Right now, the episodes that we're about to see basically have to do with Smash getting into trouble with the police, and having his whole future football career in jeopardy, and possibly taken away from him.
The few episodes that haven't aired yet are probably going to be the most compelling for his character. And I certainly dug really deep to portray that truthfully.
DF: On the recruiting subject...I was taken aback when, I think Smash was in the burger place, and in walks the recruiter from TMU...and he was played by Rick Barnes, the real-life basketball coach at the University of Texas. What was up with that?
GC: You know, we get a couple famous guest appearances every now and then. We got UT lending their face and talent to us. We also had the UT football coach...
DF: Mack Brown...
GC: Mack Brown, right. He did the pilot. It was just a joy to be working with him. It was kind of cool, because usually everyone comes in the trailer, they shake hands and they're very polite. But the basketball coach came in, sat down next to me and started talking to me like I was one of his players, before we had even really met.
So I already knew that this guy and I would have a really cool scene, and it was fun working with him.
DF: Who's your favorite character on the show?
GC: My favorite character? Oh... Oh...I don't know if I can rank them.
DF: How about your favorite couple characters.
GC: Okay, let me name a couple. One would definitely be Brad Leland, who plays Buddy Garrity. I can't get enough Buddy Garrity in my life, man. I love that guy, he's so funny. The actress who plays Smash's mom, Liz Michael. She's a fantastic person and a fantastic actress, a pleasure to work with.
Kyle [Chandler, who plays Coach Taylor] is great, I love working with him. Connie [Britton, who plays Tami Taylor], obviously. I love Landry's comedic stuff that he does. He always keeps me laughing. It's funny, I always read the script and have a sense for what he's going to say. Then I watch [actor Jesse Plemons's] performance, and I say, "This guy is so hilarious." So yeah, I'm definitely in a cast with some great actors.
DF: The show reminds me of "The Wire," which is another of my favorite shows, because it's gotten great critical acclaim, but the ratings haven't been there. Is there something you can put your finger on as to why it hasn't taken off with viewers?
GC: It's funny that you should say that, because I honestly can't. Early on in the process, you get a little disheartened by that. You wonder why people aren't watching, how can we publicize our show more, what can you do. But then you realize that your greatest duty to the show is not to worry about who's watching and who's not, but to keep the quality is what it is.
If you start worrying about the ratings or whether it's coming back, you lose an investment in the process of making the show. So that's what we've all tried to focus on. We won the AFI award again, second year in a row. I was here last year when it won the Peabody, I was at the ceremony for that. So the show continues to receive praise, and as the show continues to go on, we get more and more fans every week. So hopefully it will take off.
DF: Are you a football fan at all?
GC: I am, yeah. I actually watched the Giants game [against the Packers], which was crazy! It was just insane! I gotta admit, I wasn't rooting for the Giants from the beginning, but I guess in a "Friday Night Lights" sort of way, I'm with the underdogs now. So I'm with them, all the way to [the Super Bowl in] Arizona. They might be able to do it.
DF: Are you picking the Giants?
GC: Uh...YES! I will. I'll step out on a limb, just because it's the underdog.
DF: What shows do you watch on TV?
GC: I watch a lot of CNN. I love "The Situation Room," because I love how they can take the littlest news clip and totally blow it out of proportion, make it all dramatic with the flashy special effects and the scrollers and stuff.
I watch a lot of information TV. History Channel, TLC and all like that.
You know what my favorite show is, actually? "The Office." I didn't catch onto it until the third season. So when I caught on, I had to go buy the first two seasons on DVD and catch up. That show is so funny. That and "30 Rock." Tina Fey is so hilarious. Those are my two picks.