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Comanche Nation: The Rise And Fall Of An 'Empire.'

Quanah Parker, considered the greatest Comanche chief, was the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, a white pioneer woman kidnapped by a raiding party when she was a little girl. Their story — and the saga of the powerful American Indian tribe — is told by S.C. Gwynne in his new book, Empire of the Summer Moon.

31:16

Other segments from the episode on June 23, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 23, 2010: Interview with S. C. Gwynne; Interview with Connie Britton.

Transcript

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Comanche Nation: The Rise And Fall Of An 'Empire'

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

If you're interested in Western movies or American history, I think you'll be
very interested in the story my guest S.C. Gwynne is about to tell. His new
book is about Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Comanches, which Gwynne
describes as the most dominant and influential tribe in American history.

Quanah's mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, was a white woman who was kidnapped by the
Comanche when she was nine in 1836, during a raid on her family's home in
Texas. She became accepted by the Comanche as one of their own. When Quanah was
12, Cynthia Ann was recaptured by Texas Rangers, but she kept trying to return
to the Comanches.

The new book "Empire of the Summer Moon" tells the story of Quanah and his
mother, and tells the larger story of the rise and fall of the Comanches and
how their dominance in the middle of North America determined how the American
West was opened.

S.C. Gwynne is a former senior editor at Time magazine and former executive
editor of Texas Monthly. He's now with the Dallas Morning News.

Sam Gwynne, welcome to FRESH AIR. So, let's start with the story of how
Quanah's mother was captured by the Comanche when she was nine. I mean, the
family lived in a fort on the outer edge of white settlements, about 90 miles
from what is now Dallas. So they were very exposed. Why were they there?

Mr. S.C. Gwynne (Author, "Empire of the Summer Moon"): They were part of that
kind of vanguard of Scots-Irish settlement that really, you know, in effect,
was what eventually beat the Indians. But they were people who were determined.
They were hard-nosed. They were predestinarian Baptists, and they settled, as
you say, about 90 miles south of what is now Dallas.

It was the outermost edge of the frontier. What they didn't know when they
built their fort in 1836 was that it was right at the point where this giant,
250,000-square-mile Comanche empire touched this nascent American empire. They
were exactly at that point.

And so the Comanches raided the fort in May of 1836, killed a bunch of people,
you know, killed five people. There were a bunch of people wounded. Some
escaped, but five captives were taken. and one of those captives was the nine-
year-old Cynthia Ann Parker, which became, in effect, the start of a 24-year-
old captivity that she came to see not as captivity.

GROSS: You describe very vividly what the raid, what the Comanche raid on the
Parker fort was like, and it's gruesome.

Mr. GWYNNE: Extremely.

GROSS: So I'm going to ask you to describe it, but first I'll say if you don't
want to hear a gruesome description, this is your opportunity to tune out for
maybe two minutes. Come right back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But, I mean, this is history. So - and I think it's very important and
interesting history. So please describe what happened.

Mr. GWYNNE: Well, what happened was what happened in every plains Indian raid
going back for centuries. In other words, it was - this is what Indians did to
Indians, and this just happened to be Indians meeting whites.

But the automatic thing in battle is that all the adult males would be killed.
That was automatic. That's one of the reasons that Indians fought to the death.
The white men were astonished at it, but they were assuming - assumed that they
would be killed.

The most - the small children were killed, very small children were killed. A
lot of the, say, children in the, I don't know, three-to-seven or three-to-10
range were often taken as captives. The women were often raped and often
killed. And so it was an extremely brutal - and it was when - all of the people
in the settlements back in those years knew what it was, knew what a Comanche
raid meant, which was the same as a Kiowa raid or an Arapaho raid or another
kind of raid.

But they were grim. They were grisly. Captives were usually involved, you know.
and it's an interesting kind of moral question that you have to - as an
historian about plains Indians or about American Indians in general, you have
to come to terms with this, with torture, which they did - which they practiced
all across the West and, in fact, all across the East - and these kind of
grisly practices that scared white people to death.

GROSS: I mean, you're talking not only about scalping. You're talking about
various forms of mutilation, cutting off fingers and toes, gang...

Mr. GWYNNE: Torture by fire, torture by all sorts of different things - I mean,
putting, you know, hot coals on your stomach. I mean, there were lots and lots
of imaginative tortures that were, indeed, practiced by Indians all across the
Americas.

GROSS: And this includes gang rape.

Mr. GWYNNE: It includes gang rape.

GROSS: And what I find provocative about this right now is that in American's
attempt to reconcile the atrocities that Americans committed against Native
Americans, a lot of the Indian story was maybe rewritten a little bit to leave
out some of those atrocities.

Mr. GWYNNE: Oh, I think absolutely.

GROSS: I mean, after focusing so much on, like...

Mr. GWYNNE: Yes.

GROSS: ...you know, cowboys versus Indians in Western movies, I think so many
Americans felt bad about that kind of, like, good-guy-versus-bad-guy
description when white Americans were responsible for so much bad stuff
themselves, that maybe - are you suggesting in your book that history maybe got
rewritten a little too much in terms of leaving out some of the atrocities that
Native Americans did commit in those wars?

Mr. GWYNNE: Oh, I think so. I think that's a good point. And there was even an
attempt at some point to deny that Indians were warlike. They were - Comanches
were incredibly warlike.

They swept everyone off the Southern plains. They nearly exterminated the
Apaches. They were warlike by nature. And, you know, if you look at, say, the
Comanches, and then you look back in history at, for example, you know, Goths
and Vikings or Mongols or Celts - or old Celts are actually a very good
parallel.

In a lot of ways, I think we're looking back at earlier versions of ourselves.
It was we - we, being white Europeans - did all of those things. Not only that,
but torture was institutionalized in things like the Counterreformation and the
Spanish Inquisition. It was part of, you know, the Russian empire. I mean,
torture is not the exclusive province of the Indians.

But I think you're right. I think there was a certain wave of books, a certain
type of book that wanted to kind of set the record straight in a different way.
But yes, it was - life was extremely brutal, and it was extremely brutal on
both sides. And in my book, I don't - I try not to take sides. The whites were
perpetrators of some of the most astonishing massacres in history, but so were
the Indians.

GROSS: So in this raid in which Cynthia Ann Parker was taken captive, how many
people were killed, and who was taken captive?

Mr. GWYNNE: There were five people killed, and there were five captives taken.
And the five captives were - there were two young adult women and three
children, two boys, and then Cynthia Ann.

So they were the five, and they were kind of strapped to horses and, you know,
taken north into the vast, you know, grassy wastes of the plains.

GROSS: Why were the women taken, and the children?

Mr. GWYNNE: The - as it turns out, what - well, if you can sort of look back on
what happened to them, one of the captives, Rachel Parker Plummer - who became
very famous because she wrote a memoir of 15 months of captivity - she was
actually kind of taken on as a - what amounted to a slave.

And Indians, plains Indians, were buffalo-based, and they needed women,
actually, to work buffalo hides. This was part of the economy. So that's what
Rachel did.

Now, Elizabeth Kellogg, who was one - who was the other adult captive, was
ransomed back within about three months. And that showed another way, or
another reason for taking captive, is you can - there was a trade. There was a
commerce in captives.

The three younger children were actually adopted into the tribe, and this was a
very common Comanche practice. The Comanches were - they had high mortality
rates among the men and low fertility rates among the women, and they actually
needed people. So they were more or less indiscriminate in who they took in.

So there were Apache captives and Mexican captives and various types of
captives that, you know, many of whom grew to become part of the Comanche
tribe. Cynthia Ann was one of them.

So she was a loved - what I call a loved captive. She had a family. She became
the ward of a chief. She became a fully fledged member of the Comanche
community.

GROSS: So Cynthia Ann had three children, the oldest of which, Quanah, became
one of the fiercest and most respected Comanche war chiefs. So how did he
become a warrior? I guess, are you automatically a warrior if you're a male
Comanche in that period?

Mr. GWYNNE: Oh, yes, you are. You were. The Comanches were kind of like the
Spartans. They were - because of their incredible mastery - military mastery,
which derived from the horse - they were the prototype horse tribe, the tribe
that could do more with a horse than any other tribe could. Because of that, it
was a military community and it was - their old way of life was supplanted by
the new way of life, which was largely to do with war.

So they pretty much hunted buffalo, and so a Comanche male would hunt buffalo,
and made war. And that's what they did. And they were remarkably stripped down
in the sense that they didn't have elaborate social organization or religious
organization.

They didn't weave baskets or do art. They had a very, very elemental culture.
And so within that culture, the boys learned to hunt at a very - hunt and ride
at a very early age, and then would become a warrior in their mid-teens. So he
had kind of a, I guess, a normal rise, except that he was an exceptional
warrior.

GROSS: Now, did being half-white affect his standing within the Comanche?

Mr. GWYNNE: It did. He - until he was 12, when his father was killed - an
interesting event happened when Quanah was 12. Until that point, he was the son
of a chief, a powerful chief, who would have had many horses and would have
been, you know, wealthy in Comanche terms.

And then at the Battle of Pease River in 1860, when Cynthia Ann was recaptured,
Quanah's father was killed. And now he was an orphan. His mother was back with
white society, and his father was dead. And at that point, yes, he was - he
paid a price for having white blood.

It probably stood him in good stead later in life after - in the reservation
period, but then I think it was hard. And Quanah compensated for that, becoming
probably the, you know, the most capable warrior of his era.

GROSS: Tell us the story of how Cynthia Ann was kidnapped back by white people
in 1860, when Quanah was 12.

Mr. GWYNNE: This was an amazing story. When she - to back up to when she was
kidnapped in 1836, in the 1840s, she was spotted a few times. And each time she
was spotted, the people that saw were - usually Indian agents, tried to
negotiate to get her back.

This is kind of a set piece on the frontier. You try to get the, you know,
hostage, the captive back. Well, they figured out that she didn't want to come
back, and she refused to come back. And this was the first kind of - her first
fame was built on that. She was the white squaw who would not return.

Then, well, then, kind of, she sort of fades from memory in the '50s. She's no
longer seen. Then in 1860, this extraordinary event happens. Her husband,
Cynthia Ann's husband, Peta Nacona, is raiding just west of Fort Worth. He's
leading these incredibly brutal raids, who had - that had a political purpose,
which is basically to roll the frontier backward.

They're so brutal that the white men kind of get a posse together under a guy
named Sul Ross - who was later governor of Texas, under another guy named
Charles Goodnight, who was one of the more famous cattlemen later in Texas -
and they pursue the Indians back to what amounts to the camp where Cynthia Ann
and her husband are.

At that moment, most of the men were not at the camp, and so the Rangers attack
and they kill everybody, including Quanah's father. And as Sul Ross literally
is running down the last Indian and about to shoot, he realizes the Indian has
a child, then realizes the Indian's a woman, and then realizes that the Indian
has blue eyes.

And lo and behold, soon enough, they realize that he's recaptured the famous
Cynthia Ann Parker, who indeed then becomes famous again for having been
recaptured.

And it was curious because the, you know, the white men all that her - the
tragedy of Cynthia Ann's life was that she had been captured the first time by
the Indians.

In fact, the great tragedy of her life was that she was captured the second
time by the whites, because she never adjusted. She tried to escape for the
rest of her life and never adjusted. She had adapted once brilliantly to a
foreign culture, but she couldn't do it twice.

GROSS: So where did she live?

Mr. GWYNNE: Well, after she was captured - well, the first thing that happened
is they kind of, they took her to Fort Worth, and they literally put her up on
a stand where people could come and gawk at her because she was such an object
of curiosity.

She had her two-year-old, you know, half-white, Indian child with her, Prairie
Flower. And she ended up at the - first at the house of her uncle near Fort
Worth, and she kept trying to escape. And she, you know, mourned, and she wept,
and she cut herself, and she - I mean, she simply was a lot to handle.

And so Isaac, that uncle, Isaac Parker, then moved her to another group of
relatives and then onto - and then she was eventually moved to another group of
relatives deeper into East Texas, away from the plains. She was always a
handful. She eventually kind of settled down a little bit, but she never
stopped trying to escape.

GROSS: Now, you write about how Cynthia Parker's attempts to escape the white
world, after she was re-kidnapped into the white world, kind of challenged all
of the assumptions that white people had about Native American life.

Mr. GWYNNE: That was one of the reasons I think - you know, I guess the reason
she was the most famous captive of her era, you know, was the refusal to come
back, first, therefore choosing this what the whites saw as kind of this
subhuman, savage, you know, civilization over the, you know, Anglo-European
civilization. There was that choice.

And then when - basically, trying to get back was a reaffirmation of that same
desire, that she didn't want to be with her own culture, if you will, or her
birth culture.

And yes, that was shocking. It was unusual. I mean, there are precedents for
it. It did happen, but it didn't happen that often. And really, you have to go
back at the way whites, particularly on the frontier, looked at Indians. They
did not really regard them as fully human.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is S.C. Gwynne, who is the author of
the new book "Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of
the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History." Sam, let's
take a short break here, and then we'll talk so more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Sam Gwynne, who writes under the
name S.C. Gwynne. His new book is called "Empire of the Summer Moon." It's
about Quanah Parker, who was the last great Comanche warrior chief, and his
mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, was a white woman who was kidnapped by the
Comanches during a raid. And she was nine when she was kidnapped. She was re-
kidnapped back by white people when Quanah was 12.

So when Quanah grew up and became a warrior, did he want revenge against the
white people who had taken back his mother?

Mr. GWYNNE: Yes. No one burned hotter than Quanah did. Quanah was - Quanah
later became, you know, famous during the reservation period as a very wealthy
and successful and influential Indian, but he never talked about what he did.

We can sort of theorize the kind of raids he was on. We knew where the
Comanches were raiding during the years when he was in his late teens and early
'20s. The raids were particularly brutal.

He was known as a brilliant fighter of both Indians and whites. He was someone
who was never defeated in battle, and it was sort of the source of his fame.

GROSS: To give us a visual image of what Quanah looked like, I want you to read
something from your book that is from the journal of someone from the Army who
fought against him. So granted, this is a very kind of biased description of
him because it's from an Army person fighting against Quanah, but tell us who
wrote this and then read the paragraph.

Mr. GWYNNE: Okay. The account is from a Robert Carter, who actually won the
Medal of Honor for this fight against Quanah in 1871. And Carter wrote memoirs,
a really extraordinary memoir, and it offers us one of the best looks at
Quanah.

This particular description comes from the Battle of Blanco Canyon, where
Quanah did something that I don't know that there's any precedent for in
military history, where Quanah, in effect, took an entire village of 200 lodges
and hundreds of people and women and children and dogs and led it on an escape
from 600 mounted bluecoats. It was a piece of military maneuvering, as I said,
I don’t think it's ever been done before.

But anyway, this was the beginning - the beginning of that was sort of a
battle, the beginning of that escape was a battle, and this is what Robert
Carter is describing. He's describing actually Quanah, just at the moment that
Quanah blows the brains out of one of his sergeants. So here we go.

(Reading) A large and powerfully built chief led the bunch on a coal-black
racing pony. Leaning forward upon his mane, his heels nervously working in the
animal's side, with six-shooter poised in the air, he seemed the incarnation of
savage, brutal joy.

His face was smeared with black war-paint, which gave his features a satanic
look, a full-length headdress or war bonnet of eagle's feathers, spreading out
as he rode and descending from his forehead, overhead and back, to his pony's
tail, almost swept the ground. Large brass hoops were in his ears. He was naked
to the waist, wearing simply leggings, moccasins and a breechclout. A necklace
of bears' claws hung about his neck. Bells jangled as he rode at headlong
speed, followed by the leading warriors, all eager to outstrip him in the race.
It was Quanah, the principal war chief of the Quahadas.

GROSS: So did Quanah go on raids, did he lead raids on white settlements that
were as brutal as the raid on his mother's family?

Mr. GWYNNE: Absolutely. You have to understand that raiding is what mounted
plains Indians did. That was their, in effect, the Comanche way of life.

They didn't, you know, they didn't really fight in the traditional way. They
weren't - when they fought the white man, they did not usually, you know, draw
themselves up in ranks of 1,000 with gleaming spears against - and charge. That
really didn't happen.

Most of the warfare was what we would call sort of guerrilla warfare. These
were attacks on ranches and things like that and settlements. So, yes, this is
what Quanah did. The idea was to, was to improve your stock or increase your
stock, you know, get more horses, eventually also cows. The idea was also to
get scalps, and simply the way of Comanche life.

There was, you know, a traditional, you know, way of the raid was to, you know,
go steal as many horses as you could and so forth. Eventually, it acquired more
of a political cast. As the frontier swept westward through Texas, you know,
the Comanches at some point realized that there was more to raiding than simply
stealing cattle. They were making a political statement.

They were, in effect - you know, the more brutal the raids were, the more the
frontier rolled backward.

GROSS: My guest is S.C. Gwynne. He'll be back in the second half of the show.
His new book is called "Empire of the Summer Moon." I'm Terry Gross, and this
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross back with S.C. Gwynne, author of
"Empire of the Summer Moon," about the rise and fall of the Comanche, which
Gwynne describes as the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. His
book focuses on the stories of the last Comanche chief, Quanah Parker, and his
white mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, who became a Comanche after she was kidnapped
at the age of nine during a Comanche raid on her family's Texas home.

Gwynne is former executive editor of Texas Monthly and is now with the Dallas
Morning News.

Now, so you say between 1868 and 1881, 31 million buffalo were slaughtered and
that that destroyed the source of Comanche wealth and food. So was that the
downfall of the Comanche, the slaughtering of the buffalo?

Mr. GWYNNE: It was pretty much - you know, the Plains Indians, their lives were
built - the Comanche's, their lives were built on two things, really - it was
war and buffalo. And really, all of the Plains Indians, once they got the horse
from the Spanish, you know, buffalo hunting became easier for them. It was
their way of life.

The buffalo hunting began as a simple market exercise. I mean the hunters
figured out that they could get $3.50 a hide. Then they figured out that they
could ship these hides east on the new railroads. And they also figured out
that buffalo were smart enough to realize that if a buffalo next to - the
buffalo dropped, that there was something wrong. The buffalo had to see the
source of the danger, so that you had these people who'd kill like 3,500
buffalo in 28 days and crazy numbers like that.

But it started that way but it ended up being a political act because the
United States could've done something about that, probably. But it occurred to
the generals in the West, specifically Sherman and Sheridan, that by allowing
the buffalo to be destroyed, they were creating kind of the most efficient way
to destroy Indians.

And Sheridan had a famous quote. He said, you know, you kill the buffalo, you
destroy the Indian's commissary. So it became in a way political at the end.
Yes, let’s kill all the buffalo and then it's the end of Plains Indians because
there is no Plains Indian without a buffalo.

GROSS: So how did Quanah decide to give up fighting and settle for a land deal
with the U.S. government?

Mr. GWYNNE: Quanah, in 1875, after something called the Red River War, in which
Quanah again evaded, miraculously evaded capture and didn’t lose any battles,
Quanah led the last of the Comanches, who were starving - and of course they
were starving because there was no buffalo - the last of the starving
Comanches, they were the last ones to surrender, in 1875. They came on to a
reservation in Oklahoma.

Quanah, who had been, as I said before, like the hardest of the hard cases, the
one who burned hottest for revenge against the whites, had sort of a
revelation. His family lore says it was a vision with a wolf and an eagle in
it. But something happened and changed and he decided he would walk the white
man's road. And he decided it as he was coming into the reservation.

GROSS: What do you mean walk the white man's road?

Mr. GWYNNE: Well, he would become, in fact - you know, Quanah, the notion seems
almost ridiculous of the bourgeois kind of Comanche, citizen Comanche, but
that's what Quanah wanted to be. Quanah was going to, was going to walk the
white man's road. In other words, try to learn the language, try to understand
white man's business. He actually turned out to be a brilliant businessman,
controlled rather a small cattle empire, outfoxed the whites at their own
cattle leasing games, actually ran these kind of protection rackets for a
while.

He was actually a brilliant businessman. But he - he just figured he would
adapt and he would try to help his tribe adapt. And of, you know, of all the
Indians in the reservation period, he was the wealthiest and most influential.
And you know, he became a friend of Teddy Roosevelt and rode in his inaugural
parade and so forth.

GROSS: So during this period, was he not only aware but did he make other
people aware that he was half-white? Did he use that to work in his favor when
trying to deal with white people?

Mr. GWYNNE: Everybody knew. That became known right after he - right after
Quanah surrendered. He went into the commandant at Fort Sill and he told him,
because what Quanah wanted to know was what had happened to his mother.
Quanah's first question was: What happened to my mother? And that's how - in
other words, as soon as that happened, everybody found out.

A book was written a few years later that if anybody did not know then, they
learned who this guy was.

GROSS: And what had happened to his mother? Was she already dead?

Mr. GWYNNE: Yeah. Cynthia Ann leads this kind of miserable life, shuffled off
to, you know, one Parker relative after another, pretty miserable. In 1864 she
lost her daughter to influenza, this lovely little girl name Prairie Flower. In
1870 she herself died. And it’s not exactly clear how or why. She - some said
she starved herself to death. Some people said she died of a broken heart. But
either way, she never – she never adapted. So that it was a tragedy, I guess
part of that family tragedy, that Cynthia Ann died in 1870, and her husband did
not – I'm sorry, her son, Quanah, did not come in to surrender until 1875.

So he never saw his mother again, although he spent enormous efforts trying to
find her and eventually did find her and eventually got the government to pay
to ship her bones up to lie with his in Oklahoma.

GROSS: So how do you see American history differently as a result of
researching this book?

Mr. GWYNNE: To me, the original reason I was interested was because it provided
- the Comanches were kind of a history lesson. They were sort of here is how
and why the middle of the country opened to white civilization. If you go back
through Comanche history, you can see that they were, you know, they were the
ones who stopped the Spanish from coming north. They have answer to that
question. Why did the French stop coming west from Louisiana? Comanches. It was
fear of the Comanches that caused the Mexicans to bring white Texas settlers
into Texas, you know, to create a buffer between them and the Comanches, which
eventually backfired, and of course Texas became a republic, and things like
the Alamo and San Jacinto happened.

I mean they account for - you know, the Rangers and the six-gun and so many
different things. And to me, to me, what I understood, what I came away
understanding from the Comanches was that here is why the West Coast and the
East Coast settled before the middle of the continent did. Here is why there
was this enormous basically 40-year wait before you could develop the state of
Texas or before other Plain states could be developed. So it was kind of a -
it’s just this, to me, a great history lesson in how America settled itself, I
guess.

GROSS: Sam Gwynne, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. GWYNNE: Well, you’re welcome, Terry. I really enjoyed it.

GROSS: S.C. Gwynne is the author of the new book "Empire of the Summer Moon."
You can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org.
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Connie Britton, Lighting Up Friday Nights

TERRY GROSS, host:

Buzz Bissinger's nonfiction book "Friday Night Lights" is about a high school
football team in Texas, and it was the inspiration for a 2004 movie and a
current TV series. In both the movie and the NBC drama, the coach's wife is
played by the same actress, our guest Connie Britton.

Her first film role was in 1994's "The Brothers McMullen." And her early TV
roles included starring opposite Michael J. Fox in the sitcom "Spin City" and
playing small recurring roles on "The West Wing" and "24."

NBC's "Friday Night Lights" almost was canceled after three seasons, but a co-
production deal with satellite network DirecTV kept it alive for two more
years. DirecTV subscribers have seen all of season four already, but on NBC
season four is about halfway through.

This season finds Coach Taylor struggling to put together a team at East Dillon
High in the poorer part of town. He's been transferred there after a power
struggle with the boosters of West Dillon High, where he had been coach of the
champion team, the Panthers.

Connie Britton's Tami Taylor is the principal at West Dillon. Our TV critic
David Bianculli spoke with Connie Britton and began by playing a scene
featuring her as Tami Taylor and Kyle Chandler as her husband, Eric. He's just
come home a little drunk and with a big admission.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Friday Night Lights")

Mr. KYLE CHANDLER (Actor): (as Eric Taylor) I stopped over at the bar and I had
a drink and I left the car over there. Allen gave me a ride home so if you can
take me to get it I'd appreciate it.

Ms. CONNIE BRITTON (Actor): (as Tami Taylor) Oh, all right. Okay.

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) You know that check? Yesterday you asked me
about the check for the dry cleaners?

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Yeah.

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) Well, it wasn’t for the dry cleaners. It wasn’t
for $45. It was for Under Armour. It was for gear for the team and it was for
3,000.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) You wrote a check for $3,000? We don’t have
$3,000 in our checking account.

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) I know that. But when I wrote the check it's not
a check that's going to be run through right away, so you don’t have to worry
about it.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Well, I really would've appreciated it if you had
talked to me about that.

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) Well, I didn’t have time to talk to you about
it.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) You didn’t have time to talk to me about it?

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) No, I didn’t have time to talk to you about it.
I'm telling you about it now.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Listen, I know you’re having a hard time, but
come on now. Why would you not talk to me about that?

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) Listen, if I don’t write the check I don’t have
uniforms for the team. If I don’t have a team, I don’t make money anyway, so
what the hell does it matter? If I can get the money from Vern (unintelligible)
which I think I can do, everything will be fine. It's just a matter of doing
it. I just need time. I'm just telling you for the sake of...

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Don’t raise your voice. Don’t raise your voice.

Mr. CHANDLER: (as Eric Taylor) I'm not raising my voice. Why don’t you just
stay calm and stop getting all riled up?

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Okay. You’re going to get your damned uniforms.
But in the meantime, what about our account? You write yourself a check for
$3,000 without talking to me about it, you lie to me about it, we don’t have
that money, and then you come in here and you yell at me? I don’t think so.

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Connie Britton, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Ms. CONNIE BRITTON (Actress): Thank you so much.

BIANCULLI: Your character's relationship with the members of your TV family,
your husband and your daughter, is one of the best in all of television. And I
just love the tone of that. What's your reaction to hearing it back?

Ms. BRITTON: Oh, it's so, you know, whatever. We all love our show so much.
It's crazy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRITTON: We're just all goofy about it. You know, we had some problems with
that scene when we went to shoot it because it was written much more where Tami
is just kind of like, all right honey, I understand. You’re going through a
hard time. Sorry. It's a hard time. And meanwhile, she in that episode is also
going through, you know, basically being ostracized by the whole town and
whatnot and all this stuff. So she is - they're both going through it.

And so we kind of both felt like, well, trying to get to the heart of the
reality of it, we wanted to just kind of create it into this - a little bit of
a mess of an argument and have him cop to it, and then he's drunk and I'm
pissed and tired, and not really let it have a resolution, you know, and then
see where we go from there. And, you know, we ended having conversations like,
would they go to bed mad? You know?

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BRITTON: Just like that. And that scene's a great example of how we can
really mold the stuff that the writers give us and they give us that freedom to
do that and find something that feels really alive in the moments that we're
shooting it.

BIANCULLI: Many people watching the show have admired the marriage between your
characters, or maybe even aspired to the marriage. How do you see that
marriage? And what do you hope to convey about it?

Ms. BRITTON: Well, you know, it’s been an exploration for both of us. And I've
certainly learned a lot from Kyle because he has been married for a long time
and I think he brought a lot of that to this, to this relationship. And we
really agreed about the values of the marriage and of what we were trying to
create. You know, we both agreed we did not want this to be a marriage where we
were going to be ultimately addressing, you know, infidelity or whatever. We
just we really wanted to deal with the authenticity of what it is to try to
make a marriage work. And sure there's an immediate dramatic effect of, you
know, somebody going off and having an affair, but I still maintain that the
drama of two people really trying to be in a relationship with each other that
is, you know, nourishing and supportive is pretty great drama.

BIANCULLI: And it's not only husband/wife, but it's parents and daughter. So
far, this next scene is I think my favorite scene from the entire show.

Ms. BRITTON: Oh, thank you.

BIANCULLI: And it's after, I don’t know where you rank it, but it's after your
character sees your daughter's boyfriend, Matt Saracen, buying condoms.

Ms. BRITTON: Mm-hmm.

BIANCULLI: And you pull you daughter aside to talk to her about it. And we have
- this is you in the scene along with Aimee Teegarden, who plays Julie. Here we
go.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Friday Night Lights")

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Are you and Matt Saracen having sex?

Ms. AIMEE TEEGARDEN (Actor): (as Julie Taylor) No. We're thinking about it.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) You’re thinking about it? Are you thinking about
pregnancy? Are you thinking about sexually transmitted diseases?

Ms. TEEGARDEN: (as Julie Taylor) Well, I mean obviously, that's why he's buying
condoms.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Oh, I see. So you’re just buying condoms and then
when you buy condoms that just makes you ready to make love to somebody -
anybody.

Ms. TEEGARDEN: (as Julie Taylor) Making love...

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Don’t do that. Don’t you smirk at me right now. I
am very upset. You are not allowed to have sex. You’re 15 years old.

Ms. TEEGARDEN: (as Julie Taylor) I just - I don’t see what the big deal is.
It's just one body part going...

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) No it’s not. No it’s not. It's not just one body
part going into another body part. And the fact that you think that it's just
one body part going into another body part makes me real clear on the fact that
you really are not ready for this. And I need you to be able to hear that. I
need you to be able to hear me say that to you.

Ms. TEEGARDEN: (as Julie Taylor) I'm listening to you.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Let me tell you what the big deal is. Let me tell
you what can happen. What can happen is that you can be hurt. And you can be
degraded. And you can become hard. And you can become cynical. And I don’t want
that to happen to you. This is something that's special. It’s something that's
meant for people who are in love.

Ms. TEEGARDEN: (as Julie Taylor) Okay. I understand.

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Then you can wait. I want you to be able to talk
to me about it.

Ms. TEEGARDEN: (as Julie Taylor) Okay. I mean we're talking, right?

BIANCULLI: That is such a wonderful scene.

Ms. BRITTON: Mm, thank you.

BIANCULLI: The intensity and the honesty of it. How do you get there? As an
actress, what can you tell me about filming that scene?

Ms. BRITTON: Well, you know, this would be a good time to talk about just the
general process of our show because we shoot with three cameras going all the
time.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BRITTON: Which is very unusual. Most film and television shoots with one
camera. And so you keep shooting a scene over and over again. We shoot with
three cameras, so they're always getting different - they're always getting
different angles so there a lot - and we never know where the cameras are. We
don’t rehearse. They don’t tell us where to stand, which is what you call
having marks. We don’t have marks. So there's a real freedom in it. And it's
interesting, when you just played that, I heard a - one of my favorite in lines
in that scene is the line where I say, you’re not old enough to have - you’re
not allowed to have sex.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRITTON: You know, as if a mother is allowed to tell - can forbid her
daughter from having sex, you know. And in the script, that line was in the
script and I remember it was written a little differently in the script, and it
was written almost in a not in a joking way, but almost to, you know, have Tami
look like she's kind of pulling her hair out. Like, you’re not allowed to have
sex. You know what I mean?

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BRITTON: But because of the way we shoot and then we had this great
director, Allison Liddi-Brown was shooting that episode, and I think she had
told Julie, Aimee Teegarden, who plays Julie to laugh at me or something, you
know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRITTON: And that really got my goat, you know. So suddenly it went in this
whole different direction and because we had the freedom to do that, we weren't
being concerned about where the camera was, where the lights were, where our
marks were supposed to be, when we were supposed to say what at, you know, if
there was going to be a camera on us or not, which is a lot of the time what
you end up being concerned about when you’re shooting TV. So we really just had
the freedom to be in those moments and just play it out. And so it ended up
being a real dramatic thing.

And the other thing is, I noticed too, is the silences. You know, and...

BIANCULLI: Yes.

Ms. BRITTON: We play a lot with silence in our show. There's room to have those
silent moments. We don’t have to fill it all with chatter all the time and I
think there's a lot that gets said during those silences.

BIANCULLI: We're talking with Connie Britton who plays Tami Taylor, the wife of
Kyle Chandler's Coach Taylor, on NBC's "Friday Night Lights."

More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: We're talking with Connie Britton who plays Tami Taylor, the wife of
Kyle Chandler's Coach Taylor, on NBC's "Friday Night Lights."

We’ve played a scene with you with your family. I'd like to play one more
scene. You know, your character began as a guidance counselor and then became
principal of Dillon School and got into a lot of hot water there. And so this
is a scene where when you are the school principal of Dillon, you’re pushing
through the transfer of a star football player to a smaller rival school where
your husband now coaches. And one of the Dillon Panther Boosters has threatened
action if Tami goes through with it. So you bust in on the next meeting of the
Booster Association and confront him, knowing full well that everyone else
who’s also a Booster is eavesdropping with great interest. So here we go.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Friday Night Lights")

Mr. D.W. MOFFETT (Actor): (as Joe McCoy) And then, Buddy, are we looking to
talk to that...

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Sorry. I hate to interrupt. How are you? Good to
see you, Sam. Don’t mean to interrupt. Could I just have a quick word with you,
Joe? Go, talk amongst yourselves.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) I just want to make sure that we didn’t have any
misunderstanding, the other day when we had that conversation in the school
parking lot. You know, with the gold card and all that stuff. And I just want
to make sure I was clear that my decision has been made and is made and that
Luke Cafferty is going to East Dillon High.

Mr. MOFFETT: (as Joe McCoy) Are you clear about what I told you?

Ms. BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Oh yeah. I think I heard you. You mean about
doing an investigation and retroactively taking away a Panther top state title?
That's the thing, sugar? Because I just want to actually make sure that you
also check with all these gentlemen here about that. Because as you said, you
know, that's going to mean rings being taken away and things like that. And I
confess that they're a lot of rings in this group, you know, family and
whatnot. So, you know, you do what you have to do. I know you’re going to do
what you have to do but I just want to make sure I have been very clear with
you where I stand on it. And so, I'll let ya'll get back to it, thank you so
much. Thank you so much. Ya'll enjoy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: The Booster clip, you know, illustrates such a forceful, charming
Southern woman where you go in, seemingly unarmed, but you’re the equal of not
only anyone in there, but everyone in there.

Ms. BRITTON: Mm-hmm.

BIANCULLI: And, you know, where does that come from, or how much fun is that to
play?

Ms. BRITTON: So much fun. And all I know is I know that quality so well that
I'm sure I probably have a little bit of it myself. They were tough broads. My
mother would march herself up to our school and have it out if she thought we
weren't getting, you know, if she thought they were screwing up in something
that we were, you know, some class or something.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BRITTON: She was like a mother bear. And a lot, you know, these were not
women who were just going sit back and say yes sir, no sir. You know, they, but
they were sweet because they knew that that's what they had to do to get their
point across in that sort of environment. It's a real interesting thing that
happens, I think, to - in just speaking really generally, to women who are in
an environment that is considered to be kind of conventional, and that is that
they find ways, real subtle ways and personality ways to break out of that or
to empower themselves in the face of that. You know, I think that was a lot of
it too.

BIANCULLI: Is it too Freudian to ask if you got influenced or inspired by your
own mother?

Ms. BRITTON: I was, for sure. Yeah. And actually, strangely, my mother actually
was from Connecticut. But we lived a good part of - I mean most of my life in
Virginia. And she lived the last part of her - the last half of her life, she
past away actually a couple years ago...

BIANCULLI: Oh, sorry.

Ms. BRITTON: ...in Virginia. And so - and she really took it on, you know? But
she really adapted to the southern world. And so I felt that she, they're a lot
of things that I take from her in the character as well. Yeah. And actually,
you know what? The truth - timing-wise, she past away right before we started
shooting "Friday Night Lights," so I, you know, I've never really thought of
this actually until you just asked the question. But I realize being home
during that period specifically and seeing, you know, just the casseroles and
the brownies and the cookies that ended up on the front porch daily, and the
organization of the neighbors and the people on how they were going to come
together for the family. And so, I actually think that that experience, in
particular, in a more fresh way, and being able to be around all those women
and then all my high school friends who, of course, all came back and gather
around me, I think really contributed to the character.

BIANCULLI: It actually makes, you know, Tami sort of in one small respect, a
way of keeping your mom alive if you started the series right after that.

Ms. BRITTON: Uh-huh. Yeah. Yeah.

BIANCULLI: So, have you ever gotten coached on your accent or corrected for
your accent, or how does that work behind the scene? How did you nail that?

Ms. BRITTON: I have not been coached. You know, I think I'm lucky because I
think I have a pretty good ear. And again, being in Austin helps so much. There
was one time that I had to say the word pecan. And everybody - and see these
are my coaches, everybody in the crew. They were like, I said it wrong. And by
the way, I can't tell you if it’s pecan, pecan or pecan.

BIANCULLI: Yeah.

Ms. BRITTON: Which I still right at this moment can't tell you, because I kept
doing it wrong. And first they laughed at me and then they said, they kept
correcting me over and over again. And I think we may have gotten one take
where I actually said it properly in the correct Texas way. But that was
tricky.

BIANCULLI: You couldn’t just change it to a different kind of pie?

Ms. BRITTON: Oh gosh, that would've been real smart, wouldn’t it have been?
Yeah, no.

BIANCULLI: Well, it depends. I don’t know how much they're spending but, you
know, four or five takes in...

Ms. BRITTON: I really...

BIANCULLI: ...it could've been a pumpkin pie.

Ms. BRITTON: No. In fact, you’re right, though. Now that you say that, we had
pecan pie. That's what we had and that's all that we had, you know, if we
could've made it, you know, lemon meringue it would've made things a lot
simpler.

BIANCULLI: But I guess if it was the only thing on set, that's it.

Ms. BRITTON: Yeah. Exactly.

BIANCULLI: As we speak, NBC is midway through broadcasting Season four while
you’re in Texas, if I'm right, filming the final episodes of Season five.

Ms. BRITTON: Yeah, that's right.

BIANCULLI: Okay. Word is they're intended as a probable finale, but ABC Family
has recently acquired rerun rights for the first five seasons and it's not
inconceivable they may want more. Is there any chance of a Season six or do you
sense the end is near?

Ms. BRITTON: Oh gosh. I have never in the history of our show felt more
confident that the end is near than I do now, as we are about to embark on
episode 10 of Season five.

BIANCULLI: And these are 13...

Ms. BRITTON: It's 10 out of 13 exactly.

BIANCULLI: Okay.

Ms. BRITTON: And I actually just read that episode this morning and I actually
got a little teary, because I thought wow, this does feel like we were ramping
up to the end. Everybody is saying that Season five will be our last. And that
said, because of the history of the show, I would not be surprised if suddenly
in the 11th hour we were suddenly hearing about a sixth season.

BIANCULLI: Well, best of luck with whatever is next. And thank you so much for
some really great years of television. So Connie Britton, thank you so much for
being on FRESH AIR.

Ms. BRITTON: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

GROSS: Connie Britton spoke with FRESH AIR TV critic David Bianculli. She co-
stars on NBC'S "Friday Night Lights."

I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, what most of us never knew about the dangers of
deepwater oil exploration. New York Times science writer Henry Fountain
explains the risks and challenges of dropping a drill bit through a mile of
seawater then grinding through two miles of rock to reach oil and gas deposits
held at dangerous temperatures and pressure.

Join us.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
128007009

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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