It's not easy to take a buzzy, must-listen podcast and turn it into a buzzy, must-watch television series, but somehow Dirty John pulled it off—thanks in large part to Connie Britton. On the show, Britton portrayed Debra Newell, a successful interior designer who begins dating a man who turns out to be different than she thought, in a stranger than fiction real life story. "The character was really a great exploration for me, because I never judge my characters, and I wanted to really look at playing Debra as almost a women's study," said Britton. "Because I actually could understand a lot of where she was coming from. I actually see her as a pretty fierce woman." Of course, it's the latest in a long list of fierce women that Britton has portrayed on-screen, the most famous of which is her role as Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights. Here, the actress talks about her most iconic roles, bringing Dirty John to life, and her celebrity crushes.
Had you heard the Dirty John podcast before you got the part?
When I got offered the show Dirty John, I had not heard the podcast yet, but I had heard friends talking about it obsessively. Then literally two days later, my agent sent me an email saying, "Have you heard of Dirty John?" And I was like, "That's crazy. They were just talking about that." So, that was exciting to me, because I love things that are creating conversation in the culture. There was no script. They were literally just developing this idea. So then I immediately read the L.A. Times articles and then listened to the podcast right away. And I was hooked.
This character was a different side of you we haven't seen before.
The character was really a great exploration for me, because I never judge my characters, and I wanted to really look at playing Debra as almost a women's study. Because I actually could understand a lot of where she was coming from. I actually see her as a pretty fierce woman. I mean, she is self made, she created her own business. She has raised a family on her own. But she had this achilles hill, which is she didn't have a man in her life and that was something that she put a lot of value on. So I understand all of those things, and wanted to try to access her fierceness, even within the framework of this kind of massive vulnerability that she kind of found herself in.
Did you pick the wardrobe intentionally?
The wardrobe was really intentional. Susie DeSanto, who also did my wardrobe on Nashville, is my dream. I love her so much. So we had her come in, and she just did such an exceptional job. We started off in the beginning of the series with the very sort of pinks and hopeful colors, and then, as the show went on, we got darker. It was all very detailed and very well thought out.
There were so many moments when I wanted your character to just hit him over the head.
Debra would never hit anybody over the head. She just wouldn't do it. But, you know, she also was raised with such a sense of needing to give people the benefit of the doubt, seeing the best in everybody, thinking that she can handle and change and nurture the person who needs that in their life. And so she wasn't go to hit him. Even when things got really dark, she probably would have hit him over the head then.
Is this the first real life person you've played?
No, I played Faye Resnick. That was a different experience for me because I actually didn't sit down and talk to Faye, so I just really did a ton of research on that. But then also, she has a lot of projection aimed at her as well, and I wanted to kind of push that all to the side so that I could just see what was motivating her and who she really is. That was an interesting experience, too.
When I met you, you were doing indie films. And then you started doing TV before TV was the cool place to be. Was that a big decision for you to go to TV at that point?
First of all, let's be clear. I had dreamed of being an actress since childhood, but never imagined that it would be anything close to a reality. Then I went to college, you know. I went to an Ivy League college and I was like, "Okay, that was child's play, now it's time to grow up and do something." Then I kept dreaming. I grew up watching television. I loved TV. I Love Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore. As I got older, Happy Days. A lot of sitcoms. Laverne and Shirley, Eight is Enough.
I had the great fortune of being able to do The Brother McMullen, which was kind of my big break. That went to Sundance. There was a certain snobbery at that time about TV versus film. I went through a whole thing where I was, for quite a period of time, very close to playing opposite Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. And then that didn't happen, which was quite the heartbreak at that time. But right on the heels of that, Spin City came along. That was really my first big job. So I was in no position to say, "I'm not doing television." I was thrilled. I was doing television. I was doing a sitcom with Michael J. Fox.
Going off the shows you named, do you think TV has been good to women?
You know, it really has. Those shows in particular that I was talking about, Mary Tyler Moore, I Love Lucy, the idea that in that era, that there were such female driven shows, and shows were women were allowed to have dimension and complexity, and be funny. I still grew up in a time, and came up in a time, where a lot of what you saw in women's roles, particularly in film, were very supporting, very supportive, and very decorative. I kind of made a career out of taking a role that isn't so very flushed out, and giving it humanity and levels and dimension, which I think most women have had to do. And yet, it is true that I was fortunate to have these role models on television growing up. Especially back sort of Friday Night Lights era, that was, I think, the beginning of this new era of women in TV, and it's been such an exciting time these last ten, fifteen years to see where TV is going, but also what women are being able to do on television.
Let's talk about Friday Night Lights—do you get stopped most for that?
You know what's funny? People love Friday Night Lights, and it's been great because Everybody loves it for different reasons. They're continuing to discover it, which is one of the great benefits of this streaming culture that we live in now. But, I have to say, it's pretty much across the board. There's a whole slew of people who are like, American Horror Story. And then a whole slew of people who are like, Nashville. So, it really depends, but there is a deep, fond love for Friday Night Lights for sure.
I love Friday Night Lights so much for so many reasons. One of the reasons I love it so much is because I really fought for it, and we all really fought for it. There was a lot of passion there. I went in to that show thinking that I had just basically signed my life away to playing a supporting character, a supporting wife, on a show about football. Even though Pete Berg swore to me up and down, promised me that that's not what we're going to do, but you know, you can't trust people. I really went in and I'm like, "What am I thinking? I'm going to be doing this and I'll just be on the sidelines" quote, unquote. But there was such a wonderful environment there where we all were really trying to create something and elevate it together, and there was a great collaboration about that. So I got to really fight for that character, for Tami Taylor. And Kyle [Chandler] and I together really fought for that marriage, and we said right from the beginning, "Don't you make one of us go and have an affair" to the writers.
I remember there was one thing where there was a character named Glen and they even just had a thing where Coach got jealous because I had been out to drinks with Glen or something. He was one of the teachers at the school. And even that, Kyle was kind of like, "This is not what we're doing." I think the audiences really appreciated that. Instead, we were actually just dealing with the things that couples really deal with on a day to day basis, and discovering all of the complexities of that, and people really appreciated that.
You guys were great together.
We loved each other. We do love each other still.
In your own life, where was your first kiss?
My first kiss was inner tubing down Lake Creek in Virginia. I was not worried about capsizing. I was very familiar with the tubing on a creek. That's what you do when you grow up in Virginia.
Who was your crush growing up?
Tom Selleck in Magnum PI and, wait for it, John Denver. You're welcome. Yeah, that's right. I used to literally fantasize that he would sing Annie's Song to me. Okay, there we go. Now you know.
What is your karaoke song?
I don't do karaoke. It's like a rule. I don't believe anybody sounds good doing karaoke. But it doesn't matter, they can do whatever they want. I'm not doing it.
What's your secret skill?
My secret skill is that I'm a very, very good hula hooper. I just like to hula hoop. Then I just started doing it and then I found out that I can do it longer than other people.
What was your first red carpet outfit?
I don't remember specifically, but it was definitely in the '90s. I did not have a stylist, but at that time, I was very into shopping at Tracy Fifth and Jane Mail, so it was probably some variation. It was like a lot of slip dresses. And probably some very curly red hair.
You of course know about the fame of your hair.
Yes, I do. I know about the fame of my hair. Mystifying.