GQ chatted it up with 24-year-old actress Jurnee Smollett about her childhood on sets with siblings Jake, Jojo, Jussie, Jocqui, and Jazz, working with Samuel Jackson Eve’s Bayou and playing a central character on Friday Night Lights, now in its final season on DIRECTV.
Fans sorry to see the show go should be happy to hear she has a new gig on upcoming CBS drama The Defenders.
Check out the excerpts from GQ below:
Describe what it was like being there for the end of Friday Night Lights.
It was an honor to be a part of a show that I think is going to go down as one of the greatest of all time. The last days, everyone was emotional but also trying to give it their best. The cast and crew were really a family; most of the crew had been with the show for every single season. [Last season] was just touching on the surface of who my character was. We had a certain amount of patience to build her, then season five you get to see her be a part of the football team. It’s nice: the show has never touched upon that storyline of a girl who is so passionate about football—who knows more about the game than a lot of guys—but is stuck in her body as a girl. It’s a hard truth she has to face. That’s the kind of stuff I love, the characters who don’t fit in their skin.
How familiar were you with football before you took the part?
I come from a family of four brothers, so I like sports. I like sitting down and watching games. My little brothers loved baseball. I’m not as big on that as basketball or football, but I understand the game. We used to play touch football, where you put the little rag in your pocket. I was good because I was fast. I wasn’t the greatest at catching. Sometimes the ball would come so hard and fast that it’d knock the wind out of me.
How aware were you of Friday Night Lights’ reputation for high critical praise but low ratings before you started?
I wasn’t aware of that. I knew people loved the show, but I really didn’t know how it did in the ratings. I did see every single episode before we started shooting. It didn’t really matter to me. I’m at a point in my career where I’m trying to challenge myself, work with actors and directors I respect.
What’s it like jumping from playing a high school kid to a Vegas lawyer?
It’s actually fun. Vegas is certainly not a small town. I was there this weekend, and it reminded me that the city’s its own little world. It’s got its own culture.
But the culture is based on decadence and money.
Yeah, gold and marble and neon lights. And people are drunk constantly. I don’t know how many people I saw stumble and fall on their faces. I started shooting The Defenders two days after I wrapped Friday Night Lights. I was doing research for The Defenders throughout—interviewing lawyers and sitting in courtrooms just to watch—but there’s something fun about throwing yourself in the water, and learning by doing.
Does the change in location help?
Definitely. There’s something about driving through Texas and it’s hot, your skin is sticking to you. The environment affects your attitude and your swagger.
What’s up with your parents naming every one of your siblings with the initials “JS”?
Well, both my parents have those initials, so they figured they’d continue the tradition. We’ve gotten used to it, but sometimes when we were younger, my mom would stumble and go through all my siblings’ names before she’d get to mine.
You acted with your entire family in On Our Own. What was that like?
Our mom was our coach. The writers would come to her for interesting stories of what happened at dinner tables in our family. She’d tell them about our life and they’d go write it. We were all in school on set. We all had one huge dressing room instead of six individual dressing rooms. It was criminal, it was so much fun…Every time I’d do an emotional scene when I was little, I’d really be crying. It takes so much emotional energy to get to that point where you’re crying. After we’d finish, I’d have to get the longest hug from my mom, no lie.
Any specific memories from working with Samuel L. Jackson on Eve’s Bayou when you were 10?
I remember him being supportive of me. After takes, he’d be like, “Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Even scenes he wasn’t in.
How many folks were aware that Jurnee was on “Friday Night Lights”? It seems like that show never got the promotion it deserved. What’s up with that?