Thursday, November 1, 2012

Inspirational Women in the Entertainment Industry: Connie Britton...

It's no secret I was incredibly enamored with Connie Britton in Friday Night Lights, but one thing that always irked me (even if I was partially to blame) was how the media was so quick to call Tami Taylor "Mrs. Coach" rather than, you know, Tami Taylor. In the film version of the story, the character really wasn't much more than a cheerleader for her football coach husband and his team. But Jason Katims' television series expanded her role into someone much deeper-- someone certainly worthy of having her own identity-- in great part thanks to Britton herself. Britton commands attention, if not outright praise, whether she's on-screen in her roles or simply standing off to the side discussing them. She is one actress who has managed to make a strong, even if slightly understated in the beginning, career out of equally strong, mature role models. And for that, we have to celebrate her refusal to be pigeonholed in a corner.


Britton made it no secret that she wasn't going to be interested in even reprising her Friday Night Lights role on television if there wasn't some meat for her to sink her teeth into. Many actresses would have just shut up and smiled, eager to look pretty and stand alongside a handsome man week after week in millions of homes around the country. Britton didn't want to settle for just being a sounding board for another actor and a male character to boot. She was as instrumental as the series writers themselves in turning Tami Taylor from just another sweet, Southern housewife into a heroine, teaching Julie, Tyra, and the rest of us.

"I've made a decision as an actress that for every role I play there's going to be a foundation of strength in the woman, and there's going to be a woman there that is someone that I hope people can admire," Britton shared.

This conscious decision on Britton's part came well before she was a mother-- before she was America's mother as Tami Taylor-- but it has guided her to choose that role and all of the stellar ones since. Though many of her roles have featured her in the dutiful wife and mother position, she has never had to sacrifice her own story or character evolution for those around her. It shouldn't be so rare for an actor to have such a solid career of well-defined roles, but at times it still feels like these are the exceptions rather than the rules. It is not a responsibility, now that she has noticed it, that Britton takes lightly.

"I have to say, I've really struggled with that because I do have people who come up to me all of the time and they do-- they say 'You're a role model' and 'You're my feminist role model'," Britton admitted feeling the pressure of late.

"So what's going to be interesting for me is establishing those familiar elements [in a new character] and then watching that person go through extreme conflict and extreme lack of control."

As much as she works hard to find a common thread in character, though, she is equally as adamant about diversity in story-telling. This allows for new challenges and also the chance to keep what has surely become routine work fresh for the TV star. 

"As an actor I always want to stretch myself and do something I haven't done before," she explained.

"What attracted me to [Nashville and American Horror Story]-- and Friday Night Lights, too, actually-- was they felt like something innovative and something we haven't seen before, and as an actor that's exciting."
 
In the case of American Horror Story, Britton took a break from complete wholesomeness and traditional family a bit to play a woman on the edge-- someone who was struggling with instability and a potential psychological break. 

"My sense of [Vivien] is that she's a woman who has lived her life through will and has become very successful and has come to a point in her life where it's all falling apart and there's nothing she can do about it," she explained. "And I think that's something that's something that's very relatable, and I [was] committed to playing that in a way that remained relatable even in this crazy world."

In a similar way, Britton's new role in Nashville is dealing with the same drama and trappings of a life well-lived now in a new chapter. As Rayna James, a once top-of-the-charts country singer who can no longer sell out arenas, she will be tested by how far she'll go to keep her fame-- and her family-- especially with a husband making powerful professional moves of his own and an ex for whom feelings may reignite anew. 

"There's something about Southern women that is so unique and yet so universal," she considered the comparisons between Tami Taylor and Rayna James-- and a lot of very real women who may be watching. 

"I think that's why people really respond to strong Southern women. Strong Southern women are also allowed to be soft and feminine and have a sense of humor, and there's something that I really love about that, but what I love in particular is actually the universality of it."

The emotional complexity is also enriched by the fact that there is an ingenue nipping at the heels of Rayna's success. Britton was adamant that no role of hers would ever be focused on anything salacious, like a simple cat fight between women, though ("We're not doing that; I'm not interested in doing that...We're just showing two people at different places in their lives and what their journeys will be," she said). Britton is much too aware of the implications of portraying a woman who turns on other women in such a way. She may not have asked for it when she got into his business, but now that she has embraced her role model status, she is staying true to it on-screen as well as off.

Furthermore, Britton has recently also spoken out in the defense of women-- Southern or otherwise-- in response to Mitt Romney adopting "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts" for his campaign.

Yup, when I grow up, I want to be Connie Britton.


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