Zach Gilford: We're more than 'Grey's Anatomy' in the jungle
After playing TV's most sincere student for five and a half years on "Friday Night Lights," Zach Gilford amassed a loyal fan following that would watch him do nearly anything on the small screen. But "FNL" fans are gonna have to break out their magnifying glasses in order to find a shred of Saracen in Tommy Fuller -- the charming, cocky doc Zach plays on ABC's "Off The Map."
It's a refreshing change of pace -- one that Zach was actively looking for. But fret not QB1 fans, Saracen will also return to Dillon during the show's final season.
I caught up with the always amiable actor this morning to find out why "Off The Map" should be on your DVR, why it's so much more than "'Grey's' in the jungle" and why you won't actually see his doctor spouting much medical jargon.
PopWrap: What attracted you to "Off The Map?"
Zach Gilford: Aside from its behind-the-scenes pedigree, it was so different from my last show – which everyone knows I loved. I mean, that was a perfect job. But it’s so good to play an adult and a doctor on a show with a totally different tone. It’s a fun, slightly over the top, action-adventure drama versus the very earnest “FNL.” Not only was it a chance to show that, hopefully, I can do something else, it was a chance to actually do something else.
PW: Were you looking for a job that would wipe Saracen momentarily from people's minds?
Zach: I think momentarily is the best way to put it. I would never want to wipe him permanently from anyone’s minds – but the fear with TV is you’ll be pigeon-holed as that character forever. It takes some people a while to get that next show, so I was lucky to step from one to the other and have them be so different.
PW: From our other conversations, I know "FNL" filmed in a very unique way -- how has it been transitioning to a more mainstream style of shooting?
Zach: It’s a challenge. I got so used to the style and tone we did in Texas that sometimes it was hard to break out and do other things. Shifting styles for a long period of time has actually been the hardest part. It’s a different mindset with the few movies I’ve gotten to do because it’s one very specific project. With the show, I’ll catch myself going back to the “FNL” mentality and I have to remind myself, it’s a different show – the cameras work differently here. You have to be aware of stuff like your mark.
PW: Plus there's lots of medical jargon here -- how are you with the dialogue?
Zach: I’m pretty awful at it [laughs] but I think a lot of that is my own fault because I don’t spend a lot of time memorizing my lines. I’m sure if I put in the effort, I could get a lot of those lines down. I just like to show up and ask, “what’s that word? How do you pronounce it?” It's funny, I was spacing out in our first read through, not realizing my line was coming up and when I did, I mispronounced a really simple medical term. So the writers must have thought, “this kid is not going to be able to handle any words – lets give him all the easy stuff.” So a lot of the doctoring stuff I’ve done on the show has been working with kids or people who don’t speak English. It’s like medicine through charades. There are some things I do really well and others I do really poorly.
PW: With the multi-lingual characters, has there been any directive for you guys to learn Spanish?
Zach: Actually, with Tommy it’s a story point that he sucks at Spanish. Personally, I speak a little bit and have always wanted to learn more, so I try to work it in but they’ll ask me to tone it down because it sounds like I’m too good at it.
PW: So you're too good at Spanish, but not good enough with doctor jargon. Somewhere in the middle, those meet.
Zach: Exactly. So I’m perfect and these writers just need to figure it out [laughs].
PW: The pilot kinda sets it up that the three doctors who arrive are all running from something -- what can you tell us about your character, Tommy?
Zach: With the other characters, there’s a big traumatic event that occurs – with Tommy, I think a lot of stuff just came to a head and he became so disillusioned with everything. I think there was a self-realization that he was a prick. This was the way to deal with it without having to apologize to everyone.
PW: What's the one thing you'd like fans to know about the show?
Zach: A lot of people are calling it “Grey’s” in the jungle, but it’s not. On these types of shows, all the characters do tend to get involved with one another, but whenever you have a group of people working together, they will inevitably start to date. We’re just using a formula that works in a different setting – which I think will change how incestuous it will or won’t get.
PW: And on a totally different topic -- the series finale of "Friday Night Lights" is coming up on DirecTv. How do you feel about Saracen's ending?
Zach: I think it’s great. I’m so happy with it. When they called me with the plan, I just love what they did. The finale gives a lot of closure but it’s not so many bows tied to the point of making everyone happy. We stuck to the show’s motto and stayed authentic – we closed chapters in people’s lives where it made sense while giving hints to where they’re going next. But life goes on. We came in and saw a chunk of these people’s lives -- but when we leave, their lives keep going on.
"Off The Map" premieres tonight at 8pm on ABC