The movie star was approached by the film's director Peter Berg and his fellow producers and asked to play Coach Gary Gaines again.
Executive producer Jason Katims tells Entertainment Weekly, "We wanted to pay homage to the movie, so we came up with an idea for a cameo, but Billy wasn't available."
Based on H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger's bestselling book of the same name Friday Night Lights tells the true story of the dusty West Texas town of Odessa where nothing much happens until September rolls around. That's when the town's 20 000 or so denizens pour into Ratliff Stadium the country's biggest high school football field every Friday night to watch the Permian Panthers Odessa's "boys in black " take to the field. All the town's hope and dreams are pinned on the padded shoulders of these young gridiron heroes--including insecure quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black); cocky self-assured running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke); headstrong self-destructive tailback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) who must contend with an overbearing abusive dad (Tim McGraw--yes that Tim McGraw the country singer); and the team's spiritual leader middle linebacker Ivory Christian (newcomer Lee Jackson). The Panthers begin their season with one thing on their minds--winning their fifth straight championship for the first time in the team's 30-year history--but for their coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) it also means instilling a love and joy of the game in the boys' hearts amidst tremendous pressures and expectations. Easier said than done.
There isn't a false note in any of the performances and no one falls back on clichéd versions of their characters as is so easy to do in rah-rah sports movies. Thornton does a particularly good job as Gaines keeping you guessing whether he's going to be a hardass insensitive to his players' emotional needs (like so many movie football coaches before him) or if he truly means to coach his boys in a fair and decent way. Gaines too has to deal with his own pressures especially from the townsfolk who are likely to string him up if the team loses the championship. As for Gaines' players Black (the oh-so-serious kid from Thornton's Sling Blade) is all grown up and buffed out and still very serious. It works for the young actor though as the beleaguered Winchell struggles with the love-hate relationship he has with his chosen sport. Other standouts include Luke (Antwone Fisher) as the star player Boobie whose cocksureness leads him to an injury; Hedlund as the volatile Billingsley trying desperately to please his father; and McGraw making his film debut as the father a former Permian Panther champion who sure hasn't given up his competitive spirit basically beating it into his son. First Faith Hill (McGraw's real-life wife) in The Stepford Wives and now McGraw--who knew country singers could act?
From All the Right Moves to Varsity Blues to Remember the Titans Friday Night Lights unfortunately doesn't completely distinguish itself from the pack of football movies before it--like those this is all about how the young players--be they underdogs second-string nobodies or stars--rising above the mounting pressure and playing the best they can bless their hearts. Still there's no question the sports genre--particularly football--always gets the juices pumping with FNL being no exception. It might have something to do with our sick fascination with watching bone-crunching hits and body-punishing tackles. It's dangerous out there for these guys; no other sport (besides maybe hockey) can elicit such wince-inducing emotion and actor/director Peter Berg (The Rundown) exploits that. Obviously influenced by Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday Berg effectively paints his own gritty documentary-style picture of the competitive sport without relying on too many trite gushy over-the-top moments. And to give it credit the film does not necessarily have a feel-good "let's win one for the Gipper" ending; it is based on a true story after all and as we know real life isn't all sunshine and roses especially in the bloodthirsty world of Texas high school football.
How much did them country folks dislike Garth Brooks' soul patch? Well, take a look at the Academy of Country Music nominations. The scorecard reads something like this: Garth Brooks -- zero; 'N Sync -- one.
Is 'N Sync a country act? Can you chew bubble gum and tobacco at the same time? Do the Backstreet Boys know about this?
Frankly, we don't know. We just know this: The boy-band popsters of 'N Sync got more props out of the 35th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards than country mega-mega-star Garth Brooks. In nominations announced Wednesday, 'N Sync nabbed a nod for outstanding "vocal event" for their collaboration with Alabama on "God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You." Brooks nabbed the aforementioned nothing.
The snub was for Brooks' foray into multiple personalities, a k a "In the Life of Chris Gaines," the hat-act's 1999 concept album. For the uninitiated, the "Chris Gaines" thing featured Brooks assuming an alter-ego (Gaines), adopting a pop/rock sound and sporting (egad!) a wig and soul patch.
Tim McGraw, who sports a hat and a goatee but not a soul patch, was rewarded for his good ol' country fashion sense with nominations in five categories, including Entertainer of the Year. All told, McGraw stands to lasso seven trophies, because in the best song and best single categories he's nominated as both the performer and producer.
Wife Faith Hill and Grammy-winning country trio the Dixie Chicks were the other top multiple nominees, with five nods apiece.
The awards are scheduled to be presented May 3 in a CBS telecast from Los Angeles' Universal Amphitheater.
Here's a complete rundown of the nominations for the 35th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards:
Entertainer of the Year: Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Sawyer Brown, Shania Twain.
Top Male Vocalist: Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Collin Raye, George Strait.
Top New Male Vocalist: Gary Allan, Chad Brock, Brad Paisley.
Top Female Vocalist: Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Jo Dee Messina, Shania Twain, Chely Wright.
Top New Female Vocalist: Jessica Andrews, Julie Reeves, Chalee Tennison.
Top Vocal Duo or Group: Asleep at the Wheel, Brooks & Dunn, Dixie Chicks, Lonestar, Sawyer Brown.
Top New Vocal Duo or Group: Montgomery Gentry, Shedaisy, Yankee Grey.
Top Vocal Event of the Year: "A Country Boy Can Survive (Y2K Version)" (with Chad Brock, Hank Williams, Jr., George Jones); "After the Gold Rush'' (with Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt); "God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You'' (with Alabama, 'N Sync); "My Kind of Woman'' (with Vince Gill, Patty Loveless); ''When I Said I Do'' (with Clint Black, Lisa Hartman Black).
Album of the Year: "A Place in the Sun," Tim McGraw; "Breathe," Faith Hill; "Cold Hard Truth," George Jones; "Fly," Dixie Chicks; "Ride With Bob," Asleep at the Wheel.
Single Record of the Year: "Amazed" Lonestar; "He Didn't Have to Be," Brad Paisley; "Please Remember Me," Tim McGraw; "Ready to Run" Dixie Chicks; "Write This Down," George Strait.
Song of the Year: "Amazed," Lonestar; "He Didn't Have to Be," Brad Paisley; "Breathe," Faith Hill; "Choices," George Jones; "Please Remember Me," Tim McGraw.
Country Video of the Year: "Breathe," Faith Hill; "He Didn't Have to Be," Brad Paisley; "How Do You Like Me Now," Toby Keith; "Ready to Run," Dixie Chicks; "Single White Female" Chely Wright.