With 'Lights' Off, Chandler Shifts to Big Screen


Apparently there exists a super-secret playbook on how to launch a successful career as a film actor. It also seems Kyle Chandler has the only copy of this specific manual.

Step one: Leave Los Angeles and head to Central Texas.

Chandler and his wife, Kathryn, moved to the Austin area about five years ago after the actor started filming episodes of the critically acclaimed TV series "Friday Night Lights." The actor with the piercing eyes and syrupy Southern drawl would earn three Emmy nominations and one win for his portrayal of Eric Taylor, a Texas high school football coach who gets the best out of his players while still finding time to nurture his tight-knit family.

When "FNL" neared its end, Chandler's phone started ringing. But this time, the calls weren't about TV shows. The actor, who established himself as a respected TV performer in the 1990s with roles on "Homefront" and "Early Edition," was suddenly wanted for major motion pictures directed by some very big names.

Chandler had a supporting role in J.J. Abrams' 2011 summer smash "Super 8," which came out just months after "FNL's" final episode. Last year, Chandler appeared as President Jimmy Carter's chief of staff in Ben Affleck's nerve-rattling "Argo." And, in arguably his most high-profile role to date, Chandler can be found co-starring in Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty." The movie, certain to be nominated for a slew of Academy Awards, has already received rave reviews in other parts of the country and opens Friday in Austin.

"I didn't expect it to happen this way, but when we moved out of Los Angeles to Central Texas, it was interesting because we had been out in Los Angeles for 20 years, and I guess there are certain stages in life when changes need to be made," Chandler said. "I don't think that what I'm doing right now would have happened if I hadn't have done that. I think my creative batteries, if you will, were charged, and I think as a human it was needed."

During his recent run of press to promote "Zero Dark Thirty," Chandler has also been making regular trips to New York City to shoot Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street," which co-stars Scorsese muse Leonardo DiCaprio and Chandler's fellow Central Texas resident Matthew McConaughey.

Abrams, Affleck, Bigelow, DiCaprio, Scorsese, McConaughey ...

Talking by phone from a room in the Ritz Carlton overlooking Central Park, the disarming actor marvels at his good fortune.

"The last six months have been ridiculous. ... It doesn't really dawn on you that all that's going on because it keeps happening one after the other and you just sort of go to work and do your job, but looking in on it, it's pretty good people to work with," Chandler says, chuckling at the understatement.

In "Zero Dark Thirty," a dense but emotional thriller that tracks the 10-year period between the 9/11 attacks and the murder of Osama bin Laden, Chandler plays Joseph Bradley, the Central Intelligence Agency's stern but smooth Islamabad station chief.

Chandler's character has a terse, professional relationship with his strong-willed charge, Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA case worker at the tip of the spear in the hunt for bin Laden.

Chandler filmed his scenes in India, and says the remote location helped him relate to his character and the contingency of CIA officers in Pakistan who were stationed overseas with a singular goal in mind.

"It's just natural that when you go to India to shoot a movie that you feel isolated, because you are isolated. It's pretty intense," Chandler said. "So to think of that lone person with that job, a little imagination can get you there. And of course you're working with a director who can turn and give you a couple of words of direction that explain everything, which Kathryn can do very easily because she's very knowledgeable."

The idea of making a film so closely tied to politics and current events initially gave the actor pause. He wondered what Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal would do with the material. Would there be a biased point of view promoting or attacking any specific agenda or political narrative?

But his fears were assuaged by Bigelow's and Boal's diligence and preparation on a film that he says is "based on research and facts."

The movie does follow a detailed timeline of the comprehensive group effort to find and kill bin Laden, but Chandler believes "Zero Dark Thirty" isn't just a cinematic answer to the question of how this critical piece of history unfolded.

"When you come to the end you can ask questions in a way that not many films give you the opportunity to do," Chandler said of the moral complexities that come with a chilling view of enhanced interrogation techniques. "It's a very grown-up, adult film."

As he watched the movie for the first time, it dawned on Chandler how quickly the past 10 years had passed and what kind of effect the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent war on terror had on the country as a whole and on a collection of individuals.

"Its weight is just so immense, for everyone," Chandler said of the film. "I think it will take people back. And that's one great thing about the movie -- at the end, because everything is honestly earned emotionally and factually, when you get to the end of the film ... I had the reaction of 'OK, that's done. I can exhale.'"

It also made Chandler wonder what was next. Where do we go from here?

"It's an intriguing emotion that's created at the end of the film," Chandler said.

For Chandler, who has played a run of authority figures on television and film over the past several years, next up is a slight change of pace. He co-stars in the indie coming-of-age teen drama "Spectacular Now," which bows at the Sundance Film Festival later this month.

As he looks forward to the world premiere of "Spectacular Now," Chandler reflects on his departure from L.A. and this new chapter of his career.

"It was sort of a bold move," Chandler said. "I did not expect all the great things to happen that came with it, but it's been a great journey."

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