It's quite possible that Friday Night Lights is one of the best high school dramas ever made. It's got something for everyone, especially if you grew up in the south -- football, romance, family, and the Lone Star State of Texas. As much as we're fans of the entire cast including Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor) and Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins), the Dillon Panthers wouldn't have been the same without their trusty backup quarterback turned QB1, Matt Saracen. Actor Zach Gilford managed to make him one of the most likable characters on the show in a role he's fondly remembered for a decade after the beloved series ended.
Gilford grew up in Evanston, Illinois, and ended up studying theater at Chicago's prestigious Northwestern University. In fact, he got signed by an agent at his senior showcase and immediately started booking work. He had only appeared in a short film and one episode Law & Order: Special Victims Unit before he landed the role of Matt Saracen with NBC -- the shy and sweet quarterback who romances Coach Taylor's daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden).
"I got the role the old fashioned way: I auditioned," Gilford explained in an interview with Justin Warshavsky in 2014.
"I think I had to go in a total of 7 times for different casting directors and the director (Peter Berg) and producers and TV executives. I think eventually I won the war of attrition. They were so tired of seeing me audition they just gave me the job."
And some fun trivia -- most of the guys on the Panthers team actually knew how to play football. Or at least were athletes and could figure it out.
"Everybody was an athlete," Gilford told GQ.
"Scott [Porter, who played Jason Street] and Jesse [Plemons, who played Landry] played football in high school. I played a little bit growing up. Taylor didn't play football, but he's an athlete. He played junior hockey. He's coordinated."
Pretty much overnight Gilford went from an aspiring actor to an actual professional and credits his experience on FNL for giving him the solid training on a TV set to prepare him for the rest of his career. He's since appeared on numerous TV shows including Grey's Anatomy, Drunk History, Tim and Eric's Bedtime Stories, and Good Girls, and has been a main cast member on Off the Map, The Mob Doctor, The Family, Lifeline, and L.A.'s Finest. He's even appeared in a few feature films like The Last Winter, Post Grad, In Our Nature, Answers to Nothing, Devil's Due, The Purge: Anarchy, The River Why, The Last Stand, Crazy Kind of Love, and Dare. His filmography just continues growing based on his IMDB. He's set to appear next in Midnight Mass on Netflix.
Right after wrapping up his time as Matt Saracen, Gilford even appeared in Taylor Swift's music video for "Ours."
"It was cool, man. It was super nice," Gilford explained to GQ.
"She got in touch with my people and asked me to do it. And if Taylor Swift asks you to be in her video, you're like, "Yeah, of course!" I went down to Nashville for two days. She's super sweet. It was definitely weird. You're spending a day and a half hanging out with Taylor Swift, and then you're never seeing Taylor Swift again [laughs]."
In 2010, Gilford met actress Kiele Sanchez while filming the ABC pilot The Matadors and the two really hit it off. They married two years later in Napa, California, and welcomed their first child together in 2017 -- daughter Zeppelin Adele Gilford. Seems like these days, the actor is fully focused on continuing to grow his career while working on being a solid father and husband. While we're partial to Matt Saracen, we're excited to continue following along with Gilford's career in years to come.