‘Manchester’s’ Chandler seeks – and finds – balance

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Kyle Chandler knew his path early on: He wanted to be an actor, not a star. And things have pretty much worked out in his favor.

It’s September and Chandler is in a hotel suite during the Toronto International Film Festival, where “Manchester by the Sea” is enjoying a wave of rave reviews. He’s relaying a story from when he was a drama student at the University of Georgia, when he and another student were working in the costume department and talking about their career goals.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to go to Hollywood to be a star. I do want to go there to act and have a family, and try to make that work,’” says Chandler, who is dressed in a crisp blue suit, his hair tousled just so. “And she called me out. She goes, ‘You are a liar! An absolute liar!’ But the truth is that is what I wanted, and that that is what I got.”

That balance he envisioned early on is key for Chandler: Between work and home life (he’s been married to his wife, Kathryn, for 20 years), between Hollywood and the real world.

Review: Tragic ‘Manchester’ one of the year’s best

For example, the week before the film festival, the father of two was at home on his ranch in Texas “working the property” on his tractor and helping his daughter, an entering high school freshman, prepare for volleyball season. (His other daughter is entering college.) The following week he was heading to the Emmy Awards, where he was nominated in the lead actor category for the second-straight year for “Bloodline.” Afterward, he was riding his motorcycle from Texas to the show’s Florida set, taking “the long route” and staying at a series of campgrounds along the way.

The two sides help each other out, he says. “There’s nothing better than real life to get ideas for your roles,” says Chandler, 51.

Chandler has a supporting role in “Manchester by the Sea.” He plays Joe, brother of Casey Affleck’s character, whose death sets in motion the film’s plot. It’s a small but important role, which falls in line with Chandler’s film work in recent years: Playing Cate Blanchett’s husband in “Carol,” an FBI agent in “Wolf of Wall Street,” a father in “The Spectacular Now,” a CIA chief in “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Most of those parts have come as a result of Chandler’s signature role, as Coach Eric Taylor on NBC’s beloved football drama “Friday Night Lights.” That job came after 15 years spent toiling in Hollywood, including roles on ABC’s 1940s set drama “Homefront” and four seasons on “Early Edition,” where Chandler played a character that receives an early copy of the next day’s newspaper and worked to stop wrongdoings from happening.

Chandler was born in Buffalo and raised in Illinois before moving to Georgia when he was 11. His father died three years later, so the feeling of immense loss that’s central to “Manchester by the Sea” is familiar to him.

“I became very emotional reading it,” Chandler says of the “Manchester” script, “and that doesn’t happen very often.” So he read it again.

“And the same thing happened, and I said wow, this is a really interesting script,” he says. “I knew how it made you emotional, but there were things in it that earned that emotion that I couldn’t quite piece together.”

He says working on the film was similar, and credits director Kenneth Lonergan — whom he calls “Kenny” — with putting his personal stamp on it. “I don’t think I’ve ever done a film where the director has his influence on every part of it,” he says.

With “Manchester” entering theaters and garnering tremendous awards buzz and “Bloodline” enters its final season, Chandler continues to achieve the balance that has been central to his career.

“I don’t think I’d have the success I have right now if I didn’t have my home life,” Chandler says. “Being able to step away and having the life with my wife and the kids and where I live, that recharges my battery.”


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‘Manchester by the Sea’

Rated R for language throughout and some sexual content

Running time: 137 minutes

Opens Friday